Walt Disney World has announced an all-new nighttime spectacular at EPCOT during Disney’s 100th anniversary celebration. This new show will debut in late 2023 on World Showcase Lagoon. In this post, we’ll share details and extensive commentary on why Harmonious is being scrapped so soon after it debuted.
The news of a replacement for Harmonious was revealed during the “A Boundless Future: Disney Parks, Experiences and Products” presentation at D23 Expo 2022. Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro offered a sneak peek at concept art for the future in addition and teased what was to come in a few years.
I’ll be honest with you: Disney announcing a replacement for Harmonious was not on my D23 Expo bingo card or my radar. I haven’t heard any rumors of this, so it caught me entirely by surprise. With that said, I think there are a few potential explanations.
One explanation we can eliminate right off the bat was that this was the plan all along. It was not. Harmonious was intended to be EPCOT’s answer to World of Color. It would long outlast Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, having an extended run just like Fantasmic or other purpose-built evening entertainment.
Most of our potential explanations as to why Harmonious is being replaced mirror those discussed in our (expanded) commentary to Happily Ever After is Returning to Magic Kingdom. That’s because the underlying rationale is undoubtedly similar.
Like Disney Enchantment, Harmonious has garnered mixed reviews among Walt Disney World fans, us included. (Read our Harmonious Review for much more.) In that, I acknowledge that EPCOT Center purists are a hard audience to satisfy, and that this never could’ve lived up to IllumiNations for me.
I also point out 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 anything unique or impressive. That’s a problem for a show that’s elaborate and heavy-handed with its presentation.
Harmonious stumbles 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.
With that said, I never heard of Harmonious having the same guest satisfaction score shortcomings as Disney Enchantment. It’s been an open secret that the Magic Kingdom 50th Anniversary fireworks show is underperforming and not meeting expectations. The same cannot be said of Harmonious.
What little I’ve heard about its reception among regular guests is that it’s better-received than EPCOT Forever. Despite trying to cater to both EPCOT purists and regular guests, that show didn’t do a good job of connecting with anyone–it scored well below both IllumiNations and Harmonious.
I’m not sure how Harmonious compared to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. I have a suspicion that it was not substantially superior, as I think that’s the type of thing I would’ve heard. (Or that we all would’ve heard. Disney likes to boast about its successes, so silence can be telling.)
Harmonious can’t be doing that poorly, as that’s something that would be known. IllumiNations also wasn’t doing that well. At least, as compared to Happily Ever After or even Wishes. As I’ve previously shared, Happily Ever After’s guest satisfaction scores were through the roof, which is why I shared way back in July 2021 that the decision about which Magic Kingdom fireworks show would run in 2023 hadn’t even been made when Disney announced that Happily Ever After Was Ending “Permanently.”
My anecdotal perception was that Harmonious was generally well-received, especially by first-time and infrequent visitors. Between what I observed in EPCOT myself and not hearing anything about guest satisfaction shortcomings, a replacement for Harmonious was not on my radar.
As someone who very much wants to see Harmonious replaced, this is something I would’ve loved to have on my radar. I can’t believe I missed the opportunity to count down the days until now.
While I have not heard specifics about guest satisfaction for Harmonious, one thing I did hear early on was that high level leadership was not satisfied with the nighttime spectacular. There was chatter about this prior to Harmonious debuting, with specific names you’d recognize being disappointed with the nighttime spectacular when it was screened for them around this time last year.
This was reinforced by interviews with certain creatives, who suggested that the music was rearranged (as in the order of songs–not the actual arrangements) relatively last minute. If you’ve ever had the sense that Harmonious feels like it’s a nighttime spectacular on shuffle, you’re not that far off; the ordering of scenes could be changed by dragging and dropping songs on a computer.
None of this really fazed me. It wouldn’t be the first or last time that executives were disappointed by a nighttime spectacular and meddled at the last minute. Bob Iger famously intervened with World of Color days or weeks before its debut and substantially changed that nighttime spectacular. That was so close to being finished that there are actually videos shot from the Grand Californian and source audio of the pre-premiere World of Color.
