Actually, KiteTails is Good?

We love Weird Disney World. Watching old YouTube videos of things from Walt Disney World’s first three decades is a passion, especially short-lived shows and things that are quirky and bizarre. Things like Daredevil Circus Spectacular, Totally Minnie, Splashtacular, and more–but not the Barbie show.

So much of this is enjoyable unironically, as it brings together talented performers with an endearing, rough around the edges oddness. Younger or newer fans probably don’t realize it, but everything hasn’t always been so polished and carefully calculated. Walt Disney World has done a lot of peculiar stuff over the years.

When watching this eccentric entertainment, there’s also the sense that “this could never happen at today’s Walt Disney World.” In this overproduced era, everything is crafted by committee and sculpted by synergy–there’s little leeway for something fun but funky to slip through the cracks. It would seem that Disney KiteTails did exactly that…

While we had a lot of fun with KiteTails and think it deserves way more credit than it is getting, I’m slightly hesitant to write a positive review of the show. It feels like a future bad take or opinion that could age poorly if the show is overhauled or cancelled.

Over the course of just a few days, KiteTails has had several issues–big problems that we’re not trying to diminish. Its centerpiece kites have crash-landed into trees and along the shore, jet skis have flipped, and multiple performances have been cancelled. (To that point, it took us several attempts over a couple days just to see KiteTails.)

There’s also the possibility this review comes across as contrarian. Disney KiteTails has become fodder for memes and is already being dunked on by fans as an unmitigated disaster. Anything this unpopular is bound to see a backlash to the backlash, with some liking it just to be edgy or hip. No one has ever accused me of being either of those things, and I can assure you I’m not trying to start.

My perspective on Disney KiteTails is a bit more complicated than that. Despite the title, I don’t think it’s unequivocally good–nor is it so bad it’s good. Rather, it occupies this weird space in between, being a little good-good and a little bad-good, if that makes any sense whatsoever.

Part of the appeal of Disney KiteTails for me is the surrounding circumstances. It debuts alongside Harmonious and Disney Enchantment, two nighttime spectaculars that epitomize the “modern” Walt Disney Company. Both suffer from too many chefs in the kitchen and were undoubtedly created with content mandates from on high to ensure they promoted the hot intellectual properties on Disney+ and toys being sold at Target.

Harmonious and Disney Enchantment were likely developed over the course of several years, by teams numbering in the hundreds, and were meticulously and formulaically engineered to “perfection.” They’re a bit like a Marvel movie, except neither of those nighttime spectaculars ended up being perfect–or anywhere close to it.

By contrast, Disney KiteTails is like an odd concoction cooked up late one night while raiding the fridge. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the impetus for KiteTails was someone in entertainment noticing they had some unused jet skis and kites leftover from Epcot Forever, and wanting to figure out how they could be repurposed. Then at about 2 am, they saw a competitive kite contest on YouTube, and boom, KiteTails was born.

There’s also the reality that KiteTails isn’t meant to be a “spectacular,” so the expectations are different. (Walt Disney World is calling it a daytime activation; we’d consider it a diversion since we’re not robots.) Regardless, it’s not intended to be a daytime equivalent to Harmonious or Enchantment. It’s smaller scale, and was put together by a tighter team with far fewer resources.

KiteTails also almost certainly cost very little to develop and bring to fruition.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the total budget for Harmonious exceeded $100 million. It also wouldn’t surprise me if KiteTails cost $100,000. (If it’s later revealed that KiteTails has been secretly in development since 2007 and Disney spent $150 million on it, I’ll definitely be “rethinking” this position.)

The big things that KiteTails gets right are tone, atmosphere, and energy. Everything about KiteTails feels natural and pure.

The movies used and characters featured are present because they’re good fits for the show, not because the company needs its new kite show to convince people to watch these movies on its streaming service to hit some random metric for success. That might seem like an obvious, low bar to clear–but it’s one that not every recent production manages.

Before KiteTails, Cast Members get kids involved in the fun, bringing out little turtle puppets to parade through the stage. The theater is decorated with vibrant lanterns and banners, upbeat music plays in the lead-up to the show, and the colorful character puppets are a delight.

