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Sleeping Beauty Castle Encanto

It was 1923 when a 22-year-old Walt Disney stepped off the train in a bustling, eclectic, young Los Angeles, eager to make a name for himself in the glitz and glitter of Hollywood. One hundred years later, the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio he founded there with his brother Roy has become the Walt Disney Company – one of the largest, most enduring, and most successful entertainment companies on Earth.

Even Walt – the persistent dreamer – could never have imagined that a hundred years later, his last name would be synonymous with a library of characters, companies, theme parks, stories, and products ranging from Mickey Mouse to Elsa, much less acquired portfolios that include Star Wars, Marvel, National Geographic, The Muppets, Pixar, ABC, ESPN, and a whole lot more. 

Image: Disney

Disney is no stranger to annual promotions, with cross-company parties celebrating the New Millennium, the Year(s) of a Million Dreams, Happiest Homecomings, and even, back in 2001, 100 Years of Magic, celebrating Walt's birth. But the Disney100: 100 Years of Wonder promotion looks to be the biggest yet in scope, unfolding across not just Disney's theme parks, but its studios, subsidiaries, and spin-offs. Arguably, it couldn't come at a worse time. After years of painful adjustment thanks to the 2020 pandemic and a major shakeup with leadership that's shaken shareholders, too, Disney100 is a public-facing celebration even as Disney privately decides what its next century should be about...

Still, the company is putting on a brave face, launching the 100 Years of Wonder promotion with some splashy entries at its theme parks. What has the Mouse House got in store for those who visit its U.S. destinations in 2023? Here's a sampling...

Disney World

To be sure, the launch of Disney100 is fairly subdued at the company's flagship resort in Florida.

Image: Disney

That's because right now, Disney World is wrapping up its own 50th Anniversary promotion – "The World's Most Magical Celebration" – which many fans contend was nothing of the sort. To be fair, Walt Disney World's 50th did happen to fall right in the wake of the pandemic, with major projects across the resort stalled to such an extent that they missed their target openings and tie-ins. 

But excuses aside, there's no question that Disney World misstepped with its 50th, which, we argue, forgot to celebrate Disney World. Almost no where in the 18-month celebration did Disney bother to actually reference Disney World's history. The "Fab 50" golden statues installed across its four parks weren't of landmark rides, but of modern animated characters. The two nighttime spectaculars ostensibly launched as part of the 50th – "Disney Enchantment" at Magic Kingdom and "Harmonious" at EPCOT – made zero mention of Walt Disney, the celebration, or Disney World, again focusing on modern franchises and sing-alongs. (It wasn't until a full year into the shows' runs that a Walt-centric tag was added to the front of "Enchantment," as if someone went, "Oh yeah, I guess we should mention him.")

Image: Disney

As evidence of how lukewarm reception was, both shows – clearly representing tens of millions of dollars in investment – have already been announced to be "glowing away" at the end of the campaign, representing significant financial and creative write-offs. While EPCOT will temporarily return the "EPCOT Forever" show (which also served as a placeholder between "Illuminations" and "Harmonious"), Disney announced that Disney100-focused nighttime shows would launch sometime in 2023. (The fact that we don't have more information tells you just how quickly this decision was made and how fast Disney must be working to try to get these offerings off the ground.)

That's to say nothing of the slashed perks and new upcharges that have forever redefined Disney Parks in the eyes of many longtime fans, making what should've been Disney World's triumphant anniversary into a year when a quarter of Theme Park Tourist readers said they're done visiting Disney World, and this time they mean it

It's likely that once the 50th officially wraps up (March 30, 2023), its golden "EARidescent" color scheme will be washed away across the resort, likely with platinum-tinged "Disney100" banners taking its place. Whether that'll mean a decorative wrap to Cinderella Castle, we again don't know. Which makes some sense, since Disney will want to squeeze all the marketing it can out of the 50th before announcing what's to come after. 

Image: Disney

But without a doubt, the anchor of the Disney100 celebration in Florida will be the much, much, much-anticipated opening of the Modern Marvel: TRON Lightcycle / Run – a ride that was allegedly once targeted to open at the start of the 50th, back in 2021. Almost humorously long-delayed, TRON has now been smartly co-opted as a part of the Disney100 promotion with an expected (but unofficial) opening in April 2023. Hopefully people like it, because for the first time ever, Disney's semi-annual D23 Expo in 2022 announced zero new rides, meaning that once TRON opens, the only other announced project on Disney World's horizon is the re-themed Splash Mountain debuting in late 2024, with no known projects in 2025 or beyond...

So far, this doesn't sound great. For Disney's biggest promotion ever, its flagship resort gaining two nighttime spectaculars that may or may not be good, maybe some decorations, and a long-delayed ride? Well... it doesn't sound great. But let's head to the West Coast where the celebration really stands...

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