Walt Disney World has shared details about the all-new nighttime spectacular at EPCOT during the 100 Years of Wonder Celebration, and also that the park will be the home to the Disney100 festivities in Florida. In this post, we’ll share details, new concept art, and commentary.
To bring you up to speed, a replacement for Harmonious was first revealed during the “A Boundless Future: Disney Parks, Experiences and Products” presentation at last fall’s D23 Expo There, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro offered a sneak peek at concept art for the future in addition and teased what was to come in a few years.
Earlier this year, Walt Disney World announced that, before the new show launches over World Showcase Lagoon, EPCOT Forever will return as an interim show starting April 3, 2023. Similar to how it appeared in 2021, EPCOT Forever is a stop-gap offering while the Disney Entertainment team preps World Showcase Lagoon.
This prep work includes a phased removal of fireworks platforms following the final “Harmonious” performance on April 2, 2023. A limited-time spectacle of lasers, lighting, special effects, and fireworks, “EPCOT Forever” returns with a collection of songs that offer both a trip down memory lane and a look toward the future.
“The most important story is EPCOT’s past, present, and future. It only took one little spark, and we have a whole new world,” said Show Director Tom Vazzana with Walt Disney World Creative Entertainment when discussing EPCOT Forever during an event describing what’s on the horizon at Walt Disney World.
Vazzana then looked further down the road, after the Disney100 Celebration starts this fall at EPCOT, and discussed the permanent nighttime spectacular that’s coming to World Showcase Lagoon. “This special show through music, pyrotechnics, lasers, and lighting reflect the commonality in all of us. You can be you, I can be me, and we can all be together in this one beautiful show,” Vazzana said.
He added that EPCOT’s new nighttime spectacular will feature an original composition and evocative selections from the Disney songbook, all woven together to “remind us that we are more alike than different.” This new (still unnamed) show will debut in late 2023 on World Showcase Lagoon.
In terms of new-news from the March 15, 2023 event about the future of Walt Disney World, that’s really about it. We know that EPCOT will be the epicenter of the 100 Years of Wonder Celebration at Walt Disney World. However, there are no specifics as to what that means beyond the new nighttime spectacular, opening of Moana’s Journey of Water, and conclusion of the EPCOT central spine project.
Actually, all of that is more than enough. You’re telling me we get to fill in the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit and we get a special event to celebrate it?!? Well, color me excited!
Joking aside, my expectation is that it’ll be similar to Disneyland, with all of the new stuff coinciding with the Disney100 festivities, and the addition of banners, medallions, and statues to celebrate the 100 Years of Wonder. It makes sense that EPCOT is the park that’ll be Walt Disney World’s home base for the Disney100 festivities given everything new and the way Walt Disney is a focus of World Celebration.
What follows is commentary about the removal of Harmonious. Nothing new here if you already read the original announcement of Harmonious ending and Happily Ever After returning…
I was shocked when this was announced back at the D23 Expo, as Harmonious was never intended to be a temporary nighttime spectacular for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. The company invested a ton of money on this–Harmonious was rumored to cost north of $100 million–putting it in the same budgetary league as the Little Mermaid dark ride.
That investment was not for an 18-month nighttime spectacular, either; Harmonious was supposed to be EPCOT’s answer to World of Color, lasting a decade or more. It would’ve been Walt Disney World’s distinct nighttime draw, pulling people to EPCOT in the evenings to spend money on food & beverages, and recouping much of its investment. In fairness, it did draw people to EPCOT for a while…but largely because Animal Kingdom has no nighttime spectacular and Fantasmic took longer than expected to refresh.
Unfortunately, Harmonious garnered mixed reviews among Walt Disney World fans, us included. (Read our Harmonious Review for much more.) We have heard numerous credible reports that its guest satisfaction scores were low for a nighttime spectacular, right around the same level as EPCOT Forever–not good since that was an interim show.
Harmonious also, supposedly, was met with a mixed response by high level leadership at the Walt Disney Company. There was chatter about this prior to Harmonious debuting, with Chapek and others being disappointed with the nighttime spectacular when it was screened for them. (For all of his other faults, this actually is not the only rumor about Chapek demanding better of a notably underwhelming addition.)
This was reinforced by interviews with certain creatives, who suggested that the songs were shuffled around relatively last minute. If you’ve ever had the sense that Harmonious feels disjointed and some songs slotted in almost at random, you’re not that far off; the ordering of scenes could be changed by dragging and dropping songs on a computer. (It was also designed for future updates to keep it fresh.)
