The new World of Color at Disney California Adventure dials back the spectacle a few notches in favor of storytelling with a water show that still delivers plenty of wonder and amazement on a massive stage.
Dubbed “Celebrate,” the new hydrotechnic show debuting May 22 on the man-made lake of Paradise Pier tells the history of Walt Disney and his first theme park.
I watched a media preview on Wednesday night and found that I remained stunned by the scope and scale of World of Color and impressed by the audacity of the original water show concept.
World of Color debuted in 2010 with the promise of future updates. Since then, Disney has made small additions and deletions, but “Celebrate” marks the first complete overhaul of the show.
“Celebrate” is hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, whose talents for the most part are sadly wasted. Unfortunately, the show is at its best when Harris gets out of the way. The fault does not lie with Harris but rather the script, which cries out for an editor and could be easily cut in half.
The first act of “Celebrate” pays tribute to Mickey Mouse and some of his early movies, including “Steamboat Willie.”
Maybe it’s the slower pacing of the older movies, but the show seems to get bogged down in too much unnecessary exposition at the beginning. Far too much of the narration states the obvious and could easily have gone unsaid.
The second act starts out with a segment on “Snow White,” Disney’s first full-length animated film. During “Someday My Prince Will Come,” the fountains seem to sway along to the song in a graceful aquatic dance.
The elegant “Snow White” segment is followed by a rapid montage of clips from more than a dozen films - ranging from “Bambi” to “Wreck-It Ralph” - that feel like a kitchen sink version of something for everybody.
In similar fashion, the show races through an all-too-short fire and brimstone salute to villains that clumsily transitions into an even briefer homage to love and friendship. The whole thing feels like an attempt to cram as many clips and characters as possible into the shortest amount of time.
The show wisely slows down again for “Frozen,” hitting its stride in what is certainly the highlight of the night. Snowflakes float in the mist as the piano intro to “Let It Go” draws cheers from the crowd. Before she is done, Elsa will fire snowballs at the crowd, shoot icicle lasers into the air and unleash great clouds of frost. The “Frozen” finale is punctuated by a water blast that rockets 100 feet into the air.
The third act opens with classic video footage of Walt Disney welcoming visitors to Disneyland and scenes of kids running toward Sleeping Beauty Castle on opening day.
The instantly recognizable music from a host of attractions like the Enchanted Tiki Room, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World serves as the soundtrack for my favorite part of the show. An expansive view of the Small World facade stretching across three water screens is among the night’s most striking visuals.
And the most fun moment of the night comes during a tribute to Star Tours. A massive Millennium Falcon fills the water screens before a fleet of X-wing fighters fly past. There are even a few scenes from the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (thanks to the benefits of synergy).
The show closes with a return to the opening theme song, a burst of colored fountains and blue and silver lights twinkling on the steel supports of the California Screamin’ coaster. The exclamation point to the evening is delivered by a 150-foot-tall burst of flames that produces a fireball so big it leaves a smoke ring in the low-hanging clouds.
Now that Disney has made good on its promise to periodically update World of Color, it would be great to see new back stories and themes created for attractions like Toy Story Midway Mania and Soarin’ Over California.
With World of Color, I’d love to see Disney change out the show on a more regular basis and maybe offer different shows on different nights. It would be great to have a World of Color dedicated to a single property like “Frozen,” “Lion King” or “Star Wars.” Or maybe a show based on a theme like outer space with scenes featuring Buzz Lightyear, Wall-E and Darth Vader.
For now, I’m just pleased that World of Color has been successfully updated, and I’m more than happy to sacrifice some of the spectacle of the original show for a greater emphasis on storytelling in “Celebrate.”