The Mostly Wonderful World of Color

by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, staff writer
Be sure to check back again throughout the weekend for additional coverage from the World of Color media event and opening night, including MousePlanet's interview with World of Color producer Sayre Wiseman, interviews from the Red Carpet, and notes from the "What's New, What's Next" presentation of upcoming plans for the Disneyland Resort.

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.

The show opens with the Sherman Brothers' classic theme song from the 1960s television show the Wonderful World of Color, and a quote from Walt Disney, "Every child is blessed with a vivid imagination," hovers briefly on the mist screen. Then the "stage" (for the purpose of this show, the entire Paradise Pier area, with Mickey's Fun Wheel often used as a giant backdrop) goes black for a beat before the World of Color theme song begins. As the music rises, water seems to come alive, forming jets and swirls and fountains as it sparkles and glows. Individual columns of water appear to contain an entire spectrum of horizontal color layers, and the color changes are swift and seamless.This is pure eye candy, an absolutely stunning visual treat.

The Disney California Adventure park at the Disneyland Resort is debuting its new Wonderful World of Color spectacular. The opening segment showcases the amazing color effects that can be produced by the fountains. Video © Disney.

The opening segment leads into a Little Mermaid section, with Ariel projected onto the 19,000-square-foot water screen. The jazzy "Under the Sea" number is fascinating to watch with a technical eye, to figure out how the effects are created. Pay attention to the large "bubbles" which rise from the surface of the water—the animated characters projected on these dome-shaped screens are based on cut paper figures by artist Megan Brain, who also created many figures for the Alice in Wonderland sequence which was mostly cut from the final version of the show. This section also incorporates real bubbles, which float down onto the audience from bubble machines mounted in the lighting towers. It's a cute effect, but the bubbles aren't especially noticeable until one lands on your nose. Ariel and friends give way to the Finding Nemo segment, which features all-new animation created by Pixar artists especially for this show.

The Disney California Adventure park at the Disneyland Resort is debuting its new Wonderful World of Color spectacular. The segment showcases the different types of animation for an entirely new look at The Little Mermaid. Video © Disney.

The Finding Nemo segment segues neatly into a "Pines of Rome" scene from Fantasia 2000, with the leap of the whales into the heavens providing a segue to the WALL-E segment. Here the projection domes make another appearance, and the whole section is quietly elegant. You're no longer looking at water; you're staring out into the cosmos, watching Wall-E and EVE dance right in front of you.

This sequence includes a lovely effect, lasers that interact with spiraling jets of water to create a meteor shower. In another purely visual transition, the exhaust from Wall-E's fire extinguisher forms the clouds on the wallpaper of Andy's room, which provides the segue into the fully reanimated Toy Story scene. The show picks up tempo once again here as Buzz Lightyear launches himself into the sky (depicted by a 200-foot-high fountain of water) and battles with Emperor Zurg. Here, the show's lasers and digital projection systems are combined to incredible effect, making the recently upgraded projection system over at Fantasmic seem already hopelessly outdated.

At this the point, the Genie appears, and the "Friend Like Me" sequence that follows is one of the strongest scenes in the entire show. In fact, this number is so dynamic in comparison to much of what came before that it unintentionally highlights the show's greatest weakness—it needs a story. When the Genie says he is going to "illuminate the possibilites," it was as if the host had finally appeared to take control of the show. Fantasmic is every bit as much a mashup of Disney movies and characters, but it all centers on the storyline of Mickey's dream. The unifying thread of the World of Color seems to be, "Look what we can do with water," but it feels like show director Steve Davison and his creative team almost tried too hard to keep this from becoming just another fountain show. Instead of letting various characters show us what they could do with this million-dollar box of crayons, the World of Color segues from one Disney story into the next, and the audience is left floating through these transitions with no real sense of where they're going, or why.

The Disney California Adventure park at the Disneyland Resort is debuting its new Wonderful World of Color spectacular. The segment showcases the the depth of color and clarity of the main projection screens. Video © Disney.

As light as the story is, the show is visually stunning, with moments that absolutely take one's breath away. Multiple screens of water are used throughout to create a dimensional effect which pulls you into the scene, much like the multiplane camera used in traditional animation. The introduction to the Up scene starts simply enough, with a few loose balloons rising above the water—but when a 380-foot-wide balloon bouquet fills the water screen from edge to edge in high-definition brilliance, it elicits a true gasp, as it did from the audience at both performances I attended. The Firebird scene is elegantly surreal, and the sprite figure seems to interact directly with the water. This segment transitions beautifully into the gorgeous Pocahontas scene, with another eye-popping, screen-filling image. While it feels at times that the show focuses too much on the animation, there are scenes (such as a dazzling effect that makes it appear as if an on-screen waterfall is actually flowing into the lagoon) where the projections and fountains combine to create a whole much greater than the sum of the parts.

