Jungle rumble at Disneyland Paris
The French theme park proves it's king of the swingers with an intoxicating new summer season, says Damon Smith
That most contrary force of nature - the weather - is a die-hard Disney fan. A plume of hot air from the Sahara is nudging temperatures across France to record-breaking highs as Disneyland Paris raises the curtain on The Lion King & Jungle Festival. This exclusive summer season of shows and immersive experiences playfully unites Simba and Nala's antics in the African savannah with Baloo's escapades in King Louie's Indian jungle, until September 22.
Some of the inspiration lies 4,000 miles east in Rajasthan. The park's artistic team visited the north Indian state during two-and-a-half years of preparations. They auditioned local drummers and sourced intricately embroidered fabrics and twinkling jewels for more than 500 costumes, to bring authentic splashes of colour to a cultural kaleidoscope of East meets West.
But The Lion King: Rhythms Of The Pride Lands is the show-stopping centrepiece. Performed four times a day in the cavernous Frontierland Theatre, the 28-minute spectacular re-imagines the award-winning musical on a purpose-built 40-metre stage with Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics and four live percussionists.
Rafiki is played by a man for the first time and the rumbustious comic relief of Timon and Pumbaa has been dialled down. At weekends, chansigne performers dance with their intricately choreographed hand gestures for deaf and hearing-impaired guests.
At Central Plaza in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, a parade of gargantuan animal floats heralds the arrival of Mickey, Minnie, Baloo, King Louie and friends, for The Jungle Jive. Sweat is sluicing off me in the relentless midday sun, but artists from India and squads of tightly drilled dancers look serene as they cajole crowds into a toe-tapping sing-along to The Bare Necessities, I Wanna Be Like You and Trust In Me, culminating in an impressive pyrotechnical effect, inspired by the coloured powder thrown during Holi.
Timon shares his "problem-free philosophy" six times a day within splashing distance of Pirates' Beach in Adventureland, through a mass-participation MataDance. An excitable throng of children and one rhythm-challenged dad are gleefully repeating hand movements and foot shuffles in the scorching conditions. There are whoops of parental pride and despairing shakes of the head from one embarrassed wife. Flatulent warthog Pumbaa signals his approval with trombone-like trumping that could single-hoofedly undermine the Paris Agreement.
The Djembe Joy Village in Frontierland, open daily from 2pm, is home to the Djembe Academy, where guests receive enthusiastic percussive tuition (in French) from a brightly-dressed instructor to play the goblet-shaped African drum. Nearby, the intoxicating beat goes on in the company of groovy orangutan King Louie, who is in a playful mood as he meets adoring fans.
Gluttony overrides common sense in this heatwave when it comes to themed refreshments and dining. A lion's paw biscuit generously filled with unctuous chocolate hazelnut spread turns into a hilariously molten mess in my hands. A generously-swirled green banana-flavoured ice cream in a waffle cone with floral sprinkles lasts slightly longer and is lip-smackingly moreish.
The Lion King Signature Experience brings together various elements of the festival for £87.06 per person, including lunch at the Hakuna Matata restaurant in the company of Rafiki and Mickey, a meet and greet with Minnie in her dashing explorer's outfit and reserved seating for The Lion King: Rhythms Of The Pride Lands.
Disneyland Paris (disneylandparis.co.uk; 0844 800 8111) offers a two-night/three-day stay at Disney's Hotel Santa Fe, including return travel on Eurostar from London St Pancras, Ebbsfleet or Ashford International to Disneyland Paris, in standard class, from £1,746.63 for two adults and two children, including park tickets and half-board meal plan. Price based on July 22, 2019 departure date during The Lion King & Jungle Festival, subject to availability