REVIEW: The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic Fails to Fully ‘Awaken’ Guests, but isn’t Terrible
Animal Kingdom’s nighttime entertainment premiered a few weeks ago on Memorial Day weekend with their show, The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic premiering on Saturday, May 28th. This last week, I finally had a chance to view the new show for myself and to quote a common saying from parents, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” The show premiered to largely mixed to negative reviews and typically I don’t read reviews for entertainment because I like to form an opinion for myself, but this was one I just couldn’t pass up. The reason is because Alive with Magic isn’t the original show which was supposed to premiere at Animal Kingdom for this summer’s Awakening festivities. We were originally set to get a show by the name of Rivers of Light.
Rivers of Light had much hype and excitement behind the show and even got as far as a premiere date with preview shows scheduled. However, none of that happened. It’s rumored, only weeks before the show was set to premiere in late April, Bob Iger himself came down to see a preview of the show and it didn’t end so well. The previews were cancelled and the premiered delayed by a few weeks so the problems could be worked out. Then, the show was delayed indefinitely for what looked like the entire summer. Disney had to act fast and quickly announced The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic; 41 days later, we had a new show!
The new temporary show provides live music, singing & dancing influenced from Indian culture to help tell the story of Mowgli from The Jungle Book while also using some of the effects created for Rivers of Lights to show footage from the new live-action film. I did my best to wait to form an opinion of the show until after I saw it in person because 41 days really isn’t a long time to put together a full nighttime show, but if anyone could do it, it’d be Disney. After all, two years ago, we got Frozen Summer Fun at Hollywood Studios and all that came with it in just two weeks, and that was very impressive.
So let’s review the theater itself. The seating is nice, but compact. Since the area only holds 5000, I imagine it’ll be difficult for many Guests to see these shows. Espeically since the Everest section is FastPass+ seating and the section on the other side is the dinner package and standby. This really limits the number of regular standby Guests able to see one of the two shows offered.
The floating stages are very pretty, but I instantly realized the center barge (center stage?) is actually facing none of the audience members! I was baffled. Why place something with such a poor sightline.
After a delay, our show finally began and we are swept away with Indian music and dancing on stages which are directly in front of our seating areas. This is all going on while three boats come out onto the lake to transport the other dancers and singers(?) onto the floating stages. It’s here when the water projections begin and we see clips from The Jungle Book.
From multiple reports I’ve heard, the Bollywood aspects of the show are actually taken straight from a previous entertainment offering at Disney’s California Adventure called Glow Fest. Again, Disney had 41 days to put this show together, so I can’t really blame them for recycling old material, especially something as miniscule as that. I’m a die-hard Disney and Walt Disney World fan, but can easily admit I’m not overly familiar with everything of Disneyland, especially its past, so I would never have known this had I not read it.
I actually praise Disney for wanting to incorporate Indian culture into this show and think it’s a great idea. Just as I think we can successfully mix Disney characters into the World Showcase at Epcot while still celebrating each countries culture, I think we can do the same for Animal Kingdom! However, the concept for the show is much better on paper than real life. The main problem here is the jarring difference between the Indian music and the movie score because the score has no Indian influence in it whatsoever. It’s like our iPod was on shuffle playing two completely different types of bands.
The live dancing was great and very skillful and enjoyable to watch. However, half the time it seemed as though it was more random than anything. At times, I believe the dancers were trying to relate the Jungle Book story through their movements, but honestly, I think I’m being optimistic. It felt as though they were there just because for most of the time, especially the extra dancers on the two floating stages. On the other side of things though, the live musician were an awesome touch to the show. It’s an incredibly rare thing to see something such as that for a Disney show and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
After the dancing and musicians, there is a third live aspect in the show. Did you know there are live singers as well? If you did, could you find them? Located on the center floating stage which faces no audience members are three live singers. They each sing one of the key songs from The Jungle Book and I have to say, they are easily the highlight of this show. Just like live musicians, it’s also rare to find live singing in a Disney show, so this is another welcome detail. However, if I hadn’t read ahead of time there were singers, I would’ve had no idea there were any in the show. I spoke to other viewers about the singers, and they had said they thought they heard live singing but couldn’t actually see where the singers were. I can guarantee probably half of the audience members have no idea there are live singers and the rest who do, only a portion were able to locate where they actually were. I myself didn’t realize their location until near the end of the first song. And it’s all because of the placement of the center floating stage. What a shame! It really just comes down to poor design.
