Meet the beasts of 'Magic of Disney's Animal Kingdom'
They may not be in their completely natural habitats but the stars of “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom” certainly seem at home at the Central Florida theme park.
Narrated by Josh Gad (“Frozen”) and premiering Friday, Sept. 25, on Disney+, the eight-episode docuseries brings viewers behind the scenes at the park to watch the behaviors of some of the 5,000-plus animals there and meet the keepers, caregivers and veterinarians that keep them happy and healthy and the park running day and night.
Among the regulars they’ll meet are Gino, a silverback western lowland gorilla celebrating a birthday; Kenya, a Masai giraffe in need of a pedicure; Carri and Bones, an endangered vulture couple that keepers are trying to mate; and Anala and Sohni, Sumatran tigers for whom keepers have created toys to keep them entertained.
“It’s like being on safari but it’s actually within the incredible Disney Animal Kingdom resort, ” says Tom Brisley, an executive producer and creative director at Arrow Media, the series’ production company with National Geographic. “… And then filming them in their homes when they’re being treated or being cared for just shows this incredible dedication and commitment that the Disney team has there, the veterinarians and the animal keepers as well. It was just a joy and … just incredible to experience and to capture on camera.”
To capture their behaviors, the production crew employed long lenses to film the animals at great distances and embedded cameras in their enclosures weeks in advance of filming to get them used to their presence. Then the caregivers, many of whom have known their charges for years, serve as interpreters for what the viewer is seeing.
“They know that Matt the elephant likes to be in a certain spot,” explains Ashley Hoppin, an executive producer and vice president of production at National Geographic, “and they know what that swish of his tail means, they know what the ear lift means. So it’s almost like having a sportscaster kind of doing a telecast telling you, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going to happen,’ because they know them. And that happens over and over and over again. So our crew was just on fire. I mean, everyone was smiling and laughing, and every day somebody else had a new little story.”