Starting next week, you’ll once again be able to enjoy and interact with the greatest walk-around character at Walt Disney World. In this post, we’ll share details about the return of Kevin the Bird from Up, which is underrated and underhyped–just like so many things at Animal Kingdom.
Kevin first debuted at Animal Kingdom back in February 2019, where she (remember, Kevin’s a girl) freely roamed around Discovery Island playing with people, cawing at children, and disturbing Dug. Most days, Kevin appeared intermittently from 9 am until around 4:30 pm.
This was one of several Up additions to Animal Kingdom around that time as that became a logical property to have a presence in the park. The Wilderness Explorers self-paced, scavenger hunt to collect over 25 badges expanded in scope and scale, a meet & greet with Russell and Dug debuted on Discovery Island, and both were also featured in the bird show “UP! A Great Bird Adventure.” If you count all of the rewrites to that abomination, even more stuff from Up was changed/added!
All of this culminated in the Kevin the bird free-roaming character. She essentially wandered around, engaging with guests in random and fun ways, startling unsuspecting people, posing for photos, and just generally having a good time. This character encounter was exceptionally well done, and true Disney magic–but more on that later in the post.
Our initial suspicion was that Kevin was being play-tested at Animal Kingdom to be shipped off to another park, as had happened before with the Living Character Initiative. (This was not part of that–Kevin is an actual performer.) Our only basis for this belief was the fact that Walt Disney World did almost nothing to promote Kevin despite the bird being an absolutely fantastic addition. New flooring at the Epcot gift shop received exponentially more fanfare from the company.
This turned out to be wrong, as Kevin the bird continued to appear daily at Animal Kingdom for over a year, right up until Walt Disney World closed in March 2020. She hasn’t returned since, presumably a victim of the budget cuts and scaled back entertainment that has plagued the parks.
Honestly, I didn’t think Kevin would ever return. It seemed like one of those things that was never a “big deal” from Disney’s perspective (see the aforementioned lack of marketing), and would thus be quietly cut and gone for good. I was thus very surprised to learn that the Kevin walk-around character will return at the beginning of next week, greeting guests on Discovery Island intermittently from mid-morning until about an hour before sunset.
I’m absolutely ecstatic about this news for a couple reasons, which is why I’m dedicating an entire post to the seemingly insignificant (it’s not!) return of a single walk-around character.
First, even though we effusively praised Kevin upon her debut and recommended making time for the character encounter in our 1-Day Animal Kingdom Itinerary, it’s something many Walt Disney World guests overlooked. As I believe this is the kind of special little thing that defines Disney, I’ll take every chance I get to “promote” it.
Second, we have been highly critical of Walt Disney World slow-rolling reopening efforts, as well as entertainment cutbacks (even before the closure) over the years. This is the restoration of something removed that, truthfully, Disney probably could’ve “gotten away with” never bringing back. Even fans who loved this (like us) probably weren’t expecting its return. Kevin would’ve been one of those “Weird Disney World” things circumscribed to the annals of history.
I believe it’s important not just to call out the bad, but to praise the good. I learned this technique of positive reinforcement when training our miniature dachshund. He’s still a little hellraiser despite our best efforts–hopefully this approach works better with Walt Disney World. (At least there will be less barking.)
To that end, this is actually one of a few recently restored entertainment acts that have received minimal fanfare from the company itself. Just yesterday, the Viva Gaia Street Band returned to playing sets in their usual location across from Flame Tree Barbecue, also for the first time since March 2020. For those unfamiliar with it, this multi-cultural music troupe leads a high-energy street party and invites guests to dance to the music daily at 10:45 am, 11:45 am, 12:45 pm, 1:45 pm, 2:45 pm, 3:45 pm, 4:45 pm, and 5:45pm.
Also within the last week or so, the Voices of Liberty returned to the American Adventure rotunda and Olaf rematerialized in Celebrity Spotlight at Hollywood Studios. I’m holding out hope that the Citizens of Hollywood’s appearance during the Walt Disney World Marathon means they won’t be far behind. (I haven’t heard anything and want to be clear about that–not trying to rumormonger.)
Finally, let’s circle back to the specialness of the Kevin walk-around character. “Magical” is a term we don’t often use, as it gets thrown around by Walt Disney World so haphazardly that it’s almost devoid of all meaning and significance. Everything from new cupcakes to shopping on your phone is worthy of that superlative, in Disney’s view.
Kevin is magical, really and truly. She is hilarious, engaging, and adds real personality to Discovery Island. In a way, Kevin is like Merry Menagerie, which we called “Real Christmas Magic” at Walt Disney World. Both are deceptively simple but surprisingly effective at causing guests to suspend disbelief. Kevin mesmerizes guests as they interact with the bird, having pure and wholesome fun.
Kevin is hilarious and engaging, adding personality and substance to Discovery Island. She makes lasting memories and has an outsized impact on guests. Like we often say, it’s the little things that leave the lasting impressions at Walt Disney World. Entertainment like this showcases how Walt Disney World can do something special without that being a blockbuster new attraction that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and almost a decade to build.
Don’t get me wrong–I love Pandora: World of Avatar and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge plus the headliner attractions in each, but balance is key. Things like Kevin and other small-scale additions with heart should similarly be a focus. On a somewhat unrelated note, I’d love to see Imagineering take a similar approach with new attractions. Rides like Storybook Land Canal Boats and Casey Jr. Circus Train would be lovely additions, and could cost very little to build. But I digress.
Words and photos definitely don’t do Kevin justice, and neither does video…but it at least comes a little closer. Here’s one Sarah shot of Kevin interacting with Dug. This is just one of many memorable random ‘scenes’ with Kevin that we wandered into during the character’s one-year initial run.
Kevin demonstrates that park additions can resonate with guests without costing $200 million or more. Things that are charming, quirky, etc. can connect with guests on an emotional level just as well–or better–than the fancy stuff. The point is that Kevin is something pure and special, the kind of silly but memorable thing that I’d love to see more of at Walt Disney World.
On that note, if we can just get Walt Disney World to bring back the Pandora Utility Suit. With Avatar 2 hitting theaters on December 16, 2022 (barring another multi-year delay), now is the perfect time for this giant walking mech suit to once again roam around Pandora.
You know all of the warm praise we had for Kevin, how she’s wholesome, charming, and makes lasting memories for guests? Yeah, none of that applies with this Avatar mech suit. It’s just super weird and cheesy. Definite “Weird Disney World” vibes, though. As odd as it is, the Pandora Utility Suit always drew a crowd and was a fun and silly addition. If we don’t get that, maybe Walt Disney World will finally add some droids or other characters. I guess I’d be willing to “settle” for a floating Baby Yoda. 😉
What do you think of Kevin the Bird from Up at Animal Kingdom? Pleased that more entertainment is returning to Walt Disney World? Think that the charming and endearing experiences are the essence of the Walt Disney World experience, or do you only care about the blockbuster attractions? Think Kevin is as awesome as our praise for her, or are we overselling such a simple thing? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!