Fireworks over Cinderella Castle: an image that has become synonymous with Disney Parks and the Disney company as a whole. From 2003 to 2017, Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams, was the nighttime fireworks show that would wow guests every night in the Magic Kingdom. I loved this show. I have many good memories of watching it, and was sad to see it go. When it was announced that Wishes would be retired, I had a very high standard for the show that would replace it. Does Happily Ever After meet this standard? Did we the fans get an upgrade or a downgrade? Here are my thoughts:
Let’s start with Happily Ever After’s main difference from Wishes: the use of projection mapping technology. Projection mapping technology is the new hotness for big name theme parks. Disney and Universal both currently have multiple night time shows across multiple parks that utilize the technology. In Happily Ever After’s case, Cinderella’s Castle presents the perfect canvas for projections. Scenes from both classic Disney films and the company’s newer films are projected onto the castle. The Imagineers worked with Walt Disney Animation to produce new, hand-drawn animation that would fit perfectly onto the architecture of the castle. This really paid off. The projections are absolutely jaw dropping. They are able to transform the castle into whatever the scene requires, whether it be the bell tower from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the canyon from the Lion King, or anything else. The projections are also synced up with many of the fireworks in the sky, which really bring what you’re seeing to life. The projections will most certainly wow every single viewer.
Even with all of the projections, the key to a spectacular Disney nighttime spectacular is the previously mentioned fireworks. Luckily, Happily Ever After does not disappoint for those who just want to watch bright colors go boom in the night sky. The show is longer than it’s predecessor, and it’s jam packed with fireworks for the entire run time. The only potential criticism is that since the show is longer, someone could think the fireworks could possibly be more spread out and less concentrated. However, this is not a complaint I have myself. There are plenty of big explosions to satisfy anyone’s thirst for loud booms. Also, while practically anyone can have fun launching random fireworks, Disney takes it to the next level with the types they’re launching. At several moments in the show there are themed fireworks for specific characters or movies in the show. These include things like spirals for Moana, and bow and arrow targets for Merida from Brave. These are usually incorporated with the projections to provide an amazing experience. Happily Ever After truly takes fireworks to new heights like I’ve never seen a show do before.
An attention-grabbing musical arrangement is also important to the success of any Disney nighttime spectacular. With Happily Ever After, we have the standard set up of a newly written theme for the show with songs from various classic Disney films. For instance, the Wishes score was iconic for how well it blended the music of the selected films together. However, the main difference between the score of Wishes and Happily Ever After is that while the Wishes score was mainly instrumental all of the songs in Happily Ever After have the lyrics in them. These can vary between the original lyrics taken directly from the movies and covers of them by groups of vocalists brought in to create the score. Personally, I feel that the music of Happily Ever After is better than that of its predecessor. Including the lyrics was a good change in my opinion, and I prefer the choice of movies that the songs were picked from compared to Wishes. I also feel that the theme for Happily Ever After recorded by Angie Kielhauer and Jordan Fisher is far superior to the old Wishes theme, which is a statement sure to anger many Disney fans (don’t @ me). The only negative I have with the score is that it mainly focuses on movies from the Disney Renaissance rather than movies that came out before then. While there are some nods to the classics from the Walt era, I feel they could’ve included more. However, this is a minor criticism, as the music is still good. Overall I feel that the soundtrack is on par with the rest of the show and gets top marks from me.
Happily Ever After is a fantastic show, and I feel that it is a huge improvement over Wishes. The projections, fireworks, and soundtrack all are outstanding achievements for Disney Parks entertainment. That said, is it waiting roughly 1-2 hours before the show to secure the best spots? In short, I’d say yes. I have waited that long on many different occasions for the show, and have always felt that it was well worth my time. In my opinion, the best spot is to the right of the Partners statue, directly behind the fenced in grassy areas. This gives you an great view of the castle that will allow you to enjoy the show without any obstruction. Happily Ever After is a groundbreaking firework and projection mapping spectacular, and is a must do on any trip to the Magic Kingdom.