D23 was expected to have some big announcements, but it’s still amazing to see how much Disney has planned. Granted, there’s a history of Disney announcing attractions that never came to be (see the planned Play Pavilion at Epcot), but it looks like they’re serious on the changes here.
Arguably, the biggest is transforming Dinoland USA at the Animal Kingdom to mix elements of Encanto and Indiana Jones. If any change is long overdue for the park, this is it, as Dinoland USA is a reminder of the lost early promise of the Animal Kingdom and moving on from that is good for the park.
The original DAK plans
When the Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, Disney’s plans were to have it show animals of three types: actual living ones, extinct ones and fantasy ones. However, thanks to various issues, the “Beastly Kingdom” expansion never came to be (which makes the dragon face at the front gates look even more out of place).
Dinoland USA was an okay idea, a throwback to the kitschy roadside attractions of the past. But somehow, it never really clicked. Maybe if the planned roller coaster had been built, it might have been different, but all fans have is the Dinosaur ride, as Primeval Whirl was closed a couple of years back. Besides Dinosaur, it’s just carnival games and an area screaming out for a makeover.
So, putting that in extinction mode helps, especially given what’s coming.
Why Encanto fits in DAK
It appears the plan is to shift the area to a South American feel and put in something themed to Encanto. Yes, there’s the eye-rolling at more IP, but given this was one of Disney’s biggest recent hits, it makes sense. It also fits DAK better than other parks.
The details are light on what sort of attractions there can be, but the concept art shows what looks like a replica of the magical house from the film. A dark ride there utilizing the same tech as Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland would be amazing, along with the typical meet and greet with the characters. At the least, some sort of show with the beloved songs (yes, even “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”) can be fun.
If nothing else, the art promises a lush and beautiful area for guests to visit, which is a lot better than the bare bones (pun intended) of Dinoland USA. If the area has half the magic the movie did, it'll be a great spot for guests to walk through and that's without the other planned half of the area.
Why Indiana Jones fits in DAK
The big push of the concept art is that Dinosaur looks to be replaced by a familiar-looking temple. This indicates that, after nearly 30 years, Disney is finally bringing the beloved Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye ride to WDW.
That Disney had never replicated one of Disneyland’s busiest rides over the years is amazing, but they needed the right place for it. Oddly, having the iconic archaeologist in a spot formerly used for dinosaurs has logic and Indiana Jones would be right at home in the jungle settings of DAK. In fact, it seems surprising Disney never planned for the ride years ago given how it already seems perfect for the area.
As the rides use the same layout, shifting Dinosaur for Indy would be relatively easy. It may not be a carbon copy of Temple, as Imagineers can make a new storyline with more advanced AA to highlight the fun. No matter the reaction to the last movies, Indiana Jones has a power over visitors and giving Florida guests a shot at the same ride California visitors have loved for decades is long past time.
Why this is needed
Let’s be honest: DAK is often considered the least “must-see” of the four parks. Sure, World of Pandora is great, but aside from that, they’ve needed other attractions to justify spending more than a morning or afternoon there. It's never quite risen beyond the feel of a fancier zoo rather than the experience Disney wanted when it opened 25 years ago.
Anything with Encanto can get attention from the kids, especially with a fun ride. Meanwhile, the Indy ride would automatically be a hot ticket and boost attendance, something DAK can use to expand to the rest of the park (especially with a Zootopia attraction also planned).
So once more, Disney is leaning into IP, but in this case it's needed. Dinoland USA just wasn’t the top spot, even when DAK was new and gotten more outdated over the years. Refreshing it is good enough, but doing so with Encanto’s magic and the Indy ride is even better. Thus, this makeover can only make DAK better for guests and push it to the future.