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OpEd: Why Disney’s Animal Kingdom Needs Australia

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park may be the youngest of the four major theme parks comprising Walt Disney World Resort, but it presents some of the most revolutionary, standout features of all of them. Some have even gone so far as to say that it is not as “Disney-like” when compared with the other three, largely due to the fact that Animal Kingdom Park is less flashy and foregoes many of the more boisterous displays, like fireworks, which are so integral at the other Parks.

But when you really stop and consider Walt Disney’s original longing for such animal-interactive and nature-based representations (remember his intended vision for The Jungle Cruise?), I feel that the Animal Kingdom serves as the ultimate manifestation of its creator’s dream come true and is therefore right on equal footing with being a classic Disney Park.

Related: 10 Fun Facts About Walt Disney World’s “Jungle Cruise” Attraction

As is the case with all of Disney World’s theme parks, the Animal Kingdom is divided up into different sections or “lands” as is the term more commonly used. These lands include The Oasis, Discovery Island, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia, DinoLand U.S.A., and Pandora – The World of Avatar.

All are vastly different from one another, yet these lands make up a patchwork collaboration of versatile habitats and creatures, even showcasing actual real-life ones in their natural environments — the ones that are actually currently living and of this planet, that is.

Furthermore, the Animal Kingdom is the largest out of all Walt Disney World-based parks and even holds the record on a global scale in comparison with amusement parks the world over, with its impressive grand total of 580 acres in all. That means that there is plenty of room available for even more expansive opportunities in the future.

Map of Animal Kingdom
Credit: wdisneysecrets.com

I personally feel that adding a land representative of Australia would be the way to go. Whether a groundbreaking new construct or a revitalization initiative set on reimagining an existing portion of the Park, the fact that Walt Disney World Resort falls short in having a viable representation of the Land Down Under has already come up plenty of times.

Some Guests feel that a pavilion within EPCOT’s World Showcase would suit nicely, but I see much more lucrative potential in what can be done in regards to habitats and nature by bringing Aussie awesomeness to the Animal Kingdom instead. Here are some considerations as to why Disney’s Animal Kingdom needs an Australia-themed land.

Related: Which Other Countries Were Almost Added to EPCOT’s World Showcase and What Could Be Still to Come?

It Makes Perfect Sense

There are already “Asia” and “Africa” lands boasting a collective abundance of wildlife that each continent is known for, along with popular themed attractions, merchandise, and delicious dining in conjunction. So why shouldn’t they add Australia into the mix? When a fan posed a similar question to now-retired Imagineer Joe Rohde, he made the following comment:

“We talked at one time or another about any place that had animals people liked that were big enough to see. However, we tended not to group by national identity, but by habitat range. EPCOT is nations. DAK is habitat ranges. Where savanna is. Where tigers are. Like that.”

Even so, you can’t just ignore the fact that Africa and Asia exist. Sure, you can conclude that these are unlike EPCOT’s World Showcase in that they are continentally focused rather than nationally. But remember, Australia is also its own continent in addition to being its own country. Therefore, it still fits the bill. What’s more, there’s so much opportunity in what an “Australia” land can showcase in regards to creatures and habitats. It just makes sense!

Sign for AK's Africa land
Credit: Cara Goldsbury/Luxury Disney

Possibilities With Preexisting Park Inclusives

There are already several Australian-based foundations that could be incorporated into an Australian-themed land. First, it’s worth noting that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is already home to kangaroos. So why not relocate them from their current Discovery Island Trails to an “Australia” land and bring in a myriad of other marsupials in addition to them?

Kangaroos at Disney World
Credit: Disney

Another basis for the Australia theme is the resident Finding Nemo musical, soon to be revamped as the new stage show spectacular Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond! After all, Finding Nemo has alluded to taking place within Australian waters, with the biggest giveaways being the featured marine species, coral reefs, human character accents, and other carefully included references.

Related: Disney Hosts Auditions for ‘Finding Nemo: The Big Blue…and Beyond!’

On a lesser note, Disney’s sequel to The Rescuers was The Rescuers Down Under, with a storyline that largely takes place in none other than Australia. And then there’s FernGully: The Last Rainforest—one of my personal favorite “Disney” movies growing up, even before it was officially considered a Disney movie.

Taking place in an undisclosed rainforest in Australia, FernGully is home to a wide range of exotic Australian creatures that we seldom see spotlighted in films, including sugar gliders! These cuties would make an excellent addition to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Sugar Glider
Credit: San Diego Zoo

Room For More

It’s already been established that there is plenty of space within Animal Kingdom Park to be utilized and developed into a brand-new land. There’s also the more controversial idea of reimagining an existing land altogether into one with an Australian theme.