Nothing is elaborate or over the top, but it’s colorful, enjoyable, and pretty. All of this could fairly be summed up as cute and charming–with a dash of controlled (sometimes) chaos. It’s fun to watch and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Just a good time all around.

Then there are the performers. These Cast Members are clearly giving it their all, putting their hearts into the performances. This encompasses everyone involved in KiteTails–from the band playing music on a flotilla to the in-theater puppeteers bringing life to their animals to the jet ski duos who end each show with enthusiastic waves and smiles on their way out, despite merciless mocking online.

When it comes to these Cast Member performances, we should note that we are not grading on a curve given the negative online response to KiteTails. All of these accolades are merited given the effort–they’re just doubly impressive in light of the internet reaction.

There’s also a very different response from guests who are actually in Animal Kingdom and at KiteTails performances. While we wouldn’t say we’ve heard many guests (or any, for that matter) loudly gushing about KiteTails, people in the park do seem to be generally enjoying it.

It’s also undeniably exhilarating. Every time one of the big balloons makes a turn or approaches shore, there’s an audible reaction from the crowd. Whether intentional or not, these character balloons are performing thrilling aerial acrobatics with some near misses as they dive from high in the air to grazing the surface of the water. Admittedly, this is one of the things we like most about KiteTails. Those portions are much more exciting than I’d expect watching kites to be.

With that said, Disney KiteTails is not perfect. This should go without saying, but this is not meant to be read as a rave review lavishing praise on KiteTails as a masterpiece of Walt Disney World entertainment. It most definitely is not. However, it is better in person–it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that static photos don’t do it justice. Baloo doesn’t actually look like he’s planking in midair nor are these like Macy’s balloons–they dart around pretty quickly.

KiteTails is only a few days old, and has already had a bunch of problems. We didn’t experience any of that during our viewing, but we also missed several shows because of those issues–so it’s not like we’re denying their existence. The show will probably be modified at some point in the future as a result.

Beyond that, there are the obvious issues that could’ve been anticipated even before Disney KiteTails debuted. The amphitheater is unshaded, so you’re going to want to arrive at the last possible minute to avoid roasting in the sun. Kites are wind-dependent, and that’s going to cause cancellations or modifications even after KiteTails hits its stride.

Personally, I’d love to see an evening version of KiteTails. I joked in a past post about lighting the kites on fire, but in all seriousness, it would be awesome if Disney did exactly that. (Probably getting a bit ahead of ourselves suggesting fire be added to an already uncontrolled show!)

It would also be cool if the larger kites were somehow illuminated, or if there were more puppeteers weaving through the audience. Suggesting the scope and scale increase may also be overzealous at this point, though.

Finally, I’d love to see Disney lean into the chaos and absurdity of KiteTails, making it even more over the top rather than toning it down. KiteTails is at its best when its energy collides with its frenzy, and its kites almost collide with the water. The entertainment team should find ways to guide the pandemonium a bit better, while also enhancing and even amplifying it.

Ultimately, it took us a few days after Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary started to see Disney KiteTails. During that time, we found ourselves bombarded with memes and scathing online criticism that lowered our expectations and had us dreading another disaster on this cursed lagoon. A show so bad it shouldn’t have left the drawing board and needs to be cancelled immediately is not what we experienced.

Rather, we found Disney KiteTails to have heart. It’s a fun and enjoyable experience thanks to charming and colorful puppets, buoyant music, daredevil giant balloons, and a chaotic energy in the best way possible. To be sure, KiteTails is not a perfect show–but it’s not an unmitigated disaster, either. It’s entertainment that’s in need of some tweaks, but a show with potential, personality, and pluck. As we left the amphitheater, Sarah turned to me and said, “actually, KiteTails is good?” Yeah, it sorta is. We were as surprised as anyone by this, but also very relieved coming on the heels of Harmonious and Disney Enchantment.

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Your Thoughts

Have you seen Disney KiteTails in person? If so, what did you think of the show? Have you seen the photos, memes, or fails? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

34 Responses to “Actually, KiteTails is Good?”
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