The hol­i­days hit An­i­mal King­dom

Disney World kicks off the hol­i­day sea­son with tra­di­tional, new fare.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - Dewayne Bevil

The hol­i­day sea­son of­fi­cially kicked in at Walt Disney World on Nov. 8 with tra­di­tional and new Christ­mas­time fare across the prop­erty, in­clud­ing fresh — and some may say en­chant­ing — el­e­ments at Disney’s An­i­mal King­dom theme park. Here’s some of what we ex­pe­ri­enced, in­clud­ing our first awwwwww mo­ment of the sea­son.

Pup­pets plus

They got us al­most right from the start. In the Dis­cov­ery Is­land area that fronts the park’s Tree of Life are cos­tumed cast mem­bers sta­tioned with life­sized pup­pets rep­re­sent­ing cold-weather crea­tures. Think Julie Tay­mor-ish, but more opaque and in shades of icy blue and white. They roll around and in­ter­act; it’s an in­stant photo op. Ar­riv­ing folks were de­lighted and, if my Twit­ter feed can be be­lieved, peo­ple want to buy one.

The pup­petry hap­pens in shifts, and we were happy that the birds on poles were the last for us and they were a fit­ting/ soar­ing cli­max.

The area has lu­mi­nar­iesesque struc­tures lin­ing the roofs of stores there. They are boxy and an­i­mal-inspired, of course. They look good in the day but re­ally shine af­ter dark. And that’s when you’ll gather for the latest edi­tions of Tree of Life Awak­en­ings, the pro­jec­tions upon DAK’s cen­ter­piece. These are win­try and what we’ve come to ex­pect from the shows, which are gen­tle and na­ture-lov­ing. It’s not all icy and the fea­tured an­i­mals re­ally pop on the tree (an or­ange fox, a bright red car­di­nal, for ex­am­ple).

For the first time, we also watched the pro­jec­tions from the back side of the park, which should al­le­vi­ate foot traf­fic closer to the park en­trance. Go to the bridges of Africa for clear views.

Dolled-up Dino-Land

The char­ac­ter meet-and­greet ar­eas of Dino-Land also got eye-catch­ing up­grades. Go see Scrooge McDuck’s golden theme, which looks bril­liant at night, but my pho­tos turned out bet­ter dur­ing the day. Daisy Duck’s area is ex­tra pink, and Launch­pad McQuack has an avi­a­tion theme and a tower of lights.

You can’t miss the flash­ing­lights en­hance­ments to the di­nosaur struc­ture that spans the dig/en­trance to the area. By

day, you see he’s got a Santa hat. At night he turns into a pul­sat­ing show, a sort of pre­his­toric nod to the late, great Os­borne Fam­ily Spec­ta­cle of Danc­ing Lights at Disney’s Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios. It’s not the same, by any means. We didn’t even hear “Feliz Navi­dad.” But it’s worth the walk over.

It blends in (even in Pan­dora)

To be clear, the hol­i­days aren’t drip­ping from ev­ery post at An­i­mal King­dom, but each land has some­thing to ad­mire. The them­ing is so well-in­te­grated that you might think “Was that here al­ready?” The lights in Asia, a ref­er­ence to the Di­wali cel­e­bra­tion, are a good ex­am­ple of that. In Africa there are more lights and lots of nat­u­ral­ma­te­rial wreaths (plus one made of beer bot­tle caps). Stop and ab­sorb, but don’t ex­pect a red-and-green theme to alert you.

I’ve heard push­back re­gard­ing the very idea of Christ­mas in “Avatar” land like it was some­how be­smirch­ing the vi­sion of di­rec­tor James Cameron. The Disney story has Earth­lings work­ing in Pan­dora cel­e­brat­ing the sea­son us­ing avail­able ma­te­ri­als to style dé­cor of their up­bring­ing. It’s a small area of the land and doesn’t screw with the bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence. (Check out the di­ver­sity of hol­i­day gear in the win­dows of

Pongu Pongu too).

So, ex­hale and take an ex­tra cup o’ kind­ness.

Other Disney World hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties have ar­rived as well, in­clud­ing the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christ­mas Party, fea­tur­ing new hol­i­day styled at­trac­tions at To­mor­row­land Speed­way and else­where at Magic King­dom. Also on the cal­en­dar now: a cou­ple of pro­jec­tion shows at Hol­ly­wood Stu­dios and the global ap­proach at Ep­cot.

DEWAYNE BEVIL/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Life-size an­i­mal pup­pets are part of the new hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties at Disney’s An­i­mal King­dom theme park.

KATH­LEEN CHRIS­TIANSEN/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Disney’s An­i­mal King­dom is decked out in hol­i­day decor for the first time.

KATH­LEEN CHRIS­TIANSEN/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Stay tuned at night for hol­i­day light shows on the Tree of Life.

DEWAYNE BEVIL/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Char­ac­ter meet-and-greets in Dino-Land have new hol­i­day over­lays, in­clud­ing a golden one for Scrooge McDuck.

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