Despite those woes, World of Color has enjoyed immense success and incredible guest satisfaction scores. As much as I personally prefer the pre-premiere music, Iger was absolutely correct in pushing for more contemporary music and movies in the show. Executives aren’t (always) evil stuffed suits–sometimes they have their finger on the pulse of the average audience better than creatives. The same might apply with “remixing” Harmonious, or at least, that’s what I figured until now.
The above mostly concerns the way Harmonious sounds–how the music connects with guests. Another possibility is that high-level leadership isn’t pleased with the way the nighttime spectacular and its infrastructure looks.
Honestly, I’m not sure how or why executives weren’t happy with Harmonious. My assumption based on the remix rumors was that it was the soundtrack and flow of the show, but it was just that–an assumption.
Personally, if I were Chapek or D’Amaro and had just let my team spend World of Color level money to build a nighttime consisting of a giant Stargate and water tacos with limited viewing angles, I’d be fuming. They literally would’ve been better off upgrading everything from IllumiNations and just building a bigger globe.
To me, 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 unnecessarily dictating the show presentation. There’s no good explanation for the presentation choice–it’s unintuitive and unnecessarily limiting. It feels like something aliens who had never seen a nighttime spectacular would build–just a totally nonsensical look that doesn’t serve any practical purpose.
When they come alive during the show, the Harmonious barges look like a tribute to Kang and Kodos from the Simpsons. I guess that’s a cool bit of Disney+ synergy, so it’s not entirely awful. Just weird. And there is a certain coolness to the weirdness if you watch Harmonious from the right angle.
During the day, there is no “right” angle. The Harmonious barges add undeniable visual blight to World Showcase Lagoon. The daytime fountains that would make the barges ‘blend in blue’ never came to fruition. Feeble attempts to conceal them with cloud-covered screens have been laughably bad.
It’s entirely possible that Disney executives were upset by how World Showcase looks during the day with Harmonious sitting out on the water. Maybe Chapek or D’Amaro recently went on a tour of the parks and specifically complained about that. It’s also possible this raised eyebrows when the Board of Directors spent time in the parks during their late June 2022 visit to Walt Disney World.
Finally, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that guest complaints about the Harmonious barges have been sufficient for Disney to take notice. As I’ve shared many times recently, Walt Disney World is paying acute attention to guest satisfaction right now–I’ve heard this in the context of other areas (certainly not sightlines), but maybe it applies there as well.
Ultimately, I truly do not know what’s up with Harmonious and its replacement–I’m just speculating.
To be clear, the scope and scale of the “new” nighttime spectacular at EPCOT is…entirely unclear. It might be a basic drag and drop remix of Harmonious, swapping out new songs and scenes to feed the Disney+ synergy beast. Maybe it’ll get a new intro and finale for Disney100 and a few poorly-performing portions of the soundtrack will be replaced. It could be as simple as that–a way to refresh the show, give it a new name, and market it as something “new.” Given how much money Disney invested in the infrastructure on Harmonious, that would be the safe and smart bet.
It is not my (admittedly uninformed) prediction. Disney made the first Harmonious soundtrack remix in, literally, weeks. If that was the intent here, there would be no reason not to debut the reimagined Happily Ever After and new EPCOT nighttime spectacular simultaneously. It would be a good way to close the book on Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and start the next chapter. Instead, the company isn’t debuting the Harmonious replacement until “later” in 2023. From my perspective, the most likely reason that would happen is out of necessity–that a longer turnaround time is required for removing/replacing infrastructure. But I guess we shall see–I never expected Harmonious to be retired so quickly, so I’ve already been surprised once just by virtue of this announcement!
What do you think about Harmonious being replaced? Excited about the announcement of a new nighttime spectacular at EPCOT, or wish IllumiNations were returning? What’s your expectation for this–a remix of Harmonious using the same lagoon infrastructure, or a totally new show that scraps the Stargate and water tacos? 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!