Note: With the return of Happily Ever After on July 1, 2021, we thought it would be fun to look back on this review from May 13, 2017, the morning after its first showing.
About ten minutes into the Magic Kingdom’s new Happily Ever After nighttime fireworks show, my friend Steve turned and said “I almost don’t need to see the fireworks.” And that’s true because the visual effects being projecting on to and around Cinderella Castle for Happily are so incredibly vibrant and rich, with so much detail, that you can’t take your eyes off them. When combined with the new fireworks, lasers, and area lighting, the whole show is so good that I’d recommend a special trip to the Magic Kingdom just to see it.
New Projection Technology Makes a Huge Difference
Happily is one giant leap ahead of previous projection shows because of how the film clips are displayed on the castle. In previous projection shows, the film clips were played directly on to the castle, essentially using it as a giant movie screen. In Happily, however, it looks like Disney edited the film scenes so they fit into architecturally correct parts of the castle.
Along with that, Disney seems to have added firefly-like laser light effects to the trees around the Magic Kingdom central hub, plus landscape lighting surrounding the castle that’s color-matched to the show scenes. It’s far more ambitious that anything Disney’s done at the park, and it all seems to work, both technically and artistically.
There’s a scene in Happily, for example, from Hunchback of Notre Dame, where a circular stained glass window is projected on the front center of the castle, while a perfectly scaled image of Quasimodo climbs one of the towers to the right. The stained glass window projection is so clear, so realistic that I had to stare at it for a few second to remember that there isn’t a real stained-glass window there.
Besides Hunchback, characters from every major new Disney film make an appearance in the show. The scene from Moana seemed to get a lot of cheers from the audience, as did the one from Brave, and, of course, Frozen. Speaking of Frozen, Disney deserves credit for not using Let it Go in the Happily soundtrack. It’s not needed here – the visual elements do all the work – and including that overplayed song would have just meant that the show writers had a checklist to go through. I don’t think the Happily soundtrack is quite as memorable as Wishes, a classic, but Happily is good enough.
Because there’s so much detail, I think it’ll be possible to watch Happily several times without seeing everything. I’m looking forward to going back.