DinoLand U.S.A.
Credit: Disney

If you consider the latter, the most likely option would probably be DinoLand U.S.A. In fact, it’s even come up in recent years, as there’s been an ongoing loss of Disney Magic for this section of the Park. The most noticeable reflection of such undoubtedly came with the closing (and later demolition) of the renowned spinning Wild Mouse-like rollercoaster Primeval Whirl.

Furthermore, there have been comments from Guests for a while now saying that the whole carnival ride setup seems a little out of place and far too common for what you’d expect to find at Disney World. Another comment that DinoLand U.S.A. critics once made early on in the game was that it didn’t fit with the rest of Animal Kingdom Park, given its primary animal focus is not on currently living, breathing creatures.

But now with Pandora – The World of Avatar having been established here, that argument no longer holds weight. In fact, given the comparison between the two lands, DinoLand is by far more fitting, as its focus is on creatures that were at least once living and breathing beasts rather than the newer land’s fantasy/sci-fi approach to creatures that have never even existed.

Related: Primeval Whirl is Now Being Demolished at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Convenience in Location

Locationally, I can see why DinoLand U.S.A. would be the perfect location for an Australia installment. And given the fact that the theater housing the Finding Nemo stage show is right onsite at DinoLand (something that admittedly never made much sense to me), it would be a great workaround that would fit better than relocating the Nemo-themed show to a brand-new land site.

And depending on the Australia-based attractions to be implemented, there is a lot to work with, if the considerations came up for redoing the carnival ride setup. Then let’s not forget the fact that among the few living animal exhibits to be found within this part of the Park, there are indeed crocodiles. Sure, they may be “American” crocs, but who can deny the Aussie connotations and potential for expanding the collective here?

Crocs at Disney
Credit: ArrivalGuides.com

Related: 10 Fantastic Facts About Dinoland in Animal Kingdom

Thoughts on Re-Theming DinoLand

Faithful DinoLand fans such as myself would love to find a viable way to bring forth an Australia land without sacrificing DinoLand, U.S.A. I personally love DinoLand’s anchor attraction DINOSAUR, which is a bumpy, fast-moving dark ride that takes Guests on a blast to the past laden with face-to-face dinosaur encounters. And I admit that I would be absolutely heartbroken, as well as more than a little irate — to say the least — to see DinoLand U.S.A. scrapped altogether.

But as much as I would prefer to keep DinoLand exactly as it is, I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to a concept that could maybe combine the two; a way of salvaging the best parts of DinoLand to be worked into an Australian theme as a means of avoiding the chopping block altogether.

DINOSAUR ride
Credit: Disney

An anchor ride like DINOSAUR should absolutely remain. But perhaps there’s a way to incorporate a blast to the past retheming in which a wild Outback trek takes riders on a freak time warp and they travel back to Australian prehistoric times as a way of still letting some dinosaur-based features remain intact?

I’ll admit to not being too sympathetic in redoing the carnival attractions as Outback-themed follies or even replaced with new attractions and/or exhibits.

Related: Must-Do Experiences At Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Park

Also, in bringing about a combination Australian-dinosaur aspect, you cannot deny the many other opportunities for overlap that Disney could have fun with. We previously mentioned the crocodiles, but how about adding in some Cassowaries? Just take one look at these avian marvels!

You can’t deny that they appear to be far more dinosaur-like than backyard bird! The options are ongoing and endless! There may be a few kinks to work out, but it can be done if gone about the right way.

Cassowary
Credit: LA Zoo

Long-term plans for adding to Disney’s Animal Kingdom have been constantly emerging even from the very start. From the Beastly Kingdom extension that never came to fruition to the still tentative future idea of bringing about a Zootopia theme to the Park in some format, it goes without saying that there is very real potential in someday establishing an Australia-based presence here.

Whether the tradeoff would result in revamping an existing section like DinoLand U.S.A. or take shape within a newly developed section remains to be seen. All the same, I feel that an Australian presence at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is both necessary and highly overdue. Furthermore, I remain confident that it’s only a matter of time before the vision is realized and we finally get one!

About Laura

Laura Catherine aka “LC” is a writer who resides in Maryland with her family and several pets. She visits Walt Disney World whenever she can. Additionally, she is a published author of three novels, a children’s book, and has a passion for gardening.