Disneyland just kicked off its 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration with the new Paint the Night parade, Disneyland Forever fireworks, and World of Color: Celebrate. In this post, I review the new entertainment, plus take a quick look at enhancements to the Haunted Mansion and Matterhorn that helped kick off the Diamond Celebration. One thing is for sure after only a few days of the entertainment running in the parks: it’s going to be a busy summer and beyond, as all of these are pretty significant draws.
With that said, let’s start by taking a quick look at how some attractions have been and will be plussed for the celebration. I have a feeling that updated classic attractions will be a continuing trend for the Diamond Celebration. To me, this makes a lot of sense. Given the new entertainment for the 60th Anniversary and marketing push, this is probably an 18-month celebration, at a minimum. Being able to tout updates to fan favorites spaced over the course of the next couple of years will keep the celebration fresh and give locals a reason to keep celebrating (and buying tickets…and merchandise…and food…and…). To that end, the first updates are Haunted Mansion and the Matterhorn.
The Haunted Mansion finally got what was rumored to be coming for years: Hatbox Ghost. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of this character, here’s a primer. Adding Hatbox Ghost to Haunted Mansion after so many years seems like thinly-veiled fan service, and it probably is. But who cares? the figure is cool, the effect is awesome, and it’s a nice plussing for the attraction. Plus, is it really so bad that there are Imagineers with their finger on the pulse of what the fan community wants who are willing to lovingly embrace the history of the park? I think it takes some serious pessimism to view this as a negative.
The Matterhorn, on the other hand, has had some more serious criticism levied at it. Here, show scenes were added and changed to make it more of a story-based attraction rather than a fun romp. Now, the idea is that the abominable snowman is on the prowl, with some foreboding scenes and effects meant to build tension. I think this completely works, and love what was done as a whole. Unfortunately, the upgrades did not include any changes to the track or ride vehicles, so you’ll still incur some mild brian damnage during the ride, but I suppose that’s part of the fun–everyone knows cognitive abilities are overrated. 😉
Others have been critical of a scene where torn-apart bobsleds and Skyway buckets are strewn in the snow. This scene replaced crystals and a “Wells Expedition” crate that paid tribute to the late Frank Wells. I can see the point of not wanting ‘junk’ in an attraction, but I just don’t personally agree that it’s a big deal in this case. The scene clearly establishes the ferocity of the abominable snowman and foreshadows the peril guests might encounter if they continue on. To me, it fits the attraction and is appropriate in context. Now, there might have been a better or more subtle way to execute on this, but I think how it was done is just fine. I would have thought absolutely nothing of this scene had I not read the controversy on social media.
Now let’s take a look at the main draws: the new parade, fireworks, and World of Color…
Paint the Night – Regular readers of the blog might be familiar with my take on Paint the Night from my review of the Hong Kong Disneyland version of the parade, which I said feels like “a random assortment of ‘Disney Things That Are Totally Rad.’.” (I quote myself not because I’m conceited, but because I’m lazy.) The bad news here is that when the parade was built for Hong Kong, an identical copy was constructed for Disneyland, meaning it’s substantively quite similar—nearly everything in the Hong Kong version is in this version. The good news is that tweaks have been made to improve the parade based on lessons learned in Hong Kong. Gone are the show stops, which were one of my major complaints. Added is a stunning Frozen float, plus additional entertainers. It’s a definite improvement over HKDL’s version.
At their core, the two parades are very much the same, but the incarnation running now in Disneyland is decidedly more enjoyable to watch. When I reviewed the Hong Kong Disneyland version, it was a poorly-kept secret that the parade was coming to Disneyland, and I speculated as to how Disneyland regulars would treat the parade. Based upon initial reactions to the parade, my guess that Disneyland locals wouldn’t like the contemporary tone to the parade was completely, totally off. If early reaction is any indication, Paint the Night is the biggest hit of the Diamond Celebration with guests. I attribute its success entirely to the Mack Truck, as guests want to get a #MackTruckSelfie (that’s probably a thing) as it rolls down Main Street.
