One Disney100 show pops, the other fizzles
Disneyland’s “Wondrous Journeys” and “World of Color – ONE”
It’s the Walt Disney Company’s 100th anniversary, and the Disneyland Resort is marking the occasion with the Disney100 celebration, which kicked off last Friday. Among the event’s highlights, Disneyland Park debuted the delightful ride-through attraction, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which anchors an expanded Mickey’s Toontown. Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure also introduced new nighttime spectaculars.
“Wondrous Journeys” at Disneyland is everything one could hope for in a kiss-goodnight show that encapsulates 100 years of Disney animation. The dazzling presentation includes fireworks exploding over Sleeping Beauty Castle–itself a long-heralded tradition–melded with projections onto the castle and the buildings that line Main Street, U.S.A. The note-perfect show incorporates scenes and characters from all 62 animated features that the legendary studio has produced.
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It begins, as it should, with an early black-and-white rendition of Mickey Mouse. The castle and shops quickly transform to a technicolor kaleidoscope run amok with Snow White, Bambi, Peter Pan (who intones “Here we goooo” to kick off a lovely sequence that stitches together scenes in which characters take flight), and other old friends, along with buddies from more recent films such as “Encanto” and “Big Hero 6.” Speaking of taking flight, the inflatable robot, Baymax, from “Big Hero 6” soars over the castle in one of the show’s highlights.
Lower-profile films, such as one of my personal favorites, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” get their moment in the spotlight as well. While I did not have an opportunity to see them, the show includes projections on the “it’s a small world” facade as well as at the Rivers of America. Apparently, moments from some of Disney’s even lesser-known features are included in the mix there.
“It’s an homage and a love letter to the Walt Disney Animation studios,” says Jordan Peterson, show director for Disney Live Entertainment. The show is not a timeline retrospective, he adds, but more of an emotional arc. “It follows the journey of the artist and the journey of the studio through the journey of our characters—and therefore us.”
Our connection to Disney’s characters are strong, and “Wondrous Journeys” capitalizes on the bond to great effect. Seeing Sorcerer Mickey stirs our collective consciousness, and watching him wave his gloved hands upwards on a Main Street shop and summon a perfectly synchronized fireworks burst over the castle is literally and figuratively uplifting.
Projection technology is rapidly evolving. The intensity and richness of the colors as well as the image clarity for the show is startling. At one point, the castle and shops appear to be crumbling. The especially evocative effect likely couldn’t have been done so compellingly just a few years ago. Lasers, fire, and lighting that bathes the crowd in red enhance the ominous tone of the sequence.
It would be nice to have more contrasting imagery on the castle and the Main Street buildings. Often, they display the same content. Likewise, with such a broad palette, it would be great if the content included more scenes with progressive movement, say with action that moves down Main Street and ends up on the castle. With so many competing sightlines, it can be hard to know where to look, and the show is sometimes a tad overwhelming. But it washes over the audience in an almost dreamlike fashion.
Appearing in the penultimate scene, Winnie the Pooh brings his childlike silliness to the proceedings and sets the stage for a big, satisfying finale. If anything, my biggest complaint about “Wondrous Journeys” is that, at about 15 minutes, it felt too short. It was a journey I wanted to continue to take.
“World of Color – ONE,” on the other hand, did not have the same emotional pull. The Disney California Adventure presentation, the latest iteration of the park’s fountain show, was oddly muted in its tone. Despite the grand scale of Paradise Bay, with its soaring fountains and huge water screens, the scenes tended to focus on small moments. By using mostly mid-tempo tunes or ballads such as “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas,” the pacing was often plodding and didn’t build much energy or momentum. Business picked up when the “Star Wars” theme played. But even then, the sequence eventually turned reflective and somber.
It may have to do with the theme of the show, that one person can have a ripple effect like a drop of water. The focus, therefore, is on individual characters and the impact they make. According to Wendy Ruth, Disney Live Entertainment show director, she wants guests to “walk away with a sense of empowerment–that they can make a difference.” The show is bookended by Walt Disney, who, Ruth adds, is a prime example of a wave maker. “It was Walt’s drops of creativity, those first steps that he took, that is the reason Disneyland exists.”
While it is always great to include Walt Disney, it seems strange that a show produced in honor of the company’s centennial would not include references to anything from his era. I believe the oldest film included is the original “Star Wars” from 1977, but most of the clips are from movies released in the 1990s and later. In addition to animated films such as “Ratatouille,” “Soul,” and “Mulan,” the live-action Avengers are included along with “Star Wars.”
There are some captivating moments. During the “Mulan” segment, for example, an avalanche triggers a “wave” that is depicted on the Ferris wheel and roller coaster that are behind Paradise Bay, flows across the fountains, and soars into the crowd with clever lighting and effects. The reverberations of the tsunami travel over and behind the audience via the crisp, surround sound system.
To be fair, the night I saw the show, during a special presentation for cast members and media, the California winds were howling, and the conditions were far from ideal. Water screens and fountains are a tricky proposition under the best of circumstances; strong winds can cause havoc with them. Much of the imagery was truncated or otherwise compromised, and it was hard to follow the show. I’d imagine Disney officials were struggling trying to decide whether or not to cancel it due to the winds. Either way, they would have disappointed the invited guests. It’s highly likely that had the weather cooperated, my take on the lagoon show would have been different.
You can get a sense of what the water screens look like under more accommodating conditions in the following highlights from “World of Color – ONE.”
The Disney Gallery, located in the lobby of the Opera House on Main Street, has a wonderful new exhibit, “Disney 100 Years of Wonder.” It features artwork from movies that inspired park attractions and vice-versa. “Magic Happens,” the Disneyland parade that debuted shortly before the pandemic prematurely ended its original run, will return on February 24. And the rest of Mickey’s Toontown, which will include new play spaces and other features, is scheduled to reopen on March 8. The Disney100 celebration also features limited-time merchandise as well as food and beverage items. The Platinum Trifle, which includes gooey layers of cherry compote, cheesecake, and chocolate cookie mousse, is scrumdiddlyumptious.
Are you looking forward to checking out the new nighttime shows at Disneyland? Weigh in with your thoughts.