Music is used to excellent effect throughout the show, and World of Color features a score composed by Mark Hammond and conducted by David Hamilton. The powerful conclusion of Pirates of the Caribbean sequence—a pulse-pounding display of water, fire, light, and color choreographed to Hans Zimmer's rousing "He's a Pirate"—should put an emphatic end to any comparisons between World of Color and the famous fountain show at Bellagio Las Vegas.

The Disney California Adventure park at the Disneyland Resort is debuting its new Wonderful World of Color spectacular. The segment showcases the effective combination of water and fire. Video © Disney.

World of Color includes several scenes pulled from some unfamiliar films, including The Old Mill and two different pieces from Fantasia 2000, so the use of the Chernabog sequence familiar to anyone who's ever seen Fantasmic feels like a letdown. [It also made me wonder if the schedules are such that Chernabog would be on screen in both Disneyland and DCA at the same time—throw in a midnight performance of Walt Disney World's Fantasmic, and you'll have a bicoastal trifecta.]

The show suffers from a few heart-tugging moments which feel entirely too calculated. The Up sequence concludes with Dug saying, "I have just met you, and I love you." You can almost imagine the show's script reads, "Pause while audience says 'aww.' " The Lion King scene ends with Simba standing over his dead father, and I have to question whether Mufasa's body really needs to be left onscreen for (literally) 20 seconds to properly get the audience into the mood for the "So Close" section.

The Disney California Adventure park at the Disneyland Resort is debuting its new Wonderful World of Color spectacular. Video © Disney.

The World of Color ends with a reprise of the theme song and another demonstration of the show's fountains, lasers, and fire effects. The Alice in Wonderland artwork, which had been so prominently featured in articles about the creation of the show, is briefly used only during the finale, but the Cheshire Cat figure is another great combination of video and water used together to excellent effect. The post-show consists of a fun light-and-music display that will do little to help clear the audience out of the viewing area in time to load the next audience—it will be interesting to see if that is cut in the interest of crowd control.

In a word, the World of Color is beautiful. It's vibrant, flashy, and dazzling—but it's also slightly muddled and artificially sentimental. While not the home run park executives were probably hoping for, the World of Color is a good show, and will likely get better over time.

Shows are usually reviewed independent of their venue, but in this case the physical environment of this show has a major (and potentially negative) impact on the overall experience. The Paradise Park viewing area for World of Color is now estimated to hold only about 4,000 people, less than half of the original number. With the viewing area so much smaller than originally expected, Disney has turned to a ticketed system to control access to Paradise Park. Unfortunately this means that the process of acquiring a ticket—be it Fastpass, picnic plan or dining package—now becomes an inescapable part of the overall experience, which adds another potential point of failure.

In addition to being too small for the expected crowds, the viewing area built for the World of Color is not elevated enough to provide everyone with a clear view of the show. Unlike a fireworks show where the action is above you, much of the World of Color takes place at or below the audience's eye level, with some of the most incredible effects taking place on the surface of the water. Depending on where they stand, children or short adults will have a difficult time getting a clear view of the mist screens, much less the lower-level fountains. Almost as soon as the KOST preview began Tuesday night, people standing at the rear of the flat viewing sections moved to try and find a better vantage point from which to watch the show, and parents lifted young children to their shoulders. Because I had already seen the show in person and knew what to expect, I was disappointed to realize that my companions were missing all of the water-level effects.

Clocking in at about 25 minutes, the World of Color is quite long, and the audience must stand for the entire performance. The entire viewing area is said to be wheelchair accessible, though small sections are set aside for guests who use wheelchairs, and a few benches are reserved for people with endurance issues.Cast members tell us the accessibility issues are still being worked out, but for now guests using wheelchairs will be "encouraged" to sit in the reserved sections.

If you're seeking the best view of the show, look for a spot which gives you an unobstructed view of the surface of Paradise Bay, and avoid the flat sections unless you're standing at the front against a rail. The central fountain area area is probably the worst spot unless you are at the front or very tall. In general, you want to be as high as you can or as low as you can, and you should avoid the two trellises. For those guests lucky enough to get a front-and-center spot for the show, standing at the edge of Paradise Bay during the show offers a completely immersive experience—perhaps too much so, as the fountains—some as close as 12 feet from the audience—have the tendency to spray the audience under certain wind conditions. A MousePlanet reader who attended one of the cast previews last weekend said she left the performance "dripping, but exhilarated," and Disney has posted signs designating parts of the viewing area as a "wet zone." The Paradise Pier bridge also offers a good (and dry) view of the fountains, but a side-on view of most of the projection screens.

Coda: Disney's "What's New, What's Next" presentation Friday morning included a pull quote from this review. Our Steven Ng was attending the press event and got proof:

The presentation included a quote from our review of the show. Photo by Steven Ng.