Festival of the Lion King is a long-running stage production hosted by the Harambe Theater in Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida. It’s back in a new guise, A Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King, which features a few changes from the original stage production.
This show is Broadway-caliber. The performances’ energy, bright pageantry, and costume colors make it an enduring favorite for theatergoers of all ages.
A separate but similar production takes place at Hong Kong Disneyland.
Festival of the Lion King Through the Years
The Festival of the Lion King has a long and reputable history. It has been a firm favorite of Walt Disney World visitors since the first production enthralled fans way back in 1998. Since then, Disney has presented this celebration of life to different audiences in several venues. Let’s briefly run through the progression of this short-form live-stage musical.
The Festival of the Lion King opened way back in 1998. It followed the following format for the whole of its 16-year run at Camp Minnie-Mickey in Animal Kingdom.
Guests are assigned to sit in one of four different sections, each carrying an animal name. Animal floats acquired from Disneyland’s Lion King Celebration parade represent the Elephant, Warthog, Giraffe, and Lion sections.
As the show progresses, guests in each section are prompted to make animal sounds linked to the animal of the area where they’re seated. At certain times of the show, the four hosts encourage selected children to leave their seats to dance. Vibrant colored birds also take to the air in the theater.
These four hosts dress in traditional African costumes and bear Swahili names. There’s Nakawa, meaning good-looking, Kiume, which means strong and masculine; Zawadi, or the gift; and Kibibi, the princess.
Since the first performance, Festival of the Lion King has included songs from the Lion King movie but doesn’t follow its storyline. The stage production also includes several songs from other sources. The original Festival of the Lion King production also included aerobatics from the Tumble Monkeys.
The show ends with its grand finale taking place to a medley of songs, including “Circle of Life.”
In early January 2014, Festival of the Lion King took a temporary hiatus as Camp Minnie-Mickey closed. At the beginning of June of the same year, Simba and his cohorts returned to the brand new Harambe Theatre in Animal Kingdom’s Africa section.
Like so many others, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Festival of the Lion King into hiatus. Walt Disney World as a whole temporarily closed its gates to the public.
In July 2020, the theme park reopened. Many stage shows, including Festival of the Lion King, didn’t return due to a dispute between AEA, the Actors’ Equity Association, and Disney.
A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King, an updated version of Festival of the Lion King, held its premiere in early May 2021. It officially opened the following week, coinciding with Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration.
The show’s cast performs for the Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade every year. The parade is filmed at the Magic Kingdom, with a Christmas Day broadcast taking place on ABC.
What has Changed in A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King?
Unlike the original Festival of the Lion King, A Celebration no longer sees the audience assigned a specific “animal” seating section in the theater. Instead of learning and making animal sounds and singing along with the songs, the audience claps along to the music. Some people may find this disappointing, as it makes for less interaction with the performers.
The colored birds that took flight during the original show remain. Due to post-COVID health and safety regulations, they no longer fly aerobically but still dance beautifully to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”.
Sadly, and perhaps most notably, the orange-clad Tumble Monkeys no longer play a part. Again, the omission of this fun element of the original performance is due to COVID-19 regulations.
Besides the above-mentioned omissions, everything else remains as it was. A Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King is exactly that, a celebration that the whole family can enjoy together. As the show spans only 30 minutes or so, there’s always the time and opportunity to book another sitting in the future as well!
Hong Kong Disneyland
Adventureland’s Theater of the Wild at Hong Kong Disneyland plays host to a somewhat different version of the Festival of the Lion King. Unlike the changes in the Harambe Theater version, the audience still sits in four different demarcated sections.
The Hong Kong show is a truncated version of the classic The Lion King animated story, including songs from the movie. The primarily English performance sees two performers dressed in monkey costumes condense and translate Rafiki’s words into Cantonese. Basic Chinese subtitles are also shown on screens above each seating section.
Rafiki, played by a female performer like in the Broadway musical, tells Simba his life story. The lion is a complex puppet on a float adorned as Pride Rock. Unlike in Disney’s Animal Kingdom version, Simba wears black and red tribal attire with a braided mane.
Some Fun Facts
- After the show’s first run in 1998, numerous performers went on to forge Broadway careers for themselves.
- Since 2009, Timon has had an articulated head while Simba’s forepaws move, much as they had when the show opened in 1998. Between 2001 and 2008, the forepaw movement stopped before returning from 2008 onward.
- If you watch the Simba figurine, you’ll notice it dances and sings along to the music throughout the performance.
- The grand finale makes use of singers, dancers, puppets, and stiltwalkers.
Is Festival of the Lion King a good show?
One of the first and best shows at the Disney Animal Kingdom, this show is highly entertaining and very energetic. The performers and wardrobe are excellent now called A Celebration of Festival of the Lion King. There aren’t many Lion King attractions, but this is worthwhile.
Do you need to make a reservation for the Festival’s dining package?
The Dining Package is available for family bookings through Disney’s online reservation system. Limited space is available, so we recommend you book early.
What is the recommended age group that will enjoy the Lion King festival show?
Although the show is fun for any age group, including moms and dads, children ages six to twelve will love it. Children in this age group who love animals will enjoy it even more. The show is of Broadway caliber. It has everything, including singers, dancers, bright garments and sets, and some spectacular stilt walkers too!
How long is the latest Lion King show at Animal Kingdom, and is it wheelchair-friendly?
A Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King is 30 minutes long. It takes place in the air-conditioned, 1,450-seat Harambe Theater. It’s located in Africa at the Disney Animal Kingdom theme park. If you’re using a wheelchair, a particular seating area is available for you and your party.