One of the hidden gems of Animal Kingdom was the Flights of Wonder bird show. Recently, in Disney’s move to tie everything to an intellectual property, this show was revamped as UP! A Great Bird Adventure, and has brought the characters of the Disney-Pixar movie Up into the script.
On the surface, little has changed with the show. The Caravan Theater is still the same outdoor (but thankfully under shade) little theater that it once was. Many of the birds are still the same. (I’m thrilled that Frasier the Crowned Crane is still around, even if fewer and fewer people get the name.) It still emphasizes that birds are beautiful wild creatures, and not ideal pets for most people’s temperaments. Overall, it’s still a feel-good show for all ages.
So what has changed? Gone is the travel guide frightened of birds who learns that birds can be our feathered friends. Also gone are some of the parts of the original show. No more will birds fly out to take money from “unsuspecting” tourists, and the magical moment that I got to participate in being on stage and having a bird flying right at me to land above my head has also been replaced by a toucan hopping along the arms of volunteers as if they were a tree.
Flights of Wonder lacked much of a storyline, and UP! continues in the same way. Your host, Anika (a fellow Wilderness Scout), introduces herself as a protector of an aviary built by Anandapur royalty who were one with nature, and she and another bird expert come out to show everyone about the majesty of birds. Along the way, Russell (the faithful Wilderness Explorer) and Dug (everyone’s favorite talking dog) from the movie Up, come along to talk about their bird friend, Kevin, and learn about the other birds who come out for the show. But in the end, whether it is a frightened tourist or characters from a Disney-Pixar film doesn’t make much difference. The real stars of the show, as it should be, are the birds.
Where this show succeeds greatly is that for a theater that holds hundreds, the interactions with the birds feel very intimate. And, because these are wild creatures, the unpredictability of the show adds to repeat viewing. When two parrots came out to show us their impressive skills singing songs and saying cute phrases, the birds went delightfully off script. As Gabby performed on cue to sing You Are My Sunshine, her partner in the act, Molly, interrupted the song by meowing like a cat, a behavior performed minutes earlier, but one that was so much more fun to that bird than listening to Gabby sing. The more the audience laughed, the more Molly wanted to meow her heart out!
During the show, the macaws enjoyed flying through the theater, which always brings lots of oohs and aahs. After they took a final fly-through at the end, not all of them decided to head back in for the night right away, and enjoyed watching the people filing out of the theater. During one part of the act where a bird was supposed to fly through a London Bridge-like obstacle course under the arms of people, the bird decided to land on the last person instead of on the arm of the trainer. In short, birds are going to do what birds want to do. That makes the show that much more entertaining—a show with its own potential blooper reel built in.
There’s a delightful amount of diversity in birds shown, from an Andean condor to a Bald Eagle and from chickens to peacocks, plus a variety of more unusual birds. It is worth noting that you won’t see birds on roller skates or walking a tightrope—the behaviors done by the birds are natural behaviors that you’d see them doing in the wild. (Well, aside from changing radio stations on a boom box at the beginning of the show.)
Some of the scenes with Russell and Dug feel a bit forced—like a scene where one of the birds doing its natural behavior “destroys” Russell’s camera. And for some of the scenes with birds, Russell and Dug were actually off stage, only coming between scenes to provide a bit of commentary. One could argue that their presence, like the plot about the scared travel guide, isn’t necessary to keep the show moving, but I think it provides a way for younger kids to stay entertained when a bit of information is being presented about the birds. Russell and Dug explaining wingspan (with Dug using his ears for props) will be more appealing to kids than a person on stage talking about it, for instance. For an adult who isn’t all that interested in the character inclusion, it is almost possible to forget that Russell and Dug are there, due in no small part to the amazing stage presence of Anika, the hostess.
Although the addition of characters from Up may increase the popularity of this show, it has not watered down the quality of the show, or made it too cartoonish. Flights of Wonder was a hidden gem at Animal Kingdom, and UP! continues that tradition. Make sure to take some time out of the day to catch this show—and of course say hi to Frasier Crane, too.
UP! A Great Bird Adventure is offered several times a day in the Caravan Theater in the Asia section of Animal Kingdom. Check your times guide, My Disney Experience, or the Lines app for showtimes each day. For seats in the front seating area, you’ll want to arrive at least 15 minutes early, as it does fill in quickly. For those who arrive later, or if you want a viewing of the show where you won’t have birds flying overhead, there are some bleacher-style seating areas on both sides of the theater. Due to the theater’s size, no matter where you sit, you’ll have a good view.