How’s this for a variation on the circle of life? Animal experts from Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park help ensure script accuracy with Disney Junior’s new program, “The Lion Guard.” And then they work on the tail end of the production – promotion of the finished product – with an activity inside the park. The Lion Guard Adventure debuted Sunday, and we were there to check it out.
Even though my daughter is no longer in the target age range of 2 to 7 years for the Disney Junior network, she still is interested in “The Lion Guard” and its presence at Animal Kingdom. After all, the show is a spinoff from the very popular 1994 animated movie, “The Lion King.” The franchise has had several related stories since its introduction more than two decades ago. Most recently, it has been continued with a one-hour movie, “The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar,” on Nov. 22, 2015, and then the Disney Junior series began on Jan. 15.
“The Lion Guard” centers on Kion (voiced by Max Charles), the son of Simba (Rob Lowe) and Nala (Gabrielle Union), who has taken on the role of leading a group of friends to protect the Pride Lands. Guests at Walt Disney World can take part in a scavenger hunt throughout Animal Kingdom that enables them to take fun photos with five characters from “The Lion Guard.” At the end, participants can earn a Lion Guard Mark of the Shield and become a member of the Lion Guard.
To get started, we grabbed a complimentary map from a countertop display in one of the large gift shops near the Tree of Life. Guests can start and end their scavenger hunts with any of the characters – Kion, Ono, Bunga, Beshte and Fuli. This makes it convenient to play The Lion Guard Adventure simultaneously while going about your plans for the day. Also, because it’s a self-guided activity, The Lion Guard Adventure is open the same hours as Animal Kingdom. Be aware that the rewards, however, are handed out at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which opens 30 minutes after the park does and usually closes a couple hours earlier than the park. Check the printed daily Times Guide or MyDisneyExperience.com for exact times.
In the character hunt, each character statue is marked with a Lion Guard flag, making it easy to spot. When guests find each figure, they are invited to take their own photos. (Disney’s PhotoPass photographers are not at these locations.) But please don’t do what we saw one family doing on opening day: The parents were encouraging their children to climb on the statues to pose for pictures. These statues are intentionally placed back into the foliage and not easily accessible. Not only is climbing on the statues unsafe for youngsters, but it also could damage the characters and ruin the photo ops for other guests.
Then, participants are encouraged to take the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and head to the Conservation Station to take The Lion Guard Pledge:
To use my keen eyes
To see right and wrong,
To use my roar, and
To be brave, fast and strong.
I will protect
My animal friends.
I pledge to the Lion Guard,
I will defend!”
Afterward, they are rewarded with a button that shows the Mark of the Shield, which is what the all Kion’s friends in the Lion Guard have. A PhotoPass photographer is stationed at this location. A cast member told me that guests do not have to participate in the scavenger hunt in order to be able to take part in the pledge and Mark of the Shield ceremony.
The Lion Guard Adventure is really simple – for older kids and adults. For children ages 2 to 7, which is the target audience, it appears to offer them satisfaction without a lot of frustration. The Lion Guard Adventure certainly is not challenging for older kids, but they can still enjoy the scavenger hunt because it’s the only place at Walt Disney World to see these characters.