Behind the magic of Disney's fireworks and nighttime spectaculars

Feb 8 2023, 11:52 pm

Needless to say, extensive research and development, a process that takes years, goes into making each and every nighttime spectacular at Disney’s theme parks worldwide.

And the pair of brand new dazzling nighttime spectaculars that bookend a day of fun and magic at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim is no exception, with “Wondrous Journeys” now featured at Disneyland Park and “World Of Color — ONE” found at Disney California Adventure Park.

Both shows made their premiere in late January 2023, helping kick off the Walt Disney Company’s “Disney100” year-round celebration marking its 100th anniversary, with Disneyland Resort designated as the global hub for the festivities and programming.

Like previous nighttime spectaculars at Disneyland Park, “Wondrous Journeys” takes over Sleeping Beauty Castle, casting beaming projection lights to animate the castle — all backdropped by fireworks.

The facades of Main Street USA, It’s A Small World, and Rivers Of America are also used as canvasses for intricately animated projections.

Animated projections were first introduced to these four sites at Disneyland Park in 2015 for its then-new nighttime spectacular, “Disneyland Forever,” and ever since the same extensive projection mapping equipment and infrastructure and searchlights have been reused for seven subsequent shows, including “Wondrous Journeys.”

With all that said, not all projections for the shows are equal.

Never has there been this much attention to the projections of Disneyland Park’s nighttime spectacular, made evident by Walt Disney Animation Studio’s much greater involvement and collaboration in the design of the latest production. And perhaps more importantly, the meaning behind it all.

“Wondrous Journeys” commemorates the 100th anniversary of Disney by celebrating its origins as an animation house. Jordan Peterson, a show director for Disney Live Entertainment, described “Wondrous Journeys” as a love letter that pays homage to the work of all 62 animated films made by the studio to date (not including Pixar) — even lesser celebrated titles like Treasure Planet and a moment of humour from a certain honey-loving bear.

The animated projections of “Wondrous Journeys” poignantly start with a tribute to some of Walt Disney’s early cartoons of Mickey Mouse, before transitioning to all-time classics like Bambi and Snow White — films that define the studio to this day.

“I feel like every film we make helps create a positive message, so seeing all the films strewn in this way, weaving in and out of each other, shows that the thread through our films, no matter what the subject is and where it takes place, is truly about a wondrous journey… a character becoming who they are and loved by their community,” Michael Woodside, an animator with Walt Disney Animation Studio, told Daily Hive during a recent press event at Disneyland.

Peterson added that a “cold documentary calculated approach” was certainly not taken to tell the story of Walt Disney Animation Studios from start to finish. Rather than a retrospective, he says, “It’s a journey of the artist, the journey of the studio through our characters, and therefore us.”

“Everyone starts with some sort of dream. From there, your dream grows, and you’re seeing it come to fruition. Eventually, you’re soaring. But for all of us, eventually, self-doubt creeps in there, outside forces creep in and tell you you’re not good enough, and you start to not believe in that dream again,” said Peterson.

“Every artistic journey goes through that, there’s a moment when you lose something… At the end, you realize you’re surrounded by loved ones, friends, and family, and in this case, your colleagues who pick you up and help you believe in that dream. Suddenly you rebuild the pieces, and you get to deliver it to the world.”

Roger Gold, the creative director for Walt Disney Animation Studios, said his team of animators was posed with the question: “What inspired you to become an animator?” From there, they identified the one moment, the one scene, and the one quote they each would like to hear from their animated films for inclusion in the show.

With such a powerful theme driving “Wondrous Journeys,” it is little wonder that it is quickly being regarded as the best fireworks show at Disneyland Resort in many years, rivalling the nostalgic themes that carry “Remember… Dreams Come True” and “Disneyland Forever,”Ā which were made to celebrate the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the world’s original Disney theme park, respectively. Simply put, the theme and story of “Wondrous Journeys” deeply resonate with fans of the studio’s animated works.

Collective gasps in the crowds can be heard when brilliant gold projections transform the castle and Main Street USA into the magical casita from Encanto — a climatic moment when “you rebuild the pieces,” all unfolding during the smooth Latin tune of the film’s Oscar-nominated Dos Oruguitas” song.

For decades, Disneyland’s various nighttime spectaculars have incorporated “flying characters,” when a stunt performer is suspended in the air high above the castle to literally fly over during the brief breaks between big fireworks burts.