I’ve already watched the parade a handful of times at Disneyland, and I will admit that it has grown on me with each viewing. I’m still not wild about the fact that it doesn’t strike a better balance between old and new (especially since the Diamond Celebration is rooted in nostalgia), but at the end of the day quality matters more than whether it comports with a marketing campaign.
I can understand why so many people love this parade: the music is catchy, the floats are impressive, and there’s a palpable, downright fun energy to it. It’s the kind of parade that hypes you up and puts a smile on your face. While I could quibble over some of the choices in execution, I cannot discount the fact that it’s a ton of fun, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what Disneyland is all about?
Disneyland Forever – I will admit that I was really apprehensive about this show when it was announced. “Remember… Dreams Come True!” was my favorite castle park fireworks show ever, so Disneyland Forever had some big shoes to fill. Add to that the fact that I’m first and foremost a Disney theme park fan, not an animation fan, and I didn’t think this show would resonate with me nearly as much.
The bad news is that it does not surpass Remember… Dreams Come True for me on a purely personal level. Given my preferences, there was really no way it could, even if I considered it flawless. The good news is that I do consider it flawless. It far exceeded my expectations, and is my surprise favorite thing about the Diamond Celebration. This show builds upon what was done in the Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland nighttime spectaculars, and utilizes that technology for a fireworks show that is better than the mixed-media shows in Paris and Tokyo.
Beyond that, I get why the show is animation-centric rather than parks-centric, despite the Diamond Celebration playing to nostalgia for the parks. The projection-heavy nature of the show does much better with animated films than it does with attractions because there’s existing material to project for animated films, and typically that’s not the case for attractions. World of Color: Celebrate encounters this very issue, and the results are somewhat mixed as it creates a limited slate of animation for some attractions.
As far as Disneyland Forever goes, the soundtrack is enjoyable and will grow on guests over time (it’s not an ear worm like Paint the Night, but that’s a good thing), with favorites from animated films and a few original songs (my favorite of which is Kiss Goodnight in the post show). The effects are dazzling, from the colorful bursts that fit the music to the flying Nemo and Matterhorn ‘eruption’ that induce plenty of ‘wows’ from the audience at various points. The movies featured are a diverse group, from Disney classics to Pixar to even Frozen, which does not feel shoehorned into the show. (Face it, Frozen is a new classic, and when balanced equally with other films, its inclusion in things like this is appropriate.) Although the core of the show is “only” a montage, this works perfectly well and doesn’t even remotely bother me.
I can already tell Disneyland Forever is going to be the piece of entertainment that I will be revisiting on a very regular basis, and it has incredible repeatability for me (both as an observer and a photographer) that will keep me enjoying it after numerous viewings.
For me, this is the unequivocal home run of the Disneyland Diamond Celebration. Remember… Dreams Come True will always be my personal sentimental favorite, but this fireworks show is pure Disney magic. My sentimentality aside, I think Disneyland Forever is far and away the best fireworks show to ever be shown in a castle park. Not only should you not miss it, but you should not miss it from a variety of vantage points.
World of Color: Celebrate – I can already tell that this is going to be the most divisive piece of Diamond Celebration entertainment. I’ve heard a variety of complaints about it, all of which are at least superficially valid, but also a lot of praise for it. This version of World of Color has what I felt was missing from the original: a loose narrative thread. Neil Patrick Harris and Mickey Mouse start out the show introducing guests to Walt Disney, his vision for Disneyland, and his early work. In the minds of some people, it has one strike against it right out of the gate, and that’s Neil Patrick Harris. I don’t really understand the NPH hate, but I think it’s predicated upon people conflating the actual NPH for his Barney Stinson persona. Not a criticism I have, as I love NPH, but one that is definitely out there.
