The new “Happily Ever After” fireworks at Magic Kingdom is one of the best nighttime shows I’ve ever seen, and here’s why.
The message in “Wishes” was all about believing in magic and waiting for your dreams to come true. And while there is nothing wrong with that idea, the notion of sitting and wishing is outdated. “Wishes” was a celebration of classic Disney films (mostly films that came out before The Little Mermaid), and I loved it. I loved it so much.
However, even I cringed when I heard Snow White’s voice come on and say, “I’m wishing someday my prince will come!” Jiminy Cricket told us that wishes can be granted in unexpected ways, but he never told us how. We learned that even villains place their trust in wishes, and while I love the idea that all you must do is wish upon a star, and do as dreamers do…let’s be real.
When has sitting, and wishing on a star, ever worked in real life?
The Disney films, and messages within them, have been updated. And while we can still celebrate and love the classics for what they are, it’s time to re-think our fairytale endings, and how we go about achieving them.
I’m with Tiana on this one. “Fairytales can come true, but you gotta make them happen. It all depends on you.” You need a healthy balance of wishing and making your own destiny. Sometimes this includes hard work, challenge, and loss, but it also includes love, friendship, and yes, even dreaming.
This is where the message of “Happily Ever After” comes in.
“Each of us has a dream, a heart’s desire. It calls to us. And when we’re brave enough to listen, and bold enough to pursue, that dream will lead us on a journey to discover who we’re meant to be. All we have to do is look inside our hearts, and unlock the magic within.”
Right off the bat, the narrator tells the audience that, in order for all those dreams and wishes to come true, we must do it ourselves. Because yes, as Jiminy Cricket told us in “Wishes,” we do all have dreams and desires- those haven’t disappeared. This new narrator is not dismissing that notion- he’s simply telling us that we can only achieve our wishes by going after them. And not only must we chase our dreams, we need to discover ourselves along the way.
After all, our favorite Disney heroes and heroines only got their happy endings once they became true to themselves. Simba couldn’t hide from his responsibilities as king forever. Mulan couldn’t keep hiding her true identity. Judy Hopps couldn’t just go back to her farm and give up her dream of being a cop. “Happily Ever After” is the story of all these characters achieving their own goals, whether those goals be love, family, a sense of purpose, or all three.
I have a theory that the narrator in this show remains anonymous because he is supposed to be, like Jiminy Cricket, our conscience. However, more than telling us the difference between right and wrong, it’s that voice inside us that nudges us to do more, to be more. We have all the power and courage we need inside of us already. Sometimes, we just need a little push to make that happen.
The theme song starts, enforcing this new message with the lyrics:
“Every step we take brings a new hope, a new day/Every choice we make helps us find our own way/Every wish finally put into motion/Diving in with our hearts wide open…”
It is the first act of the show that most closely resembles the old “Wishes.” Here, we have some of our favorite Disney characters singing about their biggest dreams and desires, before they’ve made the choice to go after them. Tiana kicks it off as we see her wishing on that beautiful evening star, and the characters’ inner longings just builds from there.
We see Ariel longing to be part of our world. We see Remy gazing on the sparkling lights of Paris as he longs to be a chef. Rapunzel appears in her tower, longing to escape and see the floating lanterns.
Finally, we have a big moment with Quasimodo from Hunchback of Notre Dame, as he belts the song “Out There”- he longs to be free from the bell tower, and be accepted by his village.
It helps tremendously that these scenes are projection mapped onto the castle, and are synced to the music and fireworks. It gives the story, and show, more depth and understanding. It also packs a powerful and emotional punch.
Okay, now we’ve seen what these characters want. How are they going to achieve their dreams?
How Far I’ll Go
Well, if anyone is going to show us how to achieve our dreams, it’s certainly two of our more modern princesses, Merida and Moana.
Merida doesn’t want to get married- she wants to be free, and goes on an adventure to achieve that freedom. This sequence shows many characters as they set out on similar adventures to find out who they are, and get their happy endings.
Merida fires an arrow into the sky (which becomes a firework- so cool!) and “Touch the Sky” plays as she sets off to change her fate. We see Flik from A Bug’s Life setting off to find city bugs, Carl’s house from Up as he sets off to find Paradise Falls, and Lighting McQueen from Cars as he travels around Radiator Springs. They are all beginning their adventures.
We then watch Moana as she sets off to restore the heart of Te Fiti, to the music of “How Far I’ll Go.” She, like Merida, has decided to change her