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Outside of Epcot, things remained pretty steady on the fireworks front. In 1990, Disney-MGM Studios debuted Sorcery in the Sky, a new fireworks spectacular specific to that park, and the parks still introduced regular seasonal shows to celebrate holidays like New Years Eve and the Fourth of July.
Then out of the blue, Disney hit us with one of their finest gems to date…
Fantasmic! debuted in 1992 as a clever means to utilize the largely-unused Rivers of America. We’ve talked extensively about our love for the show before, but it cannot be understated how revolutionary Fantasmic was when it debuted. This wasn’t just a fireworks spectacular like Fantasy in the Sky or a celebration of pageantry like IllumiNations. Fantasmic seamlessly incorporated the mysterious setting of Tom Sawyer Island and the Rivers of America with entrancing water, color, projection, and pyrotechnic effects to show us what happens when Mickey Mouse dreams. From the first moment when we hear, “Imagination,” to Mickey’s climactic battle against Maleficent’s dragon, audiences were gripped. This was an entirely new way to tell stories using nightly entertainment.
For the most part, Fantasmic remained unchanged over the years other than the elimination of the Ursula animatronic float and the addition of upgrades to the show’s effects. The show made the jump to Disney-MGM Studios in 1996 with both plusses and minuses. On the positive side, Fantasmic received its own amphitheater with seating, and Walt Disney World was able to use their space to upgrade the ending fireworks significantly. On the negative side, key sequences (like the pirate ship) from the original were cut, the story didn’t flow as well, and Murphy the Dragon was reduced to a simple head on a pole with weird, lacy wings. Oh, and no Pink Elephants on Parade—that song is an absolute banger. Despite these differences, Fantasmic was still well-received by Walt Disney World fans and has remained popular in the park ever since.
Believe. Imagine. Remember. Wish.
YouTube: User – Dtrigger05
The 2000’s was a kind of weird time to be a Disney parks fan—the company was in the midst of a number of fiscal failures, and longtime CEO Michael Eisner was on his way out. Despite this, the turn of the millennium launched a surprising chain of bold advancements for Disney’s nightly fireworks shows. Technology had improved to a point that Disney now had over 50 patents in place for utilizing precision fireworks, and they could program shows with detail hitherto thought impossible.
Over at Disneyland, the company acknowledged that Fantasy in the Sky was starting to feel a bit dated and regulars were losing interest. In 2000, the show was replaced with Believe… There’s Magic in the Stars. The show significantly upgraded the fireworks, and many guests grew quite attached to the new version which ran until 2004. Following the lead of Fantasmic!, Believe followed a story which guests could emotionally invest in. It also wowed guests with one of the first displays of fireworks shooting off Sleeping Beauty Castle.
YouTube: User – The DIS
Across the country, Magic Kingdom accepted the thrown gauntlet and replaced Fantasy in the Sky with Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams. To say Disney knocked it out of the park is an understatement—Wishes quickly become one of the grandest displays of coordinated fireworks ever seen. It also introduced projection effects on Cinderella Castle as a regular element of Disney’s nightly spectaculars.
Back at Disneyland, in 2004 Believe was replaced with a short-run show called Imagine… A Fantasy in the Sky. A year later, the company settled on a long term replacement called Remember… Dreams Come True which debuted as part of the park’s 50th anniversary. Remember captured much of the magic guests came to love in Wishes and celebrated Disney park’s history with sweeping nostalgia. While the show was much-loved, it only ran seasonally from winter to spring—the rest of the year, Disneyland rotated other seasonal shows.
From Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After…
Video: YouTube, User: The DIS
The 2010’s kicked off a series of transformation in Disney’s fireworks shows. Disney California Adventure’s World of Color had just premiered, introducing new ways Disney could push the limits for use of color projection and non-traditional effects. Within a few years, Magic Kingdom debuted Once Upon a Time, one of several nightly projection shows that blended fireworks with massive projections cast on Cinderella Castle.
In 2015, Disneyland said goodbye to Remember and introduced its current show, Disneyland Forever. Taking cues from Wishes, the show upgraded Disneyland’s fireworks to the next level by introducing projection effects not only on Sleeping Beauty Castle but all the way down Main Street USA. The show includes so many stunning details that guests could see it a dozen times from different locations and be treated to something new every time.
At Walt Disney World, in 2016 Disney’s Hollywood Studio gained its first new fireworks spectacular in over 17 years with the debut of Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular. The show took elements of the previously seasonal show Symphony in the Stars and incorporated the company’s new projection effects to cast images from the Star Wars saga across the park’s Chinese Theater.
In 2017, Disney fans were treated to a double-upgrade. At the Magic Kingdom, Wishes was replaced with Happily Ever After which remains Disney’s most bonkers fireworks show to date (in all the right ways). It’s an absolute tear-jerker, and the company knocked it out of the park with eye-boggling effects like Cinderella Castle taking off into the sky and characters darting and swinging through the spires. Whatever your favorite era of Disney film history, Happily Ever After has all the necessary ingredients to trigger the warm fuzzies.
Across the country, Fantasmic! received its first major overhaul since opening, introducing new tweaks to the storyline of Mickey’s journey through dreams and nightmares. Characters and sequences from The Lion King, Tangled, Aladdin, and Pirates of the Caribbean were introduced, and Murphy the Dragon was given a major upgrade. Fans dubbed the new version Fantasmic 2.0, and it remains an absolute stunner of a show. While I remain a fan of the original, the new version is spectacular in its own right and might arguably be Disney’s best overall show to date.
What does the future of fireworks at Disney parks hold? It’s a bit scary to consider a season of no nightly fireworks at the Most Magical and Happiest Places on Earth. We understand why Disney has to take these steps for a time to keep guests safe, but we are hopeful that the changes are temporary, and before long, we’ll see skies over Disney parks come ablaze with dazzling lights once again. The company has overcome obstacles and adversity before, and we look forward to the next time we can all enjoy a little Happily Ever After once again.
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