Moving onto the effects, Alive with Magic uses the water screen project effects which had been designed for Rivers of Light. In similar fashion to Fantasmic!, water is shot out to create a screen and then images are projected onto in. However, for this show, water falls from above instead of being shot straight up. It’s almost like shooting fire hoses into the air and the water falling down is what is used for the screen. Another great idea on paper, however it just doesn’t work incredibly well for its intended effect. Often times, the images we see are blurry or unclear. I’ve read different reports of part of the screen not working, or lighting wasn’t dark enough, or it was windy and therefore distorting the image, but for our show, none of that happened. Everything seemed to be working fine and the image was just utter crap.
What’s suspicious is they tended to be worse when they were clips from the Jungle Book film and showing off the characters. But when we see just fun colors and designs, the images came across much better. Shere Khan isn’t too bad, and when we’re shown images of the wolf pack and birds flying, those were better. But I’ll be damned for details. Kaa was very difficult to make out and King Louie was almost completely inrecognizable. If his voice hadn’t been played, I wouldn’t have known it was him on the screen. Baloo and Bagheera were alright, but could’ve been better and had more time as well. I don’t know what the actual problem behind the projection is, but something needs to change. Let’s hope it does for Rivers of Light.
In the end, The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic feels like two different shows tossed together in a fast 41 day attempt to form one show. I admire Disney’s ambitions, and again, I can’t blame them for the product because it’s not a terrible show but it was a quick fix and it shows. It is as if they just couldn’t make up their minds with what they wanted to do for the show: whether it be celebrate Indian culture or tell the story of the Jungle Book. Once I realized halfway through the show what they were trying to accomplish, which was trying to tell Mowgli’s story through movie clips, song and dance, I disliked it less because I wasn’t as confused with what we were watching. (The best thing I can compare it to is Voutage of the Little Mermaid. A condensed version of movie on stage.) But the show is jarring and unfocused throughout. There’s just so much going on throughout the show at the same time, you never know where to look and when, so you either miss things all together, or are completely confused. It’s an unfortunate situation because the talent in the show is fabulous.
As I said, the show isn’t terrible. It just is not as good as it could and should have been. Yes, it is a temporary filler show (hopefully) until Rivers of Light opens later this year, and yes they only had 41 days to create the show. However, it is just a bit to rough around the edges for my taste. They have all the pieces, but unfortunately they don’t all fit.
Now, the big question you might be asking. Should you go see this? Some reviews have very clearly suggested skipping the show. I, however, disagree. Even with the problems the show has, it is still a decently entertaining show. No, it doesn’t have ‘wow’ factors like you get from the other nighttime show offerings at the other parks, but its a nice way to spend 30 minutes and it’ll definitely give you something to talk about afterward, good and bad. Plus, with all of this information, now you’ll know what to look for! And if you wanted to pair it with a very good dinner, I’d suggest purchasing the Tiffins dinner package for $67. It is Animal Kingdom’s new signature dining restaurant and with the package, you’ll get a three course meal plus reserved seating. It’s a great way to experience fine dining without having to worry about your budget!
So there you have it. What do you think about The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic? Did Disney make a mistake or two with it? Or are you still excited to see it? Whichever the case, the show is tentatively scheduled to only last for the summer, so see it while you can. I may even go back for a second viewing with my Tiffins package! Thanks for reading.