Harmonious Review: Epcot’s Spiritual Successor to IllumiNations?

Harmonious is the new nighttime spectacular at Epcot for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, and the long-term replacement for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. This fireworks review shares photos of the show, plus how it compares to its predecessor, other blockbuster nighttime spectaculars, and whether Harmonious is worth its blockbuster budget and daytime visual blight.

Before we get started, some basics about Harmonious. Walt Disney World has routinely touted it as “one of the largest nighttime spectaculars in Disney theme park history.” To our knowledge, there’s no commonly accepted method of measurement for nighttime spectaculars, but World of Color at Disney California Adventure is probably the largest.

World of Color is also the most logical comparison for Harmonious. Both feature a variety of show effects, including choreographed fountains, colorful lights, and lasers. The difference is that Harmonious dials it up a notch, adding more moving parts–literally. There are custom-built LED panels, fireworks, and other dynamic visuals on World Showcase Lagoon.

This Harmonious review will attempt to answer several questions: does this all work? Is Harmonious a worthy replacement to IllumiNations? Do the ‘extras’ help Epcot’s nighttime spectacular surpass World of Color? Does the quality of Harmonious justify the daytime blight of its huge barges?

Let’s start by taking a look at Harmonious in isolation, discussing whether it works and sharing photos from the new nighttime spectacular…

Although presented in a different form, Harmonious is very similar to a montage nighttime spectacular you’d see in one of the castle parks. Which is to say that it features visuals and songs from a variety of movies, and loosely ties them together with a through-line. In this case, that commonality is “culture.”

I’m not sure culture, on its own, is a particularly strong unifying element for this nighttime spectacular. For a production intending to evoke a sense of global unity, the choppiness is a problem.

Harmonious comes across as a series of disconnected scenes; transitions are few and far between, with a lot of fading in and out instead. This actually makes sense given the substance and tone of each, which would otherwise be discordant if actually weaved together into one seamless production.

This might seem hyperbolic, but there are credible reports that Harmonious was rearranged weeks before its debut. Given its presentation, that probably could’ve been accomplished relatively easily by dragging and dropping scenes on a computer. On the plus side, this should allow for segments to be swapped out in the future.

Harmonious is at its best when judging and viewing each scene on its own. Individually, I love several segments, including those from Moana, Lion King, and Mulan. The latter two feel more adult, with a certain elegance that is appreciated for something on World Showcase Lagoon.

Then there’s Coco. It’s high energy and vibrant–a total showstopper. This brings the lagoon alive in a way that, for me, comes pretty close to IllumiNations. For families, it’ll likely be even more impressive and enjoyable. Coco moves nicely to Princess and the Frog, which is also mostly strong. The same can’t be said for “Someday,” which is probably not how I would’ve culminated a show meant to uplift and inspire.

Stylistically, Harmonious is also a mixed bag. Presenting songs in different global languages was a clever idea both to distinguish this nighttime spectacular from one in Magic Kingdom and for Harmonious to fit Epcot’s World Showcase. If anything, I would’ve liked to see this taken further, but I can understand there might be trepidations about that.

It also would’ve been nice if Harmonious were presented as a cohesive production. It doesn’t need to tell a story, per se, but it shouldn’t feel so disjointed. Disney created the lovely Epcot Anthem–perhaps reinterpretations or musical cues from that could be used to transition between scenes?

As a whole, the visuals of Harmonious are pretty. The fountains, lasers, lights, and other effects are eye-catching and engaging. If you have a direct view of the Stargate, you’ll likely leave impressed.

The use of screens leaves something to be desired. Multiple sequences feature rudimentary animation, and this becomes a problem when the music slows down and those screens could be better leveraged to sustain the show. I will say that Harmonious plays much better in person than it does on video. There’s a lot to see and take in that simply cannot be conveyed via YouTube.

With that said, is Harmonious a worthy replacement to IllumiNations?

I’m a biased reviewer and cannot give a fair answer to that. I absolutely loved IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. I saw it more times than I can count–probably more than all other Disney nighttime spectaculars combined. It was an elegant and sophisticated fireworks show totally unlike anything at Walt Disney World. IllumiNations was rife with symbolism, nuance, and abstract ideas–you know, things small children and drunk adults visit theme parks to see!

As much as I’m still an IllumiNations superfan who would’ve preferred to see it modernized, I can recognize that Reflections of Earth had a good, long run. I’m also cognizant of its (perceived) faults. IllumiNations’ middle was too slow and boring, there was nothing “Disney” about it, and the visuals were hard to see.

The argument could be made that, of these three main criticisms, Harmonious only addresses one. In a weird way, Harmonious actually is a spiritual successor to IllumiNations!

Like its predecessor, Harmonious arguably has a pacing problem.

There are a couple of stretches that are “slower.” Both in terms of the musical choices and the visuals on the barges, I could see these dragging on too long for some guests. I don’t have that issue with Harmonious, but I also didn’t have that problem with IllumiNations.

Harmonious also, inexplicably, has a visuals problem. For all of the complaints about their appearance during the day, the Harmonious barges somehow look small during the nighttime spectacular. Perhaps I’m too accustomed to World of Color, which fills the entire lagoon, but Harmonious does not awe or overwhelm the senses. Even up close, it looks distant.

