This April 30, 1998, issue of the Walt Disney World cast-member publication Eyes and Ears (Volume 28, Number 18) celebrates the official opening of the resort’s fourth theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The front page features color photographs of the festivities, including shots of company chairman and CEO Michael Eisner’s dedication speech, as well as remarks by vice chairman Roy E. Disney and performances by Lebo M, among others.
Welcome to the Kingdom of Animals, real, ancient and imagined. A kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons. A kingdom of balance, harmony and survival. A kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama and learn.
(Inscription on dedication plaque at entrance to Disney’s Animal Kingdom)
The park, which debuted on April 22, 1998 (Earth Day), remains the largest ever built by Disney. It centers on various aspects of the natural world, while placing a large focus on plant and animal conservation. At opening, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was divided into the following five lands, with the 145-foot Tree of Life serving as the park’s centerpiece: The Oasis, Safari Village (renamed Discovery Island a year later), Camp Minnie-Mickey, DinoLand U.S.A., Conservation Station (later re-branded Rafiki’s Planet Watch), Africa, and Asia. The opening ceremony, which took place on April 21, included a parade of performers and puppeteers, musical performances, celebrity attendees, and a finale that featured an American bald eagle flying in over the crowd and landing on-stage.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Celebrates Opening
(by Tom Reynolds, Walt Disney World NewsRoom)
“The day has finally arrived to dedicate Disney’s Animal Kingdom, an epic that has been literally…taking millions of years to accomplish.”
With these words, Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company, dedicated the fourth theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort in a historic ceremony outside of the park’s main entrance.
Even though it was for a theme park about animals, the ceremony focused on people—those who made the park a reality and those who continue to bring it to life each day for the guests.
Roy E. Disney, vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company, introduced the Cast Members from Walt Disney Imagineering who designed the park, saying, “They’re the ones who transformed a pasture into a kingdom.”
In addition, Michael acknowledged the Cast Members who will work in the park to create magical experiences for guests.
“It is now my pleasure to introduce you to the people without whom we could not make our magic happen—our Cast Members,” Michael said. As he did this, a long procession of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Cast Members made its way through the aisles and eventually stopped around the large stage of performers.
He also listed, individually, the names of the 12 people on the park’s board of advisors who represent some of the leading naturalists, environmentalists and zoologists in the world. Dr. Jane Goodall, a pioneering researcher of chimpanzees, received special recognition.
Roy also spoke about the park and how its concept is rooted in the animal films that The Walt Disney Company has produced over the years. He cited examples like Bambi, The True-Life Adventure Series and The Lion King as films that have long demonstrated the company’s connection with the animal world, saying, “The Walt Disney Company owes a lot to animals.”
The ceremony itself was a colorful musical salute to animals and the people who make Disney’s Animal Kingdom possible. The stage was filled with performers. Large puppets on poles were lifted over the crowd and marched down the aisles. The backdrops lifted to reveal larger-than-life images of animals staring at the crowd. Lebo M, the singer who recorded some of the songs for Walt Disney Pictures’ The Lion King, performed his rendition of “The Circle of Life.” The ceremony ended with a display of performers and Cast Members on stage as a bald eagle flew over the audience and landed in front of Michael and Roy.
The event was attended by Cast Members who work at and helped design the park, as well as by members of the media and celebrities. This marks the fourth theme park to open at the Walt Disney World Resort since the opening of the Magic Kingdom Park in 1971.
The remaining seven pages of this Eyes & Ears issue are filled with various bits of information related to cast news and activities, as well as an article on the opening of the new Walt Disney Feature Animation Building at the Disney-MGM Studios.
This cast member publication represents a fairly rare collectible marking the historic opening of one of Disney’s most unique and beloved theme parks to date.