Sunday, February 14, 2016

What If Disney Had Built Beastly Kingdom

By Brittany Bell

Upon it’s opening in 1998, Disney's Animal Kingdom called for the park to be a “kingdom of animals... real, ancient and imagined: a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons.” Before there was Avatarland, and even before there was Camp Minnie-Mickey, there were plans for an extraordinary and heavily themed area within the park that would fulfill this dream. This land, to be centered around the mythical creatures of folk lore and legend was to be grand, extravagant, and a completely immersive experience into an entirely new world…say hello to the Beastly Kingdom. Unfortunately, plans for this wonderful realm never materialized in Animal Kingdom, and are now found (more or less) in Universal Studios in Harry Potter Land. In today's new article, let's find out what this mysterious, yet magical, land would have looked like if Disney had built Beastly Kingdom...

Concept art for Beastly Kingdom

The plans for the Beastly Kingdom were imagined while Animal Kingdom was still in the works. However, this land was originally intended to be built during the Phase II stage of the park (i.e. first big expansion). The area that was Camp Minnie-Mickey, and now the location that Avatarland is currently being developed on, was slated to be the home of Beastly Kingdom. It was to be created with two very distinct sub-lands, and upon entering into the land, guests would be presented with two paths: a dark, winding forest road and a glimmering road to an Olympian dream. Each land would represent different types of mythical creatures and the contexts in which they were found. First, let's explore the land that was to be based in a dark Medieval forest town where a dangerous beast lurked…

Concept Art for the Medieval Village

In taking the dark forest road, guests would be led along a path with charred suits of armor, abandoned weapons, and an eerie smokey atmosphere. Emerging from the path, guests would be presented with a small Medieval village with a crumbling rock tower and a Stonehenge-like plaza (as pictured above). Within the tower is a formidable dragon, as well as the E-ticket attraction that was planned for this area...

Dragon’s Tower Concept Art

The Dragon’s Tower was slated to be an E-ticket dark ride, thrill coaster (much like Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at Universal Studios). The ride would swerve through crumbling corridors and treasure-filled rooms to reach the climax of coming face to face with a dragon. The concept art above was to have the coaster as a suspended swinging coaster with guests in the shoes of the bats that lived in the dragon’s lair. However, other concept art showed the ride to be an inverted coaster, more along the line of Rockin’ Roller Coaster. Either way, this roller coaster was expected to be a thrill lover’s coaster. And, although it never materialized, the inspiration for Expedition Everest clearly began in the blue sky stages for the Dragon’s Tower.

The other path of Beastly Kingdom would have taken guests to a completely new area based on the lighter mythical tales. This area would serve as a contrast to the Medieval village: it was to have lush gardens, amazing waterfalls, and a Greek-style architecture that heralded the beasts of Greek myth. This area took a lighthearted approach to mythology.

The area would have featured two attractions. The first, found inside of a Grecian temple, would be a family-themed dark ride based on Fantasia. Specifically, guests would experience the “Dance of the Hours” segment of the movie, complete with its dancing animals. It would be simple, elegant, and beautiful, and would add a much-needed slow dark ride for guests of all ages to enjoy.

Second, and perhaps the most intricate and detailed of the attractions in Beastly Kingdom, would be the Quest for the Unicorn, an interactive maze where guests wander through a labyrinth in search of the mythical and elusive unicorn. Guests would need to awaken five golden icons in order to enter into the underground grotto where the unicorn lives. It was slated to be very visually engaging and detailed, as seen in the concept art below...

Quest for the Unicorn Labyrinth

Golden Griffin Icon Concept Art

Attraction Finale with the Unicorn

So, what happened to this wonderfully planned and surely exciting addition to Animal Kingdom? Though it was scheduled to open during the park’s Phase II, budget cuts ultimately led to the project being scrapped. However, the idea for Beastly Kingdom did not die completely. Before Harry Potter Land opened at Universal Studios, the Lost Continent was home to an area similar to what was planned for Beastly Kingdom. The Dragon’s Tower became Dueling Dragons, the Quest for the Unicorn became the Flying Unicorn (now Flight of the Hippogriff), and much of the theming and ideas associated with Beastly Kingdom were present in Universal's Lost Continent area as well.

Animal Kingdom logo featuring the silhouette of a dragon

Beastly Kingdom certainly competes as one of the best ideas that Disney has ever had but that never made it into the parks. And, although Avatarland is promising, Beastly Kingdom would have brought an interesting new element to the park that celebrated the mysterious beasts at the center of mythology and brought meaning to that silhouette in the center of the logo (see photo above). Like the beasts it represents, Beastly Kingdom will remain just a story…or better yet, just a myth.


Brittany Bell grew up in Lewiston, Maine, about 45 minutes away from Portland. She is currently studying Public Relations and Journalism at Boston University, and hopes to one day work for the Mouse himself. She grew up in a Disney-loving home, and would watch Sleeping Beauty on repeat as a little girl. Her first trip to Walt Disney World was in the summer of 2000, at four years old. Ever since then, Brittany and her family take annual trips to the World, and have no intention of vacationing anywhere else. Her favorite places in Walt Disney World are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. She can’t go without seeing Fantasmic! at least once each vacation, even though she chokes up a little at the final scene. Brittany is fascinated by how one man’s dream became an empire—one that makes dreams come true every day.

Before she became obsessed with Frozen and Queen Elsa, her favorite Disney characters were Princess Aurora and Mulan. She loves everything and anything Disney, from the parks, to the movies, to the Broadway musicals. In the near future she hopes to participate in the Disney College Program and work as a “friend of a princess”.

You can find all of Brittany's articles here

1 comment:

  1. One can only dream. I like the idea that small children and their parents would go down the "lighter" path, since the kids would not be tall enough (possibly brave enough) to ride through the dragon's lair. Those kids would dream of the day they are big enough to tread that path, until it one day comes true, at least if the family can afford repeat visits!

    I sometimes dream about how this park might have looked (though I prefer the more antiquated spelling, "Beastlie Kingdomme" that I've seen in some sources) and operated. The unicorn labyrinth looks intriguing, but would it have worked in real life? Would a major walk-through attraction have worked with guests? Would it be too much walking for people, would the paths have become littered with trash, would it have to close down in the rain? (Imagine getting trapped in there when a sudden thunderstorm starts!) Would people have the patience to find all five icons, or would they need to run out because their Everest fastpass is about to expire? The biggest current walk-through attraction I can think of is the Kim Possible/Phinneas and Ferb "missions" in World Showcase, which my daughter had so much fun with, no one minded the walking.

    Thanks for a cool article with enjoyable concept art!