Yesterland
Animal Kingdom
at Yesterland.com
Camp Minnie-Mickey

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2007

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, there’s Africa. Magnificent animals inhabit a vast preserve which can be viewed from safari trucks departing from a scruffy rural village. Also, there’s Asia. It includes two thrilling rides and the Maharajah Jungle Trek, where tigers and other Asian animals roam among the ruins of a great civilization.


At Yester Animal Kingdom, there’s Camp Minnie-Mickey. It’s a rustic camp like something in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. Disney characters hang out here.

Somehow, the theme of Camp Minnie-Mickey doesn’t seem so grand compared to Africa and Asia. But don’t be concerned about that. The Camp is quite charming. And it’s the home of the star attraction of the entire park.

Let’s go across the bridge and look around.

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Follow the sign

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Bridge over Discovery River

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Map of Camp Minnie-Mickey

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Discovery Club

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2007

Rustic bench

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Fishing Duck

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Duck stream

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Camp food

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Camp dessert

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2007

Water pails at the well

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Mouse queue

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Meet the Mouse

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Two photos by Allen Huffman, 2001

Follow the signs

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2007

Entering The Festival of the Lion King

The biggest draw at Camp Minnie-Mickey is The Festival of the Lion King. A troupe of performers is wandering through Africa with their interpretation of the story of Simba the Lion. It’s never explained how this troupe found itself in the Adirondack Mountains. But that doesn’t matter. The show is absolutely captivating. Unlike the “book report” shows that try to retell a movie in 20 minutes, this show uses the characters and music from the Lion King (1994) as the starting point for something that’s original and artistic.

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2012

Welcome!

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Really big show!

Well, there you have it.


Walt Disney World’s fourth major theme park had been in the planning stages since 1989. The Walt Disney Company announced plans for “Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom” in June 1995. A press release described the park’s three themes:

Guests will embark on journeys into three major sections of the park: the real, the mythical and the extinct.

Live, wild animals and exotic landscapes set the scene for a thrilling safari that tells a dramatic story about wildlife today in Africa. Great herds of live animals, including giraffes, zebras, lions, hippos and elephants, will be presented in true-life adventure stories of mystery, danger and humor. The guest is a participant, not a spectator, and every encounter with animals is an adventure within the context of a story in this largest land of Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom.

In the mythical world of unicorns, dragons and other magical creatures, guests will come face to face with make-believe animals from legends, fairytales and storybooks which play an important role in the circle of life because of their powerful hold on our imaginations. The creatures will come to life through Disney’s creative storytelling and theme park magic.

In the park’s third region, the focus is on extinction. Guests will be whisked back 65 million years to witness the end of the dinosaur era. Disney’s most advanced Audio-Animatronics® will bring the giants of the Cretaceous era to life in a major thrill attraction. Other adventures will lead guests into a primeval forest and allow them to experience prehistoric life on Earth.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom (without “Wild” in its name) officially opened April 22, 1998.

Camp Minnie-Mickey was one of the new park’s lands. The other lands were Entrance Plaza, The Oasis, Safari Village (now Discovery Island), Dinoland, U.S.A., and Africa—and a tiny bit of Asia in the form of the Flights of Wonder bird show; the rest of Asia would come in later. Conservation Station was either another land or simply the destination of Africa’s Wildlife Express train depending on the map or guidebook.

But there was no land devoted to mythical animals. The budget to proceed with the Beastly Kingdom, sometimes spelled as the Beastlie Kingdomme, was not there. Part of what had been its site become Camp Minnie-Mickey instead. It was a temporary, low-budget, last-minute addition.

Camp Minnie-Mickey

book covers © Disney

Two books that ignore (or almost ignore) Camp Minnie-Mickey

The 1997 softcover 32-page book, Sneak Preview, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, did not mention Camp Minnie-Mickey at all. The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, a 1998 hardcover 192-page book by Melody Malmberg, included only an illustration of the stage for the Pocahontas animal stage and a few paragraphs about adding the section for Disney characters.

By the way, if you don’t have Melody Malmberg’s book on your theme park bookshelf, it would make a wonderful addition. Ms. Malmberg was a full-time show writer at Walt Disney Imagineering and is the wife of Joe Rohde, the Executive Designer of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Although this book has long been out of print, used and new copies are usually available on Amazon at remarkably modest prices. Take a look at the Amazon link at the left.

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Four photos by Allen Huffman, 1998

The Festival of the lion King in the 1990s

Fortunately, some very creative and resourceful people from Disney Entertainment and Disney Imagineering made the most of the limited budget for Camp Minnie-Mickey. They began with floats from the defunct Lion King Celebration parade at Disneyland, props from the defunct Spirit of Pocahontas stage show, and a mandate to provide character meet-and-greets.

For The Festival of the Lion King, the parade floats were turned into rolling stages on railroad tracks. Originally, the octagonal performance pavilion had a roof but was otherwise open-air. With its amazing cast, high energy, and nonstop entertainment, the show became the break-out hit of the park—the “must-see” highlight that guests told their friends about. It took until 2003 before the theater was fully enclosed, with the air conditioning and full theatrical lighting that guests enjoyed during the show’s final decade in that theater.

Although Camp Minnie-Mickey was meant to be a temporary placeholder, it lasted almost 16 years. Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends closed in 2008, but the rest of the Camp kept going. As the trees grew taller, the area looked more and more like an actual mountain camp—despite the lack of real or artificial mountains.

The camp-themed land closed permanently on January 6, 2014. This corner of the Animal Kingdom would finally be turned over to mythical creatures, but they would be from the top-grossing motion picture of all time, James Cameron’s AVATAR (2009).

The Festival of the Lion King, still wildly popular, moved to new digs in the park’s Africa section. Shows resumed June 1, 2014.

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Concept art © Disney

Boat ride through a jungle of bioluminescent plants

Camp Minnie-Mickey

Concept art © Disney

Floating mountains of Pandora

The AVATAR-themed land for Disney’s Animal Kingdom had been announced September 20, 2011. The announcement did not include the exact location, any Imagineering artwork, or any details about what to expect. Although Disney fans are normally thrilled when a park is getting something new on a grand scale, the choice of AVATAR as the theme generated more negative than positive reactions. The naysayers tended to agree that, sure, AVATAR sold a lot of tickets with its impressive use of 3-D CGI at just the right time, but who really cared about the characters or the story?

It took a long time for artwork and some details to emerge. When that finally happened in October 2013, some of the criticism turned to cautious optimism.

At least this time the Imagineers presumably have a hefty budget. Now let’s see if they’re as creative and resourceful as the team that made Camp Minnie-Mickey with Disneyland cast-offs, mountain camp construction materials, and lots of talent.

 

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Updated July 22, 2016.