no midnight

The lowdown on Happily Ever After – how we got here, what we know, and what we hope will be.

Picture it. Anaheim. 1958.


A world famous entertainer owns a theme park, and decides his guests deserve more. To wrap up a fun filled day at his Magic Kingdom, he decides to add a nightly fireworks display, meant as a “kiss goodnight” to his guests. This man’s name is Walt Disney; you can already guess the rest.

Cut to Lake Buena Vista, 2003. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom needed a upgrade (as Walt would say, “plussing”) of their own version of “Fantasy in the Sky”. WDI Parades and spectaculars exec Steve Davison, fresh from creating Disneyland’s 45th anniversary fireworks show “Believe…There’s Magic in the Stars”, got to work. The result: “Wishes: a Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams.” In this show, Jiminy Cricket takes us through the power of what a wish – good or evil – can do. How good was that? So good, it spawned a 13+ year run, 2 holiday spinoffs, and a close equivalent show for Disneyland in time for their golden anniversary. (However, where “Wishes” was a Disney story, “Remember…Dreams Come True” was a DISNEYLAND story, but neither here nor there)

In general, fireworks and nighttime spectaculars have long been the must-do event to cap off a Disney Day. Over the last 25 years, WDI Creative Entertainment refined and redefined the art of a “kiss goodnight”, from Anaheim’s “Fantasmic!” in 1992 to Shanghai’s “Ignite the Dream” in 2016 (We’re including Paris’s “Disney Illuminations” in this because they’re basically the same show), and most recently, our own “Rivers of Light”. As all Disney Parks nighttime spectaculars grew and changed completely over time, mostly because many other Disney Parks guests are locals in their immediate region, the Magic Kingdom stuck with “Wishes” all these 13+ years because of quintessential familiarity, and because there are more international visitors and 1-and-done guests that may not get a another chance to see these fantastic pictures painted in the sky.

However, these magical gatherings we’ve had are about to change. Next weekend, the citizens of the Magic Kingdom will say farewell to “Wishes” and hello to a brand new spectacular: “Happily Ever After”. The reaction, as you can guess, are equal parts “About time” and “NOOOOOOO!” But as Walt would say, “we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.”

Before we go any further, I want to let you know, you’re venturing into MAJOR SPOILER TERRITORY. If you’d rather be surprised the next time you make a Disney Day to see it, you might wanna click the back button.

As we continue to make ready to cry for the old and/or cheer for the new, here’s what we know (this is gathered from many official and unofficial Disney sites).

  • The show is 50% longer than its predecessor. “Wishes” clocks in at 12 minutes and some change; HEA is expected to be around 18 minutes.
  • The music is expected to include contemporary versions of favorite Disney songs, and was recorded with a 75-piece symphony (and 90-member choir).
  • The main title track itself is something new to the states, but not to a Disney Park. The theme song was first heard for the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong Disneyland and was subsequently used for their stage show “Mickey and the Wondrous Book”. This time around, the song is performed by Broadway star Jordan Fisher (“Hamilton”), and country music star Angie Kielhauer; it has also been reworked as to not be too much a carbon copy of Hong Kong. (ASIDE: Recycling songs for Disney Parks shows is nothing new. Putting to one side “Remember” borrowing from the “Wishes” soundtrack, Disneyland’s subsequent fireworks show “Magical” borrowed their theme from Tokyo Disneyland’s 10th anniversary stage show. And of course, the Magic Kingdom’s Tokyo Disney Special, but that’s another story.)
  • Massive technology upgrades. While the other Disney Parks nighttime shows adapted new technology to bring the Magic more to life, we’ve kinda been stuck in 2003 with the castle mood lighting, and occasional general projections. Not anymore. Expect improved projection mapping technology (including on the new turrets), laser effects, and over 50 choreographed spotlights (more than what Once Upon a Time has used).
  • As the age of Disney changes, the characters must change with it. HEA will feature more characters from the Disney Renaissance going forward – in other words, if your favorite character is from anything after “The Little Mermaid,” it’s got a better than good chance to be featured. However, don’t count the older classics out. (As for me, I want my Baymax)
  • Traditional 2D animation lives again! Disney was able to get Eric Goldberg, Mark Henn, and Randy Haycock back to work on segments featuring characters from their respective movies “Mermaid”, “The Princess and the Frog”, and “Aladdin”.
  • TINKER BELL WILL STILL FLY. In the latest behind the scenes video, Jordan mentioned his favorite picture is Peter Pan as the music segued into the finale (listen closely for the “You Can Fly” refrain). I have every reason to believe that’s the point you’ll see her.

