Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Big Nighttime Spectacular Changes! Happily Ever After Returns, Harmonious Replaced

In a big announcement today, Disney confirmed something that had been discussed at D23 back in September - major changes are coming to two of Disney's Nighttime Spectaculars.  One is an absolute positive while the other is very likely a positive as well, making this a pretty positive announcement!  This post will talk about the substance of what's happening, which fills in some more details than the rapid fire D23 talks.

Starting with Magic Kingdom, this is official confirmation that Happily Ever After is indeed returning! It will replace Enchantment on April 3.  That date is significant (or at least close enough) because Disney World's 50th Anniversary celebration officially ends on March 31.  We'll come back to this later.  But the D23 announcement was kind of vague, saying that the "anthem" of Happily Ever After would return as part of a "new nighttime spectacular."

Today's post, on the other hand, calls this Happily Ever After by name.  There is no indication that the substance of the show will change, but there also is no indication that it WON'T.  Fantasmic just returned to Hollywood Studios recently and some tweaks were made (for the better).  I wouldn't rule that out here, but in large part, this seems to be the show we all know and love.  The only new additions mentioned were projections on Main Street, something debuted with Enchantment and will be retroactively added here.

In terms of commentary ... if you've read this blog before (or know me in person), you will understand the joy I feel here.  Right after Enchantment debuted, I wrote about how we would miss this show and how Enchantment didn't come close to matching the emotion felt during Happily Ever After.  I've referenced that post a lot since, and I've taken some shots at Enchantment.  It's not that it's BAD but it's not the pinnacle of the form that HEA is.

In any case, I'm going to try to put aside my personal feelings here and just talk about the "why" of this whole thing.  Disney has a tendency to make every ending feel like it's the "last chance" anyone will ever have of seeing anything.  That was true in the case of HEA, as Disney plastered social media with "see it now before it's gone forever" type messaging.  People with more experience with this sort of thing took this with a grain of salt, as Disney has done this before, only to bring them back in the future (parades being a good example of this).

But still, I think the intention was clear - Enchantment was going to be the permanent replacement for Happily Ever After.  In reality, they didn't say this exactly, just that this was "new entertainment" for the 50th Anniversary celebration.  That gave Disney a chance to see how things played out - if Enchantment was a big success, it would continue to run, but if it wasn't well received, they could always bring back HEA (or a new show) and talk about how Enchantment was part of the celebration and that this was the plan all along.

Based on the triumphant return of HEA, I guess more guests felt like I did, rather than Disney hoped they would.  I don't know anyone who LOVED Enchantment, or anyone who said it was their favorite nighttime spectacular.  No harm, no foul, really.  Enchantment can go into the "temporary" bin and be retrofitted as the nighttime spectacular for the 50th Anniversary (despite the show having no real sense of nostalgia, one of the many complaints about it.  But I digress).

The more interesting story here is the end of Harmonious at Epcot.  I grew to like Harmonious, despite being kind of underwhelmed when it debuted.  Illuminations was showing its age and Epcot Forever was ironically named, as it was only meant to be temporary.  Despite the April 2 end date, there was no misunderstanding here - Harmonious was supposed to be the long term nighttime show at Epcot.  

So what changed?  It's hard to say if this is a Bob Iger situation, or if, as with Enchantment, Harmonious didn't play well with guests.  As I said, I liked the show when it was happening - the problem was all of the other time during the day.  World Showcase Lagoon was a lovely place to walk around, with wonderful views to the other side no matter where you stood and a peace and tranquility by its very nature.

Until Harmonious, that is.  Or rather, until the structures built for the show started to appear.  The big piece is affectionately nicknamed the "stargate", while the side pieces have been referred to by many names (I prefer "water taco", coined, I believe, by Tom Bricker at Disney Tourist Blog).  If these set pieces were able to be moved backstage during the day only to appear during the show, that would be one thing.  

Instead, they became giant eye sores in the lagoon, sticking out as unnatural structures in a natural world.  I might have even been able to forgive the stargate but it wasn't even centered directly back from Spaceship Earth.  Call it OCD, feng shui or what have you, but that always bugged me.  There were originally plans to hide these structures during the day which never came to be.  It just plain didn't fit.

I can't say for sure that this is the reason Harmonious is ending, but it's a good bet.  The D23 announcement didn't specify but theme park journalist Scott Gustin confirmed on Twitter that yes indeed, the barges would be removed.  A lot of time, energy and money was poured into Harmonious so for it to be dismantled so soon after its debut is pretty crazy to me.

It speaks volumes that they don't even have a replacement lined up for it, instead bringing back the transient Epcot Forever in the meantime before a new show debuts "later this year."  An updated Illuminations is a possibility, as that show resonated with many guests.  Whatever it is, I think we can safely say that there won't be unsightly barges in the lagoon as part of the show.

Again, though I'll miss Harmonious somewhat, this announcement can only be considered a positive on the whole.  Disney recognized that their current shows were missteps for various reasons and is working to correct that.  This is another situation where Disney can take an "easy win" by playing on guests' nostalgia and fondness for Happily Ever After.  This mindset can only help the company as a whole going forward.

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