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Animal Kingdom

Out of Africa

A routine bird show lies between Asia and Africa. Then we get to the park's signature attraction. Kilimanjaro Safaris is a successful ride. How can you tell? Well, it hasn't had to change its name yet, right? However, it doesn't mean that the ride didn't evolve for the worse under fire. During the park previews the poaching storyline was blunt. Big Red, the elephant matriarch, was dead. Her bloodied carcass was on display giving the riders a visually emotional attachment in finding Little Red alive and grabbing the tusk-hunting poachers.

The outcry over the dead fake elephant was enough to scrap the carcass even while the previews were still taking place. Would it be less objectionable if the safari simply alluded to Big Red's death and left it at that? Disney's animated classics like Dumbo and Bambi were childhood favorites despite the graphic images of the main characters losing their mother. Would it work? No. Some guests were still offended that Little Red was orphaned at the ride's end. Catering to the lowest common denominator, Little Red's mother was written back into the script, alive and well. Once found, Little Red is getting ready to be taken away to be reunited with its mom.

I love happy endings but what does that leave behind? The safari's finale is now in shambles as the quest to find incompetent poachers whose aim is so bad that they couldn't hit an elephant is a diluted victory. The food prep staff at the nearby Tusker House has a better animal kill-rate than these poachers. The urgency is gone and, if you look around your safari vehicle, you'll notice that many of the first-time guests have no idea what is going on. Yes, the ride works as a great way to see a variety of animals through the first part of the expedition but it loses some of that appeal due to its flawed ending. Instead of an exclamation mark Disney opted for a semicolon; pity.

Africa also has a train station. With the promise of Conservation Station and Rafiki's Planet Watch as a destination guests board on Wildlife Express trains with two levels of seats that only face the outer left side of the train. There's no reason to question the forced perspective. If Disney has walled off one side of the train and has you facing the other you expect to see a concentration of breathtaking vistas.

You fool! You get nothing. Through the shrubbery and surprisingly dull backstage animal care areas you wind around the train track to the other station. In yet another blueprint blunder the station isn't near an attraction at all. You actually have to walk through a needlessly long winding path before you get to a petting zoo and a building that houses a few minor exhibits. Why isn't there more? Why isn't the station closer? Conservation Station knows nothing about conserving your time or your energy. But as bad as it gets you're only halfway done. You still have to make that long walk back to the train station for yet another dull ride around to where you once started. While Disney did upgrade the ridiculous path with manned exhibits and sparse shade it's little more than Band-Aid strips to cover up for horrendous spatial planning..

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