Another related issue is that Harmonious does not offer true 360º viewing. The front of the house (old FastPass area) offers a fantastic perspective, and not even Japan or Italy compare with that. You can see the pyro and fountains from pretty much anywhere in World Showcase, but not the full dynamic of the screens.

To answer the next question, Harmonious is no World of Color.

For all of its additional “stuff” and technical capabilities, Harmonious just doesn’t wow in the same way as World of Color. To be sure, that DCA nighttime spectacular is not without its own faults, but those breathtaking fountains, mist screens, and other effects help overcome most criticism. In fairness, fireworks help carry Harmonious–and World of Color’s normal versions have none of those. So perhaps this will be a closer call for others, but we think World of Color coalesces into a complete show better than Harmonious.

Next, does Harmonious justify the daytime blight of its huge barges?

No. There aren’t any visuals in Harmonious that are suited only to this unique presentation. Rather than coming across as purpose-built infrastructure for the nighttime spectacular, it feels like Harmonious is working around the constraints of its quirky platform.

While there are moments when the water tacos and Stargate are used together in harmony to produce beautiful and cohesive imagery, they’re few and far between. And again, those visuals are also only visible from a couple of specific angles–everywhere else is only getting the partial effect.

A lot of Harmonious is visually stunning, but I’m skeptical this couldn’t have been accomplished with a more traditional and straightforward presentation. If anything, the infrastructure takes me out of the show more than it immerses me in it. When everything is moving, the barges remind me of Kang and Kodos from the Simpsons (I’m not even kidding) or some sort of device aliens would devise to distract and abduct foolish Earthlings.

To me, the style of the Harmonious barges comes across as a solution in search of a problem, or a contrivance. An instance of the tail wagging the dog, with technology (or whatever you want to call those barges) unnecessarily dictating the show presentation. There’s simply no good explanation for why the barges look the way they do–it’s unintuitive.

Perhaps this is bias as an IllumiNations fan, but it boggles my mind that Walt Disney World heard the complaints about that globe being too small and decided this was the answer. Instead of the more straightforward solution: building a larger globe. More fountains and mist screens could’ve been added, with the show still changing completely.

Going in a totally different direction, Walt Disney World could’ve used Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration as a template, but with 360º viewing. Disney fans will likely scoff at that suggestion, but it’s a technically impressive lagoon show that uses an array of visuals to great effect.

Universal’s approach is simpler and more straightforward, but it works. I give Walt Disney World credit for the ambition with Harmonious, but it feels overly elaborate and excessive for its own sake, without enhancing the production. (And so many moving parts means tech fails are inevitable.)

Ultimately, Harmonious is perhaps the biggest move towards the company’s aim of making Epcot “more Disney” and appealing to today’s guests. While there are certainly old school EPCOT Center fans who will continue to lament every little change (we’ve done our own fair share of that–see Why Fans Can’t Let EPCOT Center Go), this is clearly the direction Walt Disney World is taking the park. For our part, we’re done holding out hope of a return to EPCOT Center–a park that has been dead for two decades. It’s a fool’s errand and an exercise in futility.

For us, the core issue is whether Harmonious accomplishes anything beyond the “more Disney” mandate. To be sure, it’s a visually impressive, mesmerizing, and mostly fun nighttime spectacular. There are several scenes that are an absolute blast, and others offer quiet contemplation that are befitting of Epcot. Those are almost enough to carry Harmonious and overcome its faults.

The trouble is that Harmonious doesn’t actually address the core complaints regular guests had with IllumiNations. Once you look beyond the pyro and other effects–features that would’ve been part of any new nighttime spectacular–Harmonious is not really accomplishing much that’s unique or impressive. That’s a problem for a show that is so elaborate and heavy-handed with its presentation.

There are aspects of Harmonious that we really enjoy, but it’s very odd to see it stumble in some of the exact same ways as IllumiNations. Like its predecessor, Harmonious feels destined to alienate some guests and partially satisfy others. It’s hard to envision this being a homerun or beloved nighttime spectacular for many guests, but it also shouldn’t be a complete flop for many guests. It succeeds more than Magic Kingdom’s new fireworks show (and fails less), but given what Disney invested in Harmonious and its higher stakes, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Finally, we’ll round out this review with some practical info. First, Harmonious is one centerpiece of the World’s Most Magical Celebration, but not the only new offering–or even the only new nighttime spectacular. As always, consult our Guide to Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary for everything you need to know about the festivities.

With regard to Harmonious, our Best Epcot Fireworks Viewing Spots are largely unchanged. While we (obviously) have yet to view Harmonious from all of those locations, our preliminary recommendations are spots 1, 2, 4, and 5. Speaking of which, when it comes to the New Harmonious Dining Packages at Epcot, we’d recommend Rose & Crown over Spice Road Table. The former has a better viewing angle and a seating area that isn’t as deep.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Are you excited to see Harmonious in person at Epcot? If you’ve watched video, what’s your first impression of Epcot’s huge new nighttime spectacular? Does Harmonious “work” for you, or is it a misfire? Is Harmonious a worthy replacement to IllumiNations? Do the ‘extras’ help Epcot’s nighttime spectacular surpass World of Color? Does the quality of Harmonious justify the daytime blight of its huge barges? Do you agree or disagree with our review? 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!

53 Responses to “Harmonious Review: Epcot’s Spiritual Successor to IllumiNations?”
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