Perhaps equally as important, Harmonious appears to be maintenance-intensive. While I cannot corroborate this, it’s one of those things that sounds plausible. The infrastructure has a lot of moving parts (literally) and we’ve seen crews out working on the Stargate and water tacos many days while walking around World Showcase. That cannot be cheap.
Speaking of which, the Harmonious barges add undeniable visual blight to World Showcase Lagoon. The daytime fountains that would make the barges ‘blend in blue’ never came to fruition. Feeble attempts to conceal them with cloud-covered screens have been laughably bad. Given that the announcement to end Harmonious came shortly after a Board of Directors site tour of Walt Disney World, I wonder if that played a part in the nighttime spectacular’s downfall.
Beyond that, Harmonious doesn’t actually address the core complaints normal guests had with IllumiNations. Once you look beyond the pyro and other effects–features that would’ve been part of any new nighttime spectacular–Harmonious is not really accomplishing anything unique or impressive. That’s a problem for a show that’s elaborate and heavy-handed with its presentation.
Harmonious stumbles in some of the exact same ways as IllumiNations. It has limited viewing angles and pacing problems along with some wow-inducing segments. Like its predecessor, Harmonious feels destined to alienate some guests and partially satisfy others. It’s hard to envision this being a homerun or beloved nighttime spectacular for many guests, but it also shouldn’t be a complete flop for many guests. It succeeds more than Magic Kingdom’s new fireworks show (and fails less), but given what Disney invested in Harmonious and its higher stakes, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Rather than building the weird tribute to Kang and Kodos from the Simpsons, Disney literally would’ve been better off upgrading the infrastructure from IllumiNations, building a bigger floating globe, and swapping out the soundtrack. (As much as I loved IllumiNations, I realize it’s not what regular guests want.)
With that said, I never heard of Harmonious having the same guest satisfaction score shortcomings as Disney Enchantment. It’s been an open secret that the Magic Kingdom 50th Anniversary fireworks show is underperforming and not meeting expectations. The same cannot be said of Harmonious.
What little I’ve heard about its reception among regular guests is that it’s better-received than EPCOT Forever. Despite trying to cater to both EPCOT purists and regular guests, that show didn’t do a good job of connecting with anyone–it scored well below both IllumiNations and Harmonious.
I’m not sure how Harmonious compared to IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. I have a suspicion that it was not substantially superior, as I think that’s the type of thing I would’ve heard. (Or that we all would’ve heard. Disney likes to boast about its successes, so silence can be telling.)
Harmonious can’t be doing that poorly, as that’s something that would be known. IllumiNations also wasn’t doing that well. At least, as compared to Happily Ever After or even Wishes. As I’ve previously shared, Happily Ever After’s guest satisfaction scores were through the roof, which is why I shared way back in July 2021 that the decision about which Magic Kingdom fireworks show would run in 2023 hadn’t even been made when Disney announced that Happily Ever After Was Ending “Permanently.”
My anecdotal perception was that Harmonious was generally well-received, especially by first-time and infrequent visitors. Between what I observed in EPCOT myself and not hearing anything about guest satisfaction shortcomings, a replacement for Harmonious was not on my radar.
As someone who very much wants to see Harmonious replaced, this is something I would’ve loved to have on my radar. I can’t believe I missed the opportunity to count down the days until now. I would’ve put it on my calendar and started crossing off the days way back in October 2021 had I known!
Ultimately, I have no strong opinion on the return of EPCOT Forever. That show actually grew on me over time, and I don’t think it was nearly as bad as some of its detractors suggest. It was a temporary show following a beloved nighttime spectacular–and almost destined for failure as a result. Some of the song remixes were a bit odd, sure, but it had some charm and fun visuals, too. I’m actually looking forward to seeing EPCOT Forever again, but I also wouldn’t shed any tears if I never saw it again.
What has me really optimistic is the next nighttime spectacular at EPCOT. I hope lessons have been learned from the failure of Harmonious, and also the success of the Disneyland Paris 30th Anniversary nighttime spectacular additions. There’s definitely a way to do something wow-inducing over World Showcase Lagoon without a bunch of hideous permanent infrastructure causing daytime blight. In a word: drones.
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What do you think about the interim appearance of EPCOT Forever starting in April 2023 and a brand new nighttime spectacular for Disney100 sometime in Late 2023? Excited about this news, or wish Disney Enchantment or another fireworks show were returning? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
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