After a very solid opening act and decent animated film montage, the show goes off the rails. The exact moment it jumped the shark (okay, maybe that’s a bit strong) for me is when the entire “Let it Go” song is performed. The. Entire. Song. Mind you, no other film from the montage preceding it received anything more than a few seconds of attention. After tasteful and appropriate uses of Frozen in Disneyland Forever and Paint the Night, this is really disappointing. The show regains its footing after this, as it segues into an attraction montage, which is mostly strong. I’ve heard complaints about NPH singing along here, but I thought it was fairly restrained—and NPH has a great voice. I didn’t mind it at all. I did think some of the animation sequences created for the attractions were a bit amateurish, but this is a minor complaint. This sequence is mostly strong—albeit short—as far as I’m concerned.
It had to be short, though, to make room for the all-important Star Wars VII sequence. This comes out of nowhere, and while impressive in terms of effects, it feels clunky and forced in terms of the overarching show. By this point in the show, I had the distinct impression that Steve Davison’s team working on World of Color: Celebrate had their creative vision neutered and hacked apart at the last minute, with a mandate from non-creatives that Frozen and Star Wars VII must be represented in the show. I don’t mind synergy in most cases, and felt the ‘current movie’ slot in the old World of Color was mostly well-utilized, but this is a totally different show, and it simply doesn’t work here. Besides, Star Wars VII is going to make literally one bajillion dollars regardless of this segment–did the marketing folks (or whomever) really need to mess with the show by forcing it in here? I’m sure it’ll really move the box office needle, and Episode VII will now make one bajillion and $10 dollars. Woo hoo!
Judging by the audience cheers to both Frozen and Star Wars VII, I’m guessing that I will be in the minority with this opinion, too. I suppose if you just enjoy the show as it unfolds, viewing each act in isolation, it’s all fine. The Star Wars segment, especially, is well done, so if you’re just looking for fun clips, it’s a solid show. I guess I was hoping for a bit more, and it feels like World of Color: Celebrate could have been something truly special that remedied my faults with the original had no one meddled (I’m assuming this was the case) with the creative team.
My only other complaints are the water jets pointed at the audience (you will get soaked in the front row) and the heavy-handed use of Walt Disney quotes and sentimentality. The line between tribute and sappiness is a fine one, and World of Color: Celebrate mostly treads it well, but there are some points when it feels like a bit much. (The ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’ non-quote that comes right after other inspirational words to end the show is a prime example.)
Despite my complaints about World of Color: Celebrate, I still like it. A lot. It just bugs me because I feel like the show has the heart and core components that could have made it great, but external forces (again, speculation) tampered with that and prevented it from living up to its potential as a cohesive show. I suppose this unrealized potential is what bothers me so much–had the show simply sucked and not had glimmers of excellence, I would have just written it off and not cared to see it again. As it stands, there are portions of World of Color: Celebrate that I love, making me want to see it again, despite its faults.
This is just the start of things for the Diamond Celebration. Up next is the reopening of Peter Pan’s Flight, which is sure to include some pretty extensive changes after being closed for months. My speculation is that, following Peter Pan’s Flight, we will see some other “surprise” attraction refreshes and small additions that Disneyland can market to draw locals back again and again.
Not that the marketing team really needs it: the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration is sure to be a smash hit based upon the aforementioned entertainment alone. Suffice to say, any Disney fan owes it to themselves to book at trip to Disneyland during the next year or so to experience the fun. In addition to the entertainment and attraction plussing, both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are looking great. With Walt Disney World undergoing pretty significant construction for the next few years, it’s the perfect time for Florida vacation regulars to take a break from visiting those parks to come experience Disneyland Resort. You won’t regret it.
For those who are planning on visiting during the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration and have questions about strategy, tips and tricks, and that sort of thing, please hold off on those questions for now. I’ll be back on Thursday with my Ultimate Guide to the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration. I have a pretty solid idea of how to tackle everything now in an efficient manner, but I want to observe how the parks are on Wednesday, which is the first day outside of the holiday weekend that I will see everything.
I’m also debating a quick ‘trip report’ covering the 24-hour party, so if you’re interested in seeing/reading that, please drop a line in the comments!
Have you seen any of the new Diamond Celebration entertainment? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Are you hoping to visit Disneyland Resort for the 60th Anniversary? Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below!