“Wondrous Journeys” features not one, but two flying characters. The Blue Fairy’s early appearance during the tribute to Pinocchio helps set the tone for the entire show, and perhaps even more breathtaking is Baymax, the friendly robot fromĀ Big Hero 6, who streaks across the sky with his spark-emitting rocket boosters.

It should be noted that unlike Magic Kingdom and Epcot in Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, nightly fireworks as part of the nighttime spectaculars are not guaranteed at Disneyland Park. “Wondrous Journeys” is typically scheduled nightly with guaranteed projections, but the full-scale show that incorporates the add-on of fireworks only happens on select nights, usually on weekends. The fireworks schedule is available online.

Guests generally most desire the “front seat” view of the nighttime spectacular from in front of the castle and on Main Street USA, but the production team has put the same amount of attention to detail for the enjoyment of the show from the vantage points of It’s A Small World and Rivers Of America, which both unravel the same animated projections and are backdropped by the same aerial fireworks.

world of color one disney california adventure

World of Color – ONE at Disney California Adventure. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Over at Disney California Adventure Park, “World Of Color — ONE” is the latest iteration of the long-running “World Of Color” nighttime spectacular, which has been around for more than a decade since the renewal of Disneyland Resort’s second theme park.

The show infrastructure of “World Of Color” is comprised of fixtures embedded into the lagoon of Paradise Bay and on the structures of The Incredicoaster and Mickey’s Fun Wheel,Ā which backdrop the scene. About 1,200 water fountains are illuminated, along withĀ  the use of other special lighting, lasers, fog, pyrotechnics, and mist screens that create the canvas for animated projections.

“In order to build a show like this, it truly takes a village,” Wendy Ruth, a show director for Disney Live Entertainment, told Daily Hive.

The concept of “ONE,” she says, comes from the idea of bringing to light the “different Disney characters who are the ones to make a difference in their community or world” and they have clear “moments of bravery.” Furthermore, it tells the story of how a single action, like one drop of water, creates a ripple effect.

“It was Walt Disney’s drops of creativity, those first steps that he took in the many ways… that is the reason we’re all here today, and that the Disney company exists,” said Ruth, explaining how the theme is fitting for “Disney100.”

“World Of Color — ONE” is the first nighttime spectacular at Disneyland Resort to feature music and moments from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation, and the Star Wars and Marvel films. Her team closely worked with both animation houses to craft this latest iteration of the show.

Ruth says some of her favourite moments include the Star Wars moment with the main title, knowing that it hits the hearts of every Star Wars fan, as well as the replication of the avalanche moment from Mulan using fountains and mists, and the laser effect to create the Eiffel Tower for the Ratatouille sequence.

Translating jazz music fromĀ Soul was another highlight, the result of what turned out to be a rewarding challenge — an effort that was, in her words, akin to using sheet music to create a “Dance Dance Revolution” fountain sequence.

Ruth adds that the equipment used to bring the “World Of Color” to life has been brought back to its full glory. Crews did not waste the resort’s prolonged pandemic downtime — they made repairs to the fountains and pump jets. She says up until this recent work, there were fountains that had not been active for many years.

Ruth is a veteran of Disney for 25 years, starting as a stage manager on big shows, before becoming a stage manager, a creative director, and now a show director. “World Of Color — ONE” is now the fourth nighttime spectacular she has directly worked on, including the initial concept work for “Harmonious,” which made its debut at Epcot in 2021, and her role as the co-creator and show director for “Believe! Sea of Dreams,” which debuted at Tokyo DisneySea Park last November.

It was recently announced that the run for “Harmonious” would come to an end in early April, when it is replaced with the return of “Epcot Forever.” At the same time, “Disney’s Enchantment” nighttime spectacular at Magic Kingdom Park will also be replaced with the return of fan-favourite “Happily Ever After.” Both “Harmonious” and “Disney’s Enchantment” were made for the 50th anniversary celebration period for Walt Disney World Resort, which will come to an official end after 18 months in late March.

Other new nighttime spectaculars at Disney theme parks around the world include “Momentous,” which launched at Hong Kong Disneyland last June, and “Avengers: Power The Night” — the first-ever show drone performed nightly at a Disney park. The Avengers-themed drone show premiered last month and is scheduled to run through early May.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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