For just a moment, let's rewind. In 2005, Disney Parks around the globe launched “The Happiest Celebration on Earth,” all centered on the 50th Anniversary of the original Disneyland Park in California. To commemorate the event, Disneyland launched a “Homecoming” campaign, inviting guests back to the place where it all started. After a very dark period for the parks (and tourism as a whole), the 50th Anniversary decked the resort out in gold. Sound familiar? Here’s where the story diverges...
Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary was a beautifully nostalgic campaign. Each of the park’s Opening Day Originals was highlighted, painting a single vehicle of each – one Dumbo, one Peter Pan’s Flight pirate ship, one Snow White’s Scary Adventures mine car, etc. – in gold. The Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, and the Enchanted Tiki Room were refurbished to perfection and the Main Street Electrical Parade returned.
Best of all, though, the resort launched a new fireworks show called “Remember… Dreams Come True.” Narrated by Julie Andrews, the E-Ticket show was a celebration of Disneyland. Literally. Through projections, lights, music, and more, the show started on Main Street, then encircled the park clockwise, with segments of the show themed to Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Toontown, and Tomorrowland. (The transition between the Tiki Room and Indiana Jones Adventure in the Adventureland section is particularly incredible.)
It’s no surprise to anyone who's been following it that Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary is pretty nostalgia-free. There are few if any references to Walt Disney World’s past. Of the resort’s 50 golden statues, just two are dedicated to characters created for the parks (and they’ve been replaced by movie characters in the accompanying McDonald’s Happy Meal toy roll out). But at Magic Kingdom – the place that’s turning 50! – surely a show called “Disney Enchantment” will celebrate the generations of memories made in the world’s most visited and recognizable theme park! … Right?
Magic Kingdom – Disney Enchantment
If you didn’t get enough singalong clips from Harmonious, head up the Monorail to Magic Kingdom and catch a showing of Disney Enchantment – the 50th Anniversary replacement for Happily Ever After. Don’t let the 50th Anniversary fool you, though. Aside from being projected on Cinderella Castle and narration by Angela Bassett referring to it, there’s no indication whatsoever in the show that Walt Disney World is turning 50, much less that this show has anything to do with it.
Like Happily Ever After, Disney Enchantment is first and foremost a clip show with singalong sections dedicated to Disney animation. Unlike Happily Ever After, it’s just not very good. It features songs from The Princess and the Frog, Moana, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin (which is literally – literally! – the exact same movies featured in Harmonious) plus “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II (which you might’ve actually expected to be in Harmonious given that World Showcase is where Disney World’s Frozen ride is).
During the jukebox musical, it manages to flash clips of Soul, Raya and the Last Dragon, Toy Story, and The Little Mermaid, but the show exclusively highlights Disney films from about the last decade, which is a really strange thing for a 50th Anniversary show, right?
And back to what made Happily Ever After a great production, Disney Enchantment, unfortunately, misses in both regards. First, it largely uses the castle as a “bumpy movie screen,” with little portals opening to show movie clips, and second, it has no narrative “flow” or order; no overall message or progression. It’s quite literally just songs and clips, with the new “You Are the Magic” song opening and closing the show. It’s not really a show about anything, much less the legacy of Walt Disney World and the people it’s inspired.
And more to the point, it could just as easily be projected on the Chinese Theater, on World of Color’s water screens, or – given the films it includes – could be projected on Harmonious’ huge barges! Why not! And that’s the issue both Disney and its fans need to contend with.
If you haven't yet, you can catch a video of Disney Enchantment here:
It’s really not entirely the fault of Disney Imagineering or Entertainment that Harmonious and Enchantment received mixed reception at best. As most readers here know, it’s a different time at The Walt Disney Company and at Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products. The “IP Wars” have redefined what a Disney Park is to those in charge. As succinctly put by Twitter user @MadnessKingdom, the Parks have been recast from content in their own right to a content delivery system – a physical place where Disney stories come to life, right alongside movies, books, toys, and music.
Who at Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products would greenlight an IP-free Illuminations – and one that’s a tough sell to customers of today, if Rivers of Light is any indication – when Harmonious offers a dozen mental hyperlinks back to movies you know and love? Why should it matter that Disney Enchantment neither celebrates the history of Walt Disney World nor contains the strength and inspiration of Happily Ever After? Its job was to highlight the hottest films of the last decade… and it does!
Look, both Harmonious and Disney Enchantment are good shows. They’re fun to watch. They’re bright and colorful. They have great song selections. They’re both good enough. It’s just that “good enough” wasn’t what fans had in mind to replace Illuminations and Happily Ever After, much less to kick off Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration. More to the point, the relative weakness and interchangeability of these two shows speak to a growing issue with Walt Disney World’s parks and the “cartoonification” they’ve all experienced…
Each park’s “bookend” has become interchangeable perhaps because each park has. Of course the nighttime show that plays at one park in 2021 could just as easily be reformatted and wedged into any of the other three... As their identities have weakened, they’ve all become places where singalong clip shows are the only things that make sense… and that’s a loss for us all.