One of the biggest delights of World of Color – Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Walt Disney, the brand-new nighttime spectacular at Disney California Adventure, is the way that it weaves in large portions of complex Disney history into its dazzling display of lights, sounds and special effects. This isn’t just a jaw-dropping display of technological wizardry and storytelling prowess, but a profound exploration of where the company came from—and where it plans to go from here.
If you’ve never seen a World of Color show, it was one of the more groundbreaking shows developed by Steve Davison, whose new job title is Lead Creative Executive of Parades and Spectaculars. Davison is the creative genius who has been responsible for everything from the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay to the Wishes fireworks show at Walt Disney World, as well as all three new nighttime shows for the Disneyland 60th Anniversary (including World of Color – Celebrate). The original World of Color combined dancing water, like you’d see at some of the hotels in Las Vegas, with large projections: images and moments that literally came to life on screens made of misty H20. When it debuted in 2010 it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before, taking the groundwork of things like IllumiNations in EPCOT and Fantasmic! and, in Walt’s words, “plussing” it to an unbelievable degree.
And, true to form, this new version of World of Color is even more mind-blowing. Jets of water shoot into the night sky, images from classic Disney movies (in all of its forms) dance on cascading droplets, zippy lasers and blasts of fire erupt heavenward, in a colorfully choreographed, how-did-they-do-that display of only-Disney virtuosity and the seemingly bottomless imagination that goes along with it. But it’s not the technological prowess that had us most impressed. No, it was the theme of the show and the fact that it looks back on the company’s origins while also gazing ahead at the future.
There’s much more structure to this version of World of Color. Gone is the somewhat amorphous collection of memorable sequences from your favorite Disney films, set to music and projected on plumes of water. This time the show is “hosted” by a tuxedo-clad Neil Patrick Harris, a longtime Disney fanatic and contributor (he’s also the “voice” of Disney California Adventure staple California Screamin’). Harris is the perfect fit for the project, since you can tell he loves it all so much. And what’s more, his co-host is none other than Mickey Mouse, in some beautiful new 2D animation courtesy of the legendary Eric Goldberg.
Together, Harris and Mickey Mouse go through a truncated version of Disney’s history: the beginnings of the studio, a career-spanning ode to Mickey himself (including the Mickey from the Oscar-nominated Get a Horse short film and the recent, celebrated Disney Channel series), Walt’s dreams for Disneyland (with an amazing montage of famous Disneyland songs, which for us meant getting “It’s a Small World” stuck in our head for the second time that day), and the dreams and highlights from the post-Walt era of the company. This last section will be more familiar to longtime World of Color fans, but don’t worry, it’s even more insane and amazing. There is, of course, an entire section devoted to “Let It Go” that is just spellbinding (they even made inventive use of early Elsa test animation) and a bit emphasizing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you thought the “We’re home, Chewie” moment made you well up when you were watching it on your iPhone, just imagine the power that bit commands when projected on a towering wall of water and accompanied by blasts of singe-your-arm-hairs fire and thundering audio. (Also, later in the show, our favorite beach ball droid BB-8 can be seen rolling around in the center of the iconic Ferris wheel.)
This new nighttime spectacular also features an original song that NPH croons and there are nifty moments where he sings along to classic Disney songs. The show never feels like a history lesson, though, and there are plenty of surprises that are too good to give away here. Just know that for about a half-hour you will be utterly transported. Oh, and here’s a tip: get the new Paint the Night paint brush, turn it on right before the show starts, and watch it brightly strobe along to World of Color – Celebrate! (It’s really nifty.) Instead of mainlining it to the Carsland FastPass, you might want to make World of Color – Celebrate! your #1 priority next time you visit Disney California Adventure. If you’ve never seen World of Color before, well, it’s a wild ride that you won’t soon forget and if you’re an old World of Color pro, this is a new and reinvigorated experience that will make you fall deeper in love with this splashy, singular Disney accomplishment.