Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened to the public back in April 1998 as what can best be described as a zoological theme park where you could view animals in their natural habitats and learn about conservation efforts around the world.

But have you ever wondered why there is a dragon on the parks logo? The other elements all make sense as they can be found within Animal Kingdom which may leave you confused about just what a dragon is doing there?

This dragon goes way back to the original idea for the park, a clue of which was given during the dedication of the park on 22nd of April 1998;

Welcome to a 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.

Animal Kingdom Dedication Plaque, 22nd April 1998, Michael D. Eisner

Disney’s Animal Kingdom was originally to feature three types of animals; real, extinct and imaginary. The real animals can of course be seen throughout the park and within Kilimanjaro Safaris. The extinct animals are found within Dino Land USA and at the time of opening the imaginary could be found in the form of the Yeti on Expedition Everest.

Animal Kingdom initially opened with two of the three planned lands completed (the real and the extinct), with the original plan being to open a third land called Beastly Kingdom (the imaginary) a few years after the initial opening. Sadly this land never came to be and has since been permanently cancelled as Pandora World of Avatar was constructed on the area where Beastly Kingdom was planned to be.

While Pandora World of Avatar certainly ticks the boxes for the imaginary creatures, the original Beastly Kingdom was meant to be devoted to different imaginary animals including unicorns, dragons and sea monsters.

As well as being devoted to imaginary animals, Beastly Kingdom was to feature some extremely interesting attractions with the area split between two distinct realms of good and evil creatures.

The “good” realm was to feature two attractions, a maze leading to the home of a unicorn, the “Quest of the Unicorn” and a musical boat ride called “Fantasia Gardens” based around the movie Fantasia.

While we both agree that this realm doesn’t sound too exciting, Alistair is deeply saddened that the “evil” realm was never built. It was to feature a roller coaster ride that would have riders flying through the ruins of a burning castle to escape from a dragon whos treasure you’ve tried to steal.

What Happened to the Plans?

There wasn’t one single event that occurred which caused the cancellation of Beastly Kingdom, but rather several.

Following the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom attendance at Disney’s other theme parks dropped, Disney executives responded by pushing forward with several new attractions and shows at the other Florida parks, the money for which came from the funds reserved for Beastly Kingdoms construction and the Beastly Kingdom project was further delayed.

It’s well known that some of the Imagineers who initially dreamed up Beastly Kingdom ended up leaving Disney and were quickly snapped up by the Universal Studios team. When Universals Islands of Adventure opened, one of the areas, The Lost Continent, was very similar to the original plans for Beastly Kingdom, featuring a rollercoaster, “Duelling Dragons” and the “Flying Unicorn” ride.

Sadly, shortly after Islands of Adventure opened Disney’s plans for Beastly Kingdom were permanently shelved – on one hand it’s easy to see why Disney choose not to continue with the plans; after Universal launched similar attractions, but we’d of still loved to see their take on the evil realm which we can’t help but feel would have been the closest we’ll ever get to a land dedicated to the Disney Villains.

Finally, the land that was originally allocated for Beastly Kingdom was transformed into Pandora the World of Avatar which we both really enjoy, so while we’d of loved to see what Beastly Kingdom could have become we’re more than happy with the amazing theming of Pandora.