Now here’s what we’re still unsure of.

The flow of the show can set it for greatness or disaster. The show page on the WDW site notes characters from over 25 movies are featured. The question is, how to use them effectively and not feel like some are shoehorned in (“World of Color: Celebrate” – big time offender). Michael Jung, executive creative director, explained that the show “takes us on these different milestones that we experience”; in addition, when talking about the score, he said “the music…guides us through.” From what we gather from the videos we’ve seen, we have hope in that. Early reaction credits the music as more akin to Fantasmic, and not so much snippets of original orchestrations of songs.

Modern Disney Parks nighttime shows also tug at the heartstrings because of a not unheard of narrative technique: the framing device. When then-Disneyland entertainment exec Barnette Ricci created “Fantasmic”, she based the show around Mickey, and the wonder and danger his imagination conjures up. When Steve created “Believe” in 2000, he made the framing device a little boy, and his wish to never leave the park. “Remember” made the framing device the whole of Disneyland (a little Dame Julie Andrews helped too). And we know the gist for “Wishes”. What we know about the plot is that HEA is a “hero’s journey”, empowering the guests to find their own happily ever after. Assuming HEA continues the tradition of building a show around seeing adventure and wonder through the eyes of a Disney character, we wonder who will be next. Will it be Mickey once again (as he does double duty on the castles in Shanghai and Paris), will it be Oswald (a guy can dream), will it be Angie and Jordan (well, Disneyland’s “Magical” had Eden Espinosa carry the show)?

But when something of this magnitude is created, the one worry is the sheer volume of fireworks, if any at all. While Disney Parks entertainment have been rated as the gold standard time and again, some Disney fans have been less than enthusiastic with the decisions the big wigs have made as of late (read: no MK night parade). Given that we’ve had separate projection mapping and fireworks shows for 7 years, fears of one big projection mapping show with minimal pyrotechnics aren’t entirely unfounded. However, in the new Endless Magic campaign, all commercials end with the big money shot – fireworks in the sky. Why would Disney shoot themselves in the foot by not including fireworks in what is perceived to be the Magic Kingdom’s biggest E-Ticket show in 45 years?

Let’s not kid ourselves. THERE WILL BE FIREWORKS. In fact, Jennifer Fickley-Baker of the Disney Parks Blog said as much in the original story: “The team designed the show so it could be enjoyed from everywhere “Wishes” is currently seen today. While projections and other special effects will make the in-park experience unique, guests watching from Magic Kingdom resorts, watercraft on Seven Seas Lagoon, etc., will still see a full show of fireworks accompanied by a musical score.” (Scroll through the comments)

The bigger question is, how will they go about this? Will they make the show like “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!“, in which the bulk of the big aerial shells will be saved for the finale, or will it be like “Disneyland Forever“, in which equal parts ground and aerial pyro can be utilized EVERY chance possible? And will the finale be so big, it’ll make DLF look like a low budget soap opera?

Undoubtably, Disney has a lot to live up to. If they succeed, there won’t be a dry eye on Main Street. If they fail, popcorn cartons will be thrown at the castle. We wholeheartedly hope it’s the former. We just have to hold on to what Walt also said: “Quality will out.

by: MP

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