Kilimanjaro Safaris – Search for Little Red
Over the last few years, the story-line for the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been tweaked a number of times. News and Rumors are now circulating that the attraction will be tweaked even further and tamed down to just an animal spotting safari ride. Supposedly, the poacher story is going to disappear altogether. The “camp” that is found at the end of the ride, is already being removed and will be replaced with a live Zebra exhibit in the near future.
I’m not opposed to them adding more animals, but I do have mixed feelings on removing the mildly entertaining story of the poachers and interacting with Warden Wilson and Ms. Jobson, even if it did border on being cheesy and preachy sometimes. I also enjoyed the bouncy, fun ride and dash of excitement that it added to an otherwise sometimes lackluster tour through the Savannah. While the story line was a little bit silly, I think it added a necessary element to the attraction, particularly on those hot afternoons when the animals are all hiding in the tree line or resting somewhere out of site in the shade.
A couple of thoughts came to me about how they could vary the ride and keep it exciting, fun and entertaining and perhaps even retain the informational/educational aspects of poaching without being too preachy. One of my complaints and I’ve heard it from others as well is that the ride doesn’t allow you enough time for taking good pictures. I understand a need for a story, but I think sometimes, there are guests who really could care less and just want to see the animals and not necessarily be entertained.
To solve this issue, I propose two tracks/versions of the attraction, selectable by the guest before they get on the trucks. As is, the queue already splits in two at the load area. They could easily make one load area designated for the Safari only, where there would be no story, just a driver/guide who would point out the different animals, their characteristics and other random facts while on the ride. Perhaps, to make it a little more interesting, they could add some random quips or corny, but tasteful jokes, but that would be purely up to the driver and maybe the crew. To make it fun for the younger kids, they could also appoint someone the “assistant guide”, and give him a pair of Safari Binoculars to keep and help with spotting animals. They could also give him a button, pin or sticker to indicate they were an assistant guide.
In order to keep the ride somewhat entertaining, the other load area could be for a story-oriented ride thru maybe aimed at a younger audience. Since the attraction is currently focused around finding the elephant, Little Red, I thought, why not keep it elephant focused, but add characters from a Disney movie who were specifically tasked with finding someone. My favorite Disney animated movie, is The Jungle Book. In this movie, a herd of elephants led by a braggadocios former military elephant name Colonel Hathi, is recruited by the panther, Bagheera to help find the lost man cub, Mowgli, who has run off into the jungle and is in danger of being killed by the lion, Shere Khan. At first Colonel Hathi is opposed to such a task, but is soon convinced to help when his son, Hathi Jr, pleads with him and his wife, Winifred, demands they help find the man cub.
The load area would be changed to include pictures of the Colonel, his wife and his son, in the background they could maybe play a music loop of the March from the movie. Before the truck pulls up or as it pulls up, Colonel Hathi yells out: “COMPANYYY! ATTENTION! Very Good! Welcome to the Dawn Patrol. Today we’re marching thru the Savannah on a mission to… “ when the Colonel is interrupted by his son, Hathi Jr. “Hey Pop, Hey Pop! There’s a lost elephant wandering around the Savannah.” As in the movie, Hathi is reluctant to change his plans, but Jr and maybe even Winifred convince him and says his name is Little Red and he’ll get hurt it he’s not found. The truck would then pull up, and the voice of the Colonel is now coming from the truck as he yells “HALLLT!!!”. Throughout the ride, the Colonel and Jr are talking back and forth to you and each other as you search for Little Red. Along the way the driver is also conversing and telling you a little about the animals you are passing by, and where the animals are, interspersing comments about Little Red, and asking if anybody sees him. As before, the story would be loosely wound around the exhibits and the driver. They could add in music from The Jungle Book or other Disney music, perhaps even the same music they currently “tune in” on the radio, as many people seem to enjoy it.
The beauty in this proposal is the (seeming) ease of which it could be implemented. I hesitate to say it would be easy, because I’m not an expert on the mechanics of the current ride system, but I assume it’s based on a series of location based triggers for an onboard audio playback device of the specific story elements. If it is as simplistic as I assume, then it would just involve recording some new audio tracks, loading them on the trucks and moving or re-programming the triggers for the specific locations. Then, they would need to do some work in the queue and re-train the cast members. I’m sure it’s more complicated than what I’ve just pointed out, but compared to an overhaul of Test Track, or fixing the Yeti (sorry, couldn’t resist), this would be much simpler. In the end, they would be able to offer guests two completely different rides on the same attraction.
I think something like this is just scratching the surface with what could be done here and maybe even many other attractions. With new technologies, specifically some of the rumored Next Gen RFID technologies, they could really take this to a whole new level, and even have personalized ride experiences using the onboard systems or the guests’ personal smart phone. I’ll leave those ideas for a future post though.