Harambe Nights at Disney's Animal Kingdom

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Walt Disney World launched a new summer event on Saturday that takes guests into the Animal Kingdom theme park after hours.

Harambe ballonHarambe Nights is a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the animated movie "The Lion King." It takes place in the Harambe Village section of Disney's Animal Kingdom park. It's a separate ticket event that begins as the park is closing for the day.

Guests gather in the streets of the village and sip beer, wine or a cocktail made with rum, passion fruit and guava (very sweet). There's food here, too, but it's mostly modest fare. There were some hamburgerlike egg rolls, meatballs, chicken legs and a curried fish. Don't fill up on this stuff— there's much more after the show.

Harambe view

The main attraction is The Lion King: Concert in the Wild inside the Harambe Theater. Upon arrival at the parks' entrance gate, guests are given a wristband that indicates which section they will be seated in — Zebra, Giraffe, and such. The Lions have the premium seating, of course, and presumably they also get their choice of which other section they would like to devour. I was invited to sit in Zebra section, directly behind the Lions. The Lions are on the main floor with no rake, so visibility may be difficult for short people behind a person who really should be a Giraffe, if you know what I mean. Frankly, I was very happy being in the bleacher seating with better visibility, as you can see from the video above.

And in any case, the premium seating is sold out through the summer-long run.

Harambe theater

The show features a live orchestra, chorus and dancers. There's a host and a celebrity narrator, Viola Davis at the premiere event. In this aspect they seem to be wanting to capture some of the elements of the annual Candlelight Processional. I think Davis is a phenomenal actor — she actually stole the scene she had with Meryl Streep in the movie "Doubt." However, she seemed to be reading her lines for the first time and really didn't add much to the evening. (There's a different star each week — I'm thinking Brian Stokes Mitchell might be good.)

The real star of the show is the movie itself, scenes of which play on large screens on either side of the multilevel stage. The live cast members sing and dance and react to the characters on the screen, and the orchestra plays along in sync. The singing and dancing are worth the admission fee ($119 for adults; $79 for children).

Following the 55-minute concert, guests stream back out into the streets of the village for more eating, drinking and entertainment. There are multiple buffet stations, all with the same grouping of foods, so there's no reason to wander from street to street looking for something different. Fish, chicken, lamb chops, potatoes, fresh fruit — there's plenty to eat but nothing to go gaga over.

Harambe Nights takes place every Saturday evening through August 9th. This is supposedly a one-time event for the 20th anniversary of the movie, but given the popularity (see reference above to sold-out premium seating) I wouldn't be surprised to see a celebration for the 21st anniversary, too. You'll find more information online, where you may also purchase tickets.

Here's the lineup of celebrity narrators:

  • Avery Brooks – June 14, 2014
  • Montego Glover – June 21, 2014
  • David Alan Grier – June 28, 2014
  • Michael Beach – July 5, 2014
  • Harry Lennix – July 12, 2014
  • Joe Morton – July 19, 2014
  • Alfre Woodard – July 26, 2014
  • Brian Stokes Mitchell – August 2, 2014
  • Patina Miller – August 9, 2014

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