Summer is here, and by now hopefully everyone has had a chance to enjoy a fireworks display. I got a chance to enjoy the fireworks in a small Colorado town on the 4th of July. My friends’ house had a great view of the town’s fireworks display from their back deck, so all we had to do was sit down and enjoy!
I did notice that something was missing. While the display was an impressive sight and had a variety of fireworks, there wasn’t really any plan to the show. One shot went up. BOOM! Another shot went up. BOOM! Oh – here’s a change of pace – two going off at the same time! BOOM BOOM! The only time the show really ratcheted it up was at the end, when the sky was smothered with all of the fireworks they had left.
Was your viewing of fireworks the same as mine? Did you feel like it was missing…well…a little Disney magic? The Disney Parks have ruined all other fireworks displays for me. I can sit and enjoy them, but I am not sitting there with my jaw dropped for the entire show, or finding myself involuntarily tearing up because something in the show has hit me emotionally. Instead, I enjoy it, and then almost immediately forget about it.
So what do places like Walt Disney World do to its fireworks shows to make them so memorable? I’ll hit on a couple of points.
1. The show doesn’t simply lay a music track over the fireworks.
You might be looking at this post with an odd look on your face. Um, Claire, yes they do.
This is what I am getting at: if I watch a local fireworks show and have my iPod set to a loud techno song, it’s not the same as going to Magic Kingdom park and seeing “Wishes” on display. Disney doesn’t just lay down a track. Instead, Disney picks the music and works the fireworks display around it. Tinker Bell doesn’t come out of the castle any time she chooses. Instead, she comes out right when the music swells and the “Wishes” leitmotif sounds. (“Leitmotif” is a small recurring melody or theme music that appears more than once in music. You know what I’m talking about: when the kids sing “Wish-es!” That’s the leitmotif.) Every firework that is shot off is timed to a specific point in a piece of music.
When you watch the “Symphony in the Stars” video below, the fireworks start right when the trumpets sound that first call in the Star Wars main titles. “The Imperial March” (at 3:00) is cued when the fireworks shot off are all red. Yoda’s theme (at 4:38) is signified through the whimsical spiraled fireworks. Every punctuation in the finale (at 7:00) is accompanied by a mass of fireworks. That is using the music to enhance a fireworks show.
Note: Special thanks to Ricky Brigante of Inside the Magic for the use of his videos.
2. Fireworks are not wasted.
Every single firework that is shot off has a purpose. Fireworks that immediately cascade like a waterfall are used in soft moments in the music. Crazy colored fireworks are used in moments of agitation or fun. Large “standard” fireworks are used in bombastic, fortissimo moments.
But why are there points in Disney fireworks where there isn’t anything going on? Can’t more fireworks be crammed into those sections? In “Wishes,” there are points when there are no fireworks. Isn’t that sacrilege? That isn’t the intention. Instead, it’s Disney allowing us to breathe before moving on to the next segment, or allowing for exposition from the music or narration to sink in. (More on that later.)
If you watch below, even the Glow With the Show ears are utilized to this effect. They aren’t on all the time – they are used when the moment is right.
3. Disney fireworks shows tell a story.
Remember how I said earlier that there’s “exposition from the music or narration”? Unlike any standard fireworks shows you might find, many Disney fireworks shows have a simple plot thread.
In “Wishes,” it’s Jiminy Cricket guiding us through the magic of wishes in our lives and the lives of Disney characters, while warning us of the dangers of wishes with bad intentions. In “Illuminations” at Epcot, we are shown the world’s history and development. And in the current Frozen Summer Fun show at Hollywood Studios, Queen Elsa encourages everyone to think chilly thoughts in order to unthaw Olaf. (The fireworks are the “frozen fractals,” don’tcha know.)
Stories are best shown with peaks and valleys. In fireworks shows, the valleys can be shown with slower, quieter music, or with villains taking their turn at the front. If a show is simply all-amazing-all-the-time, that doesn’t create the suspense needed to carry a story.
4. These fireworks elicit an emotional response.
Whether it’s the “WOOOOOOO!” yelled by someone in your family, or the sudden itchy feeling you get in your nose when you’re about to shed tears, a good fireworks show will bring out emotions. These emotions will come about thanks to the three previous points above: a story is told, every firework is used for a purpose, and the music brings out the best in the fireworks. If all three of these things work together, you’ll feel it.
Take the “Buccaneer Blast” fireworks from the Disney Cruise Line. Words from the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction are used, and when Klaus Badelt’s main pirate theme comes rolling out and the fireworks start shooting up, the heart just starts to race. Those emotions cause the fireworks display to be remembered for a long time – not forgotten five minutes later.
These videos hopefully emphasize the points that I’ve been trying to make. Of course, sometimes it’s just best to go out and enjoy the fireworks for yourself!
What is your favorite Disney fireworks show? What is your favorite type of firework? Am I the only one that cries during a good fireworks show? Comment below!