In 1998, Animal Kingdom opened with three lands available to the public: Africa, Dinoland U.S.A, and Camp Minnie Mickey. Asia wasn't ready for opening day, and Camp Minnie Mickey was always intended to be a place holder for the soon-to-come "beastly kingdom". In the opening of the park, the dragons and unicorns played as important a role in the signage and suspense for the future as did elephants and tigers. To this day, the Animal Kingdom features a "unicorn" section in its parking lot, a dragon on its insignia, and a few other hints for what was to come.
The most important remnants from the planned kingdom lie along the banks of the Discovery River, which flows around Discovery Island. Many fans will remember that at one point, guests could ride boats on a tour on this river, and get some beautiful views from the park. One important facet of this tour was a mysterious encounter with a rock formation outside of Camp Minnie Mickey. As the boat floated by the rocks, which seemed to be shaped like a dragon (or is it your imagination?), sounds of monsters could be heard from inside, and fire would be shot out of the mouth of the dragon! This was intended to be a little teaser for the land that was soon to open in the park. If you cross the bride to Camp Minnie-Mickey today, you can still see this rock formation in the distance, though Disney tries to hide it now.
As the Animal Kingdom grew and aged, the beastly kingdom made less sense. Guests wanted more contact with real animals, and imagineers worried about the impact that fantasy-themed rides would have on the animals. The Festival of the Lion King quickly became the park's most successful show, and was planted firmly in Camp Minnie Mickey. Protesters also made sure Disney heard how much they didn't appreciate comparing real animals to fantasy ones. We will see how people respond to the new Avatar-themed land. For now, it is fun to think about what could have been. We will also see how much of this land ends up coming to fruition with some Avatar attractions as vehicles, rather than Disney-original themes.