Rivers of Light Review: Amazing Technology, Lack of Story

Animal Kingdom's new nighttime show may not be ready to debut to the public yet, but the Walt Disney World Resort gave Cast Members working at the park - and their invited Guests - the opportunity to preview Rivers of Light on Sunday, November 27, 2016 (another preview will take place tonight). Being the park's very first permanent nighttime spectacular, many are undoubtedly excited for it, as it will give Guests another reason to stay in the park after the sun goes down.

That being said, does this new show really deliver? Has Disney over-hyped it? Or have our expectations grown so much that we now want Disney to outdo itself every single time something new is introduced?


Having had the chance to personally enjoy the very first preview of Rivers of Light, we have formulated our own opinion about the show, and while we will never be able to speak on behalf of others, we are sure many of our Readers will enjoy hearing what we have to say and compare our thoughts with those of others that were also able to catch the show last night. We hope you'll enjoy our review.

Before we begin...
We would like to stress the fact that this review applies exclusively to the Rivers of Light preview, not the actual show that will debut at a later date. It's very important that we make this clear because there's a possibility that there are many more special effects that were not present during the preview, so our opinion might change in the future. Additionally, there was a strict no photography or video policy during the show, so all of the pictures featured on this article were taken before the show started.


The Setting and Pre-Show
Just like in the case of The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, this show takes places around the beautiful Discovery River. Having the iconic Tree of Life and other beautiful (real) trees in the background helps in creating one of the most beautiful natural settings for a nighttime spectacular.


About 45 minutes before the show, Guests in attendance started to hear music that can be heard in the park throughout the day (there was not a soundtrack created specifically for the show during the preview). Just 10 minutes before showtime, the four lotus flower-shaped barges in the lagoon started to light up. At the same time, "fireflies" were projected on the trees seen in the background, which were later joined by silhouettes of animals that would later be featured in the actual show.

These subtle but enjoyable details made us more eager for the show to start. Who knows what wonders await us! Of course, the ten minutes eventually passed. It was now time for Rivers of Light to begin.

The Show
At 8 p.m., the lights around the Discovery River Theater were completely turned off. Soon after that, very powerful strobe lights illuminated the entire theater, eventually ending up in the Asia side of the theater to reveal the first of the two shamans (which represents the "light") that welcome us to this celebration of nature. The second shaman (that represents water) is then introduced. He stood in the DinoLand U.S.A. section of the theater, essentially bringing the two "villages" (or sections) together.

After these formal introductions, the two shamans and other characters specifically created for this show board the two boats located on each side of the amphitheater. As they make their way to the middle of the Discovery River, the lotus blossom-shaped barges start to light up even more, creating a beautiful light show that is accompanied by even more lights that shone on the trees in the background.


As the lotus flowers continue to "dance" on the water, four additional barges make their way to the middle of the lagoon. These represent four animals: the tiger, the turtle, the elephant, and the owl. Just like the other barges, these animal figures move freely around the body of water and light up in different colors. The focus then goes back to the lotus flowers, as they suddenly turn into beautiful fountains.

These small fountains are then joined by much bigger fountains (which were also used as part of The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic) where beautiful animal imagery was projected. As part of the culmination of the show, the much larger lotus blossom barge in brought to the forefront, which ends up opening similarly to the Earth barge featured in IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth (minus the fireworks, of course). All of the barges and the two boats then come together as part of the final act of the show.

Main Points
  • Viewing areas: 2 (Asia and DinoLand U.S.A.)
  • Duration of the show: 18 minutes
  • Number of live performers: About 4-6
  • Special effects: very powerful strobe lights, lasers, water


Our Thoughts

All in all, we were impressed by the show's technological aspect but not the show as a whole. Like in the case of SeaWorld's Antarctica - Empire of the Penguin, the technology used in this show is undoubtedly fantastic, but it doesn't seem to be used to its full potential. Having the barges move freely in the body of water without the use of on-board drivers is remarkable, but does it really make a difference for regular park Guests at the end of the day if the rest of the show includes no real "wow" moments?

NO STORYLINE - Unlike other Disney nighttime shows, Rivers of Light does not appear to follow a specific storyline. For example, at the beginning of the show we are introduced to shamans that explain how water and light are essentially interconnected. That being said, that's the first and last time they really feel part of the story, as they end up being part of the background of the show once the barges become the focus of the show (and that happens about 3 minutes into the show). We were expecting them to be hosts that would accompany us throughout the show. It seems like we were wrong.

RANDOM ANIMAL PROJECTIONS - Afterwards, we saw a series of projections of random animal imagery. Going from an elephant to a whale or from an eagle to a tiger felt strange. Why not showcasing the animals based on where they live (mountains, prairie, oceans, etc.)? It just felt a little disjointed.

REPETITIVE SHOW SCENES - Seeing the barges "dance" around the lagoon is great, but after seeing them doing the same thing for 10 minutes we noticed that our minds started to wander. We were looking forward to what was next, and this is not something that happens to us often when viewing nighttime shows (the only exception would be the extended projection scene in Fantasmic!).


There were also a lot of special effects missing, but we are not counting this against the show because we are very well aware of the fact that this was a preview of a product that's not ready for a public debut yet. There were no floating lanterns in the lagoon, no fire, and no live music (the performers were on the boats and had instruments in their hands, but it appeared as if they weren't actually playing them). The lack of live music actually made us miss The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic show... just a little, of course.

That being said, we are definitely NOT dismissing this as being a failure. As we stated earlier, we see a whole lot of potential in this show. With some minor tweaks and additions this could become one of the most beautiful shows ever created. In fact, the music alone was absolutely amazing, and the use of strobe lights and lasers definitely made an impression on us. The problem is that this show is not ready yet, but you can count us among those who can't wait to see the enhancements that the show will receive before it officially opens to all Guests visiting Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park.

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