Significant changes could be coming to the Disney Enchantment nighttime spectacular at Magic Kingdom. In this post, we’ll run-through the updates spotted during overnight fireworks testing at Walt Disney World, why these could be happening, and the timeline for a refreshed show.
At the last minute, Walt Disney World scheduled overnight fireworks testing at Magic Kingdom, alerting nearby communities of this so as to not be alarmed by loud explosions at 1 am. Normally, these notices are released with a bit of advance notice–I can’t recall one previously going out on the same day (but that could just be bad memory).
They’re usually fairly standard testing, with teams getting ready for the seasonal shows or special events. Recently, more attention has been paid to testing by the fan community as we’ve gotten our collective hopes up that one of the tests would be an updated version of Happily Ever After.
While today’s news is not that good–still nothing on Happily Ever After–it is an incremental step in the right direction. This overnight testing was for Disney Enchantment, but with a twist.
This test was of a modified version of Disney Enchantment, which included a new introduction featuring clips of Walt Disney, Roy Disney, Central Florida prior to development, and opening day. Segments included scenes the famous “Florida Project” video that Walt Disney filmed to pitch what would become Walt Disney World, as well as footage scouting and surveying the site, other archival footage, and early-era ‘Vacation Kingdom’ clips.
The recent test showed clips in the 50th Anniversary medallion, as well as on the lower sides of Cinderella Castle–not much on the higher turrets or what you’d typically expect in the way of projection mapping. The new footage is approximately two minutes long and plays prior to the normal Disney Enchantment. It’s a lot like a holiday tag, but as an intro rather than an outro.
It’s unclear whether what was tested is the finished product. It’s always possible that more projections will be added or tweaks will be made prior to debut. It’s also possible that nothing will come of this for regular guests–one of the coolest tests recently was a montage medley that ran during Cast Member EARidescent Evenings.
With the “what” out of the way, let’s turn to the “why” and cover the company’s potential motivations for making this change to Disney Enchantment. Guest satisfaction is the big one, and everything else really flows from that.
At this point, I want to turn back to an article we published last July, long before fans started clamoring for its return or anyone had even seen its successor: Happily Ever After Ending “Permanently.” That post came after Walt Disney World officially announced that the beloved nighttime spectacular was being permanently retired, a statement of which we were highly skeptical at the time. (Hence the air quotes around permanently.)
In particular, we shared this: “Happily Ever After’s guest satisfaction scores are through the roof…It’s my understanding that a decision about Magic Kingdom fireworks post-50th Anniversary will depend almost entirely on which nighttime spectacular scores better. If it’s close, Disney Enchantment will continue.”
I haven’t heard anything precise for Disney Enchantment, except that its guest satisfaction is considerably lower than its predecessor. Honestly, this isn’t saying a ton. It’s my understanding that Happily Ever After had one of the highest guest satisfaction scores of anything ever at Walt Disney World. Surpassing it was going to be a herculean task for even a great new nighttime spectacular, which Disney Enchantment is not. This is why we were confident as far back as last summer (long before knowing Enchantment was a dud) that Happily Ever After’s fate had not yet been determined.
With that said, I do want to be fair here. Disney Enchantment is undeniably popular and reasonably well-received by first-time visitors and infrequent guests. Even in our scathing review of Disney Enchantment, we mentioned that there’s a minimum baseline to guest satisfaction for any Magic Kingdom nighttime spectacular, and even a “bad” one is still “good” relative to most other attractions.
All Magic Kingdom fireworks shows have the same core qualities, with pyro exploding over Cinderella Castle to conclude a long, memory-filled day at Walt Disney World. The music is pulled from sentimental moments in memorable Disney movies and the visuals are dazzling. The whole production tugs at the heartstrings, overwhelming the senses and emotions in the best way possible. While fans can easily compare memories of Happily Ever After to Disney Enchantment and reach the conclusion that the former is far better, most first-timers lacking that frame of reference still love Enchantment.
We’ve joked before that Walt Disney World could take 18 minutes of the “Meow Mix” song on loop, add some projections of cats doing cat things, set that to pyro and cool lighting, and guests would still leave Magic Kingdom happy. Granted, those feline fireworks (or “Felinetasmic!”) do sound marginally better than Disney Enchantment, but that’s not the point!
Rather, it’s that Disney Enchantment is still achieving respectable guest satisfaction scores relative to the Magic Carpets of Aladdin or whatever, but not compared to Wishes, Happily Ever After, or any of its direct counterparts. However, that was always going to be a tough task. None of the other contemporary castle park nighttime spectaculars anywhere in the world hit the same high notes or form a cohesive whole like Happily Ever After. That nighttime spectacular truly captured lightning in a bottle.
Speaking of guest satisfaction, another driver of the changes could be recent surveys that Walt Disney World has sent out centering around the 50th Anniversary. These have questioned guests about the degree to which they felt the milestone was being celebrated and what’s encompassed in the event.
Most notably, the survey proactively listed off shortcomings of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. There were specific line-items that included pretty much every conceivable fan critique, an interesting indictment coming from Disney’s own surveying.
This was actually notable and a bit surprising, as past surveys by Disney have often included leading lines of questioning to reinforce decisions that Disney had already decided upon. This was the case for years, to the point that it felt futile to respond to Walt Disney World’s surveys.
That has changed in the last few years, and not just with this survey. It’s a bit of an aside, but we’d attribute this to CEO Bob Chapek, who is famously analytics and data-driven (whereas Iger was more of an instinctive leader). I know hating on Chapek is the popular thing to do for any number of valid reasons, but we’ve heard multiple times that he expects the parks division to be more responsive to guest feedback and that decisions are being made on the basis of guest satisfaction. (Before you get too excited, just remember that a lot of people visiting the parks go for very different reasons than longtime fans.)
In any case, it’s possible that this historic introduction is being added to Disney Enchantment to improve perceptions of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. Until now, the World’s Most Magical Celebration has been salute to all things Disney…but mostly characters that are popular on the Disney+ streaming service. Not much in the way of tributes to the man who made the magic possible or Walt Disney World’s legacy. (Unless you want merchandise or food…they’ll happily sell you some park nostalgia!)
From that perspective, this intro would definitely help. Personally, it’s still tough for me to get excited about this. My perspective is somewhere between “better late than never” and “too little, too late.” More than both of those, though, is one of bewilderment that it took the company this long to realize the 50th Anniversary should be a celebration of Walt Disney and the Vacation Kingdom of the World, and not characters created within the last 10 years. I very much want to applaud the company for doing the right thing and correcting mistakes, but c’mon. How was this not patently obvious during planning for the milestone celebration?!
On a more optimistic and slightly cynical note, I think it’s also possible that this change is being made to reposition Disney Enchantment as the 50th Anniversary nighttime spectacular. Again, the company stated that Happily Ever After was being permanently retired, with this replacing it. Not just for the duration of the 50th Anniversary, but for an open-ended run.
Adding a couple minutes of Roy and Walt Disney to the front of the show turns Disney Enchantment into the Magic Kingdom 50th Anniversary fireworks, even if that’s not what the rest of the show is in the least. That makes for easier revisionist history, and claiming that Enchantment was always intended to have a limited run, through March 2023 along with the rest of the World’s Most Magical Celebration.
I don’t think I need to spell out what that would pave the way for in April 2023.
On a less optimistic and also slightly cynical note, there’s an outside possibility that this change is being made to reposition Enchantment as the Walt Disney Company’s 100th Anniversary nighttime spectacular. To freshen it up and extend its run another year or longer for that milestone celebration…which will also probably just pay tribute to whatever is new on Disney Plus.
I doubt this is the case. This intro is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, and the last minute nature of the testing suggests to me that it’s a near-term band aid. It’s likely coming very soon, not months down the road.
On that note, let’s switch gears and discuss the “when” of this. There are two highly obvious dates on the horizon, one for an announcement and one for the intro’s debut.
First, there’s the D23 Expo next month in Anaheim, California. The big Parks & Resorts panel happens on September 11, 2022, and would be the perfect place to announce this addition to Disney Enchantment while recapping all of the “big” offerings for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
October 1, 2022 is the obvious choice for a start date.
However, I’m skeptical of both dates. What I think is more likely is that the intro debuts almost immediately, giving Magic Kingdom a bit of a boost during the fall off-season (which is pretty much just now through late September). It would also offer a bit of counter-programming to Fantasmic, which is nearing its debut date. (It’s finally going to happen, I swear.)
The Walt-centric opening could still be highlighted during the Parks & Resorts panel as they recap the 50th Anniversary, but to demonstrate Walt Disney World’s “ongoing commitment” to honoring Walt Disney’s wishes by continuing to change, innovate, keep moving forward, etc. [insert your own favorite out-of-context Walt quote here to justify the change].
All of this is totally speculative on my part, but I think debuting this on October 1, 2022–the date of Walt Disney World’s 51st Anniversary–is just a bit awkward. It would invite the obvious question: why wasn’t this here LAST year?!
Ultimately, that’s my big question and why it’s tough to muster much enthusiasm for this. I’m pleased to see a positive change, and hope it’s the start of a trend. With that said, it’s a relatively minor addition to a show that is otherwise underwhelming–the biggest disappointment of a celebration with no shortage of them. The nighttime spectacular could have been so much more had Walt Disney World just followed the template that was right there for them in the anniversary fireworks shows presented by Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland.
Honestly, this intro is much more exciting to me when reading between the lines. It makes the likelihood that we’ll only have to endure Enchantment for another ~7 months, at which point, the king will return. Now, if we could just keep this intro as a 100th Anniversary tag to Happily Ever After, I think that would be about perfect.
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Thoughts on Walt Disney World adding a historic intro to the Enchantment fireworks? Expect it to actually occur? If so, what do you think are the driving motivations for the change almost a year into the 50th Anniversary’s run? When do you think it’ll be announced and/or debut? Implications (or lack thereof) for Happily Ever After? Think we’re reading way too much into this, and it’s cut and dry “plussing” that was always planned? Excited about the enhancements coming to the Disney Enchantment fireworks? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!