Kicking off the “A Boundless Future: Disney Parks, Experiences and Products” presentation at D23 Expo 2022. Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro started with an announcement right off the bat.
Following the emotional opening montage that played the anthem from Happily Ever After, Josh D’Amaro revealed that the music would play again when the “updated Happily Ever After nighttime spectacular returns to light up the skies over Cinderella Castle.”
Jordan Fisher and Angie Keilhauer performed “Happily Ever After” to announce its return to Magic Kingdom.
According to D’Amaro, Happily Ever After is returning to Magic Kingdom sometime next year. No more specific date was given, but our expectation is that Happily Ever After will return on or around April 1, 2023.
This is a developing story and will (hopefully) be updated with more details.
In terms of commentary, I’ve made secret that I’m not a fan of the Disney Enchantment fireworks. I’ve been openly rooting for it to flop from the beginning, with the hope that lower guest satisfaction scores that would result in the return of Happily Ever After.
“Moreover, Disney Creative Entertainment has demonstrated what it is capable of in the intervening years, fully harnessing technological innovations to create an entire new generation of nighttime spectaculars. If Wishes was Disney Fireworks 2.0, these new shows…are Disney Fireworks 3.0.”
“Given this, we are pretty excited to see what Walt Disney World has in store with Happily Ever After. Magic Kingdom deserves a ‘3.0’ show like Paris and Shanghai, and we are really rooting for this to be a worthy successor to Wishes! The big question is whether it will deliver on an emotional level, because all the technology in the world is meaningless if it doesn’t have heart.
“We suspect Disney will deliver. They no doubt realize the stakes are high: fans love Wishes and many are going to be predisposed to favoring their nostalgic favorite over anything new, no matter how good.”
Then there was our Happily Ever After Review published immediately after that show’s debut, which put it bluntly: “Happily Ever After is the best regular fireworks show to ever grace the skies above Magic Kingdom.” Moreover, “it’s better than Wishes, and also better than the nighttime spectaculars in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.”
The point is that at no time were we against Happily Ever After replacing Wishes, despite our nostalgia for the latter. Likewise, in the lead-up to Disney Enchantment, you won’t find any feet-dragging on our part about the change. We went into this new nighttime spectacular with an open mind, assuming that Walt Disney World was pretty confident in it if they already announced it would not just be a temporary replacement for Happily Ever After.
With the “what” out of the way, let’s turn to the “why” and cover the company’s potential motivations for retiring Disney Enchantment so soon after its debut. 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. 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.
Back when Disney Enchantment added the Florida Project and Walt Disney-centric introduction, we cynically speculated that it was being done to reposition that nighttime spectacular as the 50th Anniversary nighttime spectacular. Again, the company stated that Happily Ever After was being permanently retired, with Disney Enchantment replacing it. Not just for the duration of the 50th Anniversary, but for an open-ended run.
However, adding a couple minutes of Roy and Walt Disney to the front of the show turned 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 made 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.
Ultimately, this commentary is all just me reading between the lines…but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing since the announcement in July 2021 that Happily Ever After would be “permanently” retired. The above might seem like a lot of effort to avoid admitting that Disney Enchantment was a disappointment, but this is a company that doesn’t like to admit being wrong.
On the other hand, I am wrong about a lot, and will freely admit that. However, my track record thus far with moves made to Magic Kingdom nighttime spectaculars is perfect. In all likelihood, we’ll only have to endure Disney Enchantment for another ~6 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.
What do you think about the return of Happily Ever After? Excited about this news, or wish Disney Enchantment or another fireworks show were returning? 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!