Walt Disney World's much-touted 50th Anniversary celebration ended as it began – with a resounding thud. Despite being a landmark anniversary for Disney's flagship Floridian resort, "The World's Most Magical Celebration" left the public, critics, and even Disney's most ardent defenders feeling less than enthusiastic. Sure, you can blame the countless delays, cancellations, and closures brought on by the pandemic... but as we've explored, Disney also made matters much worse in 2021 by slashing perks and adding upcharges, opening copy-paste nighttime shows, and fundamentally forgetting to celebrate Walt Disney World itself in favor of a post-2000s, IP-focused promotion.
Suffice it to say that Disney has a lot of course-correction to do if it wants to win back good will lost to a 50th that fell flat. Luckily, like a white knight riding over the horizon, Disney100 is here as the latest in Disney's park-wide promotional campaigns. Commemorating "100 Years of Wonder" (since the founding of what would eventually become The Walt Disney Company), the Disney100 promotion actually kicked off at Disneyland in with a handful of astounding new experiences, shows, and attractions back in January. With the 50th now concluded in Florida, Disney World is finally getting in on the action, too.
But if Disney really wanted to spend the remainder of 2023 and the Disney100 promotion resetting itself for the next century, then we have some ideas for how Walt Disney World can serve as a centerpiece of a new era...
1. If this is a celebration, then celebrate it!
Typically, Disney tends to choose one of its four parks to anchor seasonal celebrations and promotions. Weirdly, the "Disney100" campaign doesn't really seem to have a "home" at Disney World. So far, it's basically amounted to metallic, iridescent "100" marquees appearing at each park's entrance, and not much else. Instead, the resort's mailers, marketing, and website have switched from 50th messaging to a "Can't Miss Thrills" promo, allowing them to co-market Cosmic Rewind and TRON Lightcycle Run.
Maybe it's that the 50th exhausted the resort's reserves for overlays and temporary offerings. Maybe it's that Disney World is content to let Disneyland serve as this promotion's international headquarters. Maybe it's just that Disney World is feeling "down and out" with nothing new to debut this year besides the much-delayed Moana walkthrough at EPCOT.
It's a little sad to see Disney World do so little for the 100th, seemingly not even able to muster the strength to heavily promote the merchandise and snack packages that are flying off the shelves at Disneyland. Many expected that the 50 golden character statues deployed across Disney World for the 50th would swiftly be painted platinum and have their "50" insignias covered with "100" medallions. But... nope. It's a little odd to see the resort so... tuned out.
Granted, while most Disney Parks promotional campaigns tend to last 18 months or more, Disney100 is a company wide initiative. It could be that the promotion really will end on December 31, 2023. In that case, maybe Disney World's late entry into the celebration means it's just not banking too much on it. Even the one project for the resort that is Disney100 related feels last minute...
2. Make sure that EPCOT show is a winner
Inevitable as it might have been, fans were still shellshocked when EPCOT's long-running nighttime spectacular masterpiece – "Illuminations: Reflections of Earth" – was decommissioned in 2019. The show's replacement – "EPCOT Forever" – was always meant to be a temporary fill-in before the park could launch a true follow-up... "Harmonious."
By its 2021 debut, cartoon characters overtaking World Showcase was a battle long ago lost, and in many ways it made sense for Disney to draw from its catalogue of internationally-set fables to build a show about how music brings us together. But "Harmonious" was controversial for several reasons. The most obvious was its hardware – five massive LED-screen barges permanently moored in World Showcase lagoon. Though "Harmonious" was doubtlessly designed and budgeted to play for at least a decade, the show is currently being disassembled after less than 18 months... a massive, embarrassing, costly mistake for Disney.
Clearly making it up as they go, Disney swiftly announced that "Harmonious" would end its run (pretending, of course, that they'd always meant for the incredibly expensive, hardware-intensive show to only last 18 months) and that "EPCOT Forever" would return as a placeholder again, bridging the gap to another follow-up called... well... we don't know... and it's possible Disney doesn't, either. Even though they're playing it off like it's all intentional, we know that Disney didn't expect to need to come up with another nighttime show for EPCOT until the decision to end "Harmonious" was made.
Behind the scenes, Disney Entertainment has to be sweating, and the vague PR promises that the next nighttime show for the park one would tie into Disney100 are becoming difficult to believe since the promotion will probably end in eight months and we don't even have a name for it... just the abstract concept art above. That seems like very bad news, because Disney needs this show not just to work, but to stick. Fans revolted against the end of "Illuminations," which was still beloved after 20 years. Given that Disney is on to its fourth show in the six years since, it sounds like they were right...
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