The World of Color is Still Looking for Its Wonderfulby Joe Stevano, contributing writer
Back when World of Color first opened at Disney California Adventure, Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix noted the following in her review of the show "The Mostly Wonderful World of Color":
"Several minutes into the new World of Color show at Disney California Adventure park, the Genie from Aladdin appears and says, "I don't think you quite realize what you've got here." That line pretty well sums up my feelings of Disney's new nighttime spectacular: it's a good, solid show—probably the best thing to come to DCA—but its potential is even better."
It has been five years, and although there have been changes—new tags at the beginning or the end, a Christmas variation, and a grad-nite version—World of Color – Celebrate, the new show that debuted as part of Disneyland's diamond anniversary celebration, was their first opportunity to go back to the drawing board and really show us that they "realize what [they've] got here."
First off, the show they are selling and the show that is delivered are wildly different. So different, that I actually went back to the website to check that I didn't somehow misread the description of the show.
From the website:
"Filled with never-before-seen surprises and dazzling special effects, and hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and the one-and-only Mickey Mouse, it's an unforgettable opportunity to follow along on Walt's incredible journey of imagination—from his earliest creations, to his very first visions for The Happiest Place on Earth, to today's Disney magic… and beyond!"
They even reinforce this message with the opening of the show. World of Color – Celebrate opens with a slight modification of the final lyric from the original song The Wonderful World of Color: "The funny world, The sunny world, The wonderful world of Walt Disney." The foremost spray screen displays Tinker Bell and the text, "Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever." The text is not in quotes and is not attributed to Walt Disney, even though they are his words. Then we see our hosts Neil Patrick Harris and Mickey Mouse, who tell us that we are here to celebrate the wonderful world of Walt Disney.
The show starts to go wrong from here. Neil Patrick Harris sings a new song as he performs "Magic" with the help of lasers. We see a lot of Neil Patrick Harris. This is no understatement; we see more of Neil Patrick Harris than we do of Walt Disney. We learn that Walt had many dreams and he saw a lot of them come true. We get a short montage of classic Disney animated movies that are not in any particular order: Dumbo, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, and Cinderella. OK, I think, maybe we are back on track. I mean, it would be amazing to see those wonderful panoramic Sleeping Beauty backgrounds on those huge water screens. The clips are out of order for absolutely no reason, but clearly they will be back in order when they talk about Walt's animated features.
The next sequence has video of Neil Patrick Harris (no joke) telling us that Mickey Mouse was near and dear to Walt's heart. We see a video clip of Walt telling us how it was all started with a mouse and we get a Mickey Mouse montage starting with "Steamboat Willie" then "Plane Crazy." We jump into color with "The Band Concert," "Thru the Mirror," and "The Brave Little Tailor." The music over a portion of this is "Mickey Mouse Club March," which is strange since the clips we are watching are from cartoon shorts from the 1930s and the song was from The Mickey Mouse Club, which aired starting in 1955. Then there are a few clips from the current batch of Mickey Mouse shorts that were produced in the last couple of years.
All good stuff, to be sure. There is nothing really new here. We have seen all the clips before. Even though Mickey starred in over 125 cartoon shorts, nothing new was presented in this show. I am mostly okay with that, until the end of this sequence where once again we get clips from Sorcerer's Apprentice. Is it not possible to have a video show without this clip? And it is a long clip, quite possibly longer than the clip used in Fantasmic. Can we all agree that we can put clips from this sequence from Fantasia back in the vault until the day comes that Fantasmic is retired? But I know that is my pet peeve.
Next sequence. More video of Neil Patrick Harris (seriously). He tells us about Walt's first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We get a clip of the movie and then, as if to tell us "See! There is a reason for the Cathay Circle," there is a new animation that pans around the Theater and pushes in through the doors for a montage of clips from the movie over the song "Some Day My Prince Will Come." It is really quite nice, if heavy handed. As soon as this song is over, you should leave; Save yourself. Go home and watch the lovely new Disneyland 60th commercials. Trust me.
Neil Patrick Harris tells us, "The rest, we know, is history." We get another quote, this time attributed to Walt Disney: "Animation can explain… whatever the mind of man can conceive," and then we go off the rails. We get The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, The Jungle Book, Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, and Toy Story 3,
What? Wait, weren't there movies in between there? The rest is history? Isn't this a salute to that history? The show just jumps over all that and rushes straight to the past 25 years. Then there are clips of Bambi, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, more Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Wreck it Ralph, Big Hero 6, Monsters, Inc., Fantasia's Sorcerer's Apprentice (again!), Beauty and the Beast, Up, Dumbo, Peter Pan, Tarzan, The Rescuers, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Lilo and Stitch, Cars, Aladdin, Tangled, more Bambi, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, and Frozen—in that order, which is to say, no order at all.
Now, I don't have a problem with the newer features being represented, but this is as if someone took all the clips they had from the prior World of Color show, put them into iTunes, hit shuffle, and that was the order used. We get some Pixar films, but not all of them. Where are Sleeping Beauty, Saludos Amigos, and Robin Hood to name a few? However, this sequence is not over! There is a villains montage with 101 Dalmatians, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Toy Story, Wreck it Ralph, Sleeping Beauty, Toy Story 2, Peter Pan, Frozen, Sleeping Beauty, more Wreck it Ralph and Toy Story, and more and more, on and on, with no order or purpose. These are all quick clips, not clever character moments. Moreover, why is there a villians sequence at all? Isn't this about the "Dream" that Walt had about making animated movies?
The worst part of all of these sequences is that the full potential of the World of Color fountain system is wasted; the wide water screen is barely used. The majority of the video is only on the center screen, and although there are fountains on either side, you don't even notice them. There is projection on both California Screamin' and Mickey's Fun Wheel, but many times it is the same video as what is on the center screen.
Now we are certainly on a train to crazy town and the next stop is "Let It Go" from Frozen. Not even kidding a little bit. "Let It Go." Now, if Frozen did not already have a sing-a-long, and if Frozen was not part of the Paint the Night parade, maybe (and that is a slim maybe) maybe "Let It Go" could be part of a song montage of great Disney songs. But this is the only full song in the show. If this allowed them to show off some amazing water effects, then maybe it would redeem this overused anthem. However, throughout the entire song the animation is essentially straight from the movie—even when there is nothing interesting to look at—and the fountains don't do anything special.
There is a little back and forth like the old sequence from Aladdin with the Genie and some laser effects, but it feels like a sequence created for the previous show that was never dropped in, now resurrected and repurposed. There are fog jets in the audience, but they feel distracting and out of place rather than cute.
Our trip through crazy town continues with more Neil Patrick Harris video. Now we are on to Walt's dream of Disneyland, with Walt's opening day speech and some nice park video. Then we move to a strange Neil Patrick Harris clip of him in a Dumbo vehicle. Not an actual Dumbo vehicle, but a fake one shot in front of a blue screen.
From Dumbo we move to the Tiki Room, which is a jump from opening day to 1963 or so, but it was a big achievement in entertainment, so fine. However, the material is all new animation, not footage from the actual attraction. It is a shame it is not still standing, across the esplanade in the same exact place it was built, because then you could have gone over there and filmed the real show. Or, better yet, you could show clips and pictures from the 1960s of the attraction being worked on or of Walt actually enjoying the show instead of clips of Neil Patrick Harris singing along to the song.
Next we are on to Splash Mountain because clearly that would be the next attraction you would feature when giving a salute to Walt Disney and his dream of a family amusement park. Not Matterhorn, Carousel of Progress, or Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, but more green screen of Neil Patrick Harris in fake attraction vehicles and new animation.
Next up? Radiator Springs Racers! Then Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and "it's a small world." This is some of the worst animation I have seen Disney do in a long time (and I have seen Mickey and the Magical Map) continues with more Neil Patrick Harris in fake attraction vehicles. I wasn't kidding about there being a lot of Neil Patrick Harris. He has more screen time here than any episode of How I Met Your Mother.
Then just when you thought it could not possibly get worse, there's Star Tours. This sequence allows them to use the big fireball effect. Why? Because. But the worst part is that the clips from Star Tours mix into clips from the latest Star Wars movie trailer. They literally mix Walt's dream of Disneyland with a movie trailer for a franchise that the company purchased three years ago. And then we end with another fireball.
Neil Patrick Harris returns, so it must be time for another sequence, which is essentially a long version of the ad that is currently running on television. The song that accompanies it is "Forever Young," originally written and first performed by Bob Dylan, and here sung by Christina Perri. The song is great and archive video of what we are supposed to believe is Disneyland is shown—strange that the kids are wearing Magic Bands. Although the song and video are great, they clearly didn't know what to do with the fountains as they are basically doing nothing the entire time.
Neil Patrick Harris is back once again to tell us how much Disneyland has meant to him and sing the closing song over another video montage of Walt Disney and Disneyland and movies and anything else they had at their fingertips when they edited the sequence. Literally. Random castles, attractions, Epcot, a cruise ship, more Star Wars, a Marvel shield… on and on. They wrap up the show with a short video clip of Walt and a quote.
Disney had a real opportunity to do something really special with this show; they started with a clean slate and could have really shown off what can be done with water, projection, lasers, and music. There are some issues to overcome: the early footage of Walt is all black and white, and that appears to be difficult to project well. However there is a very short clip of Walt changing from black and white to color that is just thrown away near the end of the show that would have been an amazing transition piece to color. They had an amazing body of work to pull from and they focus on very little of it. No live action movies are represented aside from Star Wars. No Television. Nothing from the World's Fair.
Then, given the opportunity to show off where the company has gone through today, they fail as well. They give us a ton of video of Neil Patrick Harris when we really only need to hear him to move the story along. And worst of all, they make so little use of the fountains as to make them a prop to the actual story. It is a sad excuse of a salute to Walt Disney as told by poor story tellers who made no use of the technology available to them.
Let's hope the World of Color finds its Wonderful someday.