Does ‘Moana’ Really Belong in Disney’s Animal Kingdom? A Case for DinoLand U.S.A.

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding upcoming attractions inspired by Moana (2016) at Walt Disney World, which has many fans thinking back to some of the “blue sky” ideas presented during last year’s D23 Expo.

With at least two new experiences based on the film in the works at two different Disney World theme parks, we really do have to wonder about Moana (2016) being a potential replacement for DinoLand U.S.A. (as it was presented in concept art during D23 in September 2022). Is this the best fit for Animal Kingdom, though? I have some thoughts.


Credit: Disney

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Which Moana attractions are definitely happening?

As of this writing, Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana is set to open later this year at EPCOT, and Moana herself will soon debut at a character meet and greet location at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana, will be an interactive walkthrough attraction that traces the journey water takes through the natural world. The attraction, to be located in World Nature, is now said to be the final piece of EPCOT’s multi-year transformation that also included the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Creations Shop, and Connections Cafe & Eatery.

In Animal Kingdom, Moana is making her debut this month in celebration of both Earth Month and the 25th anniversary of the Disney Park. Guests will be able to meet the character beginning April 22, 2023, on Discovery Island near the Tree of Life.

While not confirmed, the “blue sky” ideas shown during D23 appear to depict a water ride and a spinner/flat ride inspired by the 2016 Disney animated film. And outside of the Parks, Disney has also announced that a live-action remake of the film is in the works.

Moana Disney's Animal Kingdom

Credit: Disney

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Does Moana fit the “mission statement” of Disney’s Animal Kingdom?

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is accredited by the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and as a result, the Park must adhere to certain guidelines, particularly when it comes to educating Guests on animals and conservation. As part of this requirement, and per the original inspiration for the Park, conservation needs to be at the heart of every new attraction and themed land in Animal Kingdom. (If you are wondering how Pandora fits where it features fictional creatures, consider the conservation messaging in the Alpha Centauri Expeditions.)

Following the Avatar (2009) example, Moana could fit into Animal Kingdom. Both films are not “screaming” the importance of conservation at their audiences, but Imagineers were able to create stories within the Avatar universe to make Pandora work, and especially given the importance of water in conservation, it would not be too much of a stretch to make Moana work, too.

Even if Disney could make Moana work in this Park, does that mean they should? In my personal opinion, no. Pandora – The World of Avatar is a stunning addition to the Park, and I love spending time there, even though I honestly do not have strong opinions about the Avatar films. But Pandora also replaced Camp Minnie Mickey, which while adorable, has not entirely been lost since Pandora opened as Festival of the Lion King and the land’s character meet and greets were moved to new locations and not closed altogether.

Moana concept art from D23 at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Concept art shown at the 2022 D23 Expo, Credit: Disney

Many of the best parts of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, despite the total immersion of Pandora, do not come from IPs from Disney’s film collection. Kilimanjaro Safaris is easily one of the best Disney attractions ever created, and the level of theming and details around Asia, Africa, and Discovery Island, without any ties to IP hold up as some of the best areas I believe Imagineering has ever worked on. Moreover, did you know Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain was the last original attraction at Walt Disney World created without inspiration from preexisting IP?

As for Moana, I have no doubts that Imagineering would do an absolutely incredible job executing a land inspired by the film. And if Animal Kingdom had another themed land or two’s worth of space to fill with such an idea, I might be more for it, but if we have to lose the originality of DinoLand for Moana to come in, well, I’d rather not.

Signage for DinoLand U.S.A.

Credit: Disney

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What about DinoLand U.S.A.?

DinoLand U.S.A. is the first location I worked at during my Disney College Program, so it holds a special place in my heart and for that reason, I have an obvious bias toward not wanting this land to go anywhere.

Unfortunately, the permanent closure and dismantling of Primeval Whirl, the fact that nothing has been announced for what is now just an empty space in the middle of Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama, the potential replacements for the land announced at D23, and more recently DinoLand’s noticeable exclusion from Disney’s press releases on the Park’s 25th anniversary, I would be surprised if DinoLand is not eventually replaced with something else.

All of that being said (and again, I have the obvious bias) I am 100% against the replacement of DinoLand U.S.A. Yes, the theming is tacky, and as much as I (again bias) love the theming of DinoLand, I would be all for updating the design of this section of the Park, but keeping all things Dino, rather than replacing it with Moana, or any IP for that matter.

Mural in the Dino Institute at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Credit: Disney Travel Babble

As far as the conservation message of Disney’s Animal Kingdom goes, I honestly believe DinoLand U.S.A. to be a necessary part of the Park. It is the only land that focuses on extinction, which is a necessary reality we must face when considering any level of interest in conservation and endangered species. And while the story of extinction is obviously portrayed in a rather whimsical way in DinoLand, it’s a story that I believe the Park needs to continue to tell alongside areas that educate Guests on ways to save wildlife that are currently endangered.

There is a mural in Dino Institute gift shop (by the exit of the DINOSAUR attraction) that Guests tend to miss that clearly outlines the concept of extinction. It shows the dinosaurs on one end and other animals that have already gone extinct, with the animals on the far right (many of which you can see in the Park) being those that are critically endangered.

DinoLand provides a necessary chapter in Animal Kingdom’s conservation story, and replacing it with a fictional story focused more on water and human cultures than wildlife might offer an upgrade in terms of attractions, but a downgrade in terms of what the Park is actually all about.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect Disney Tips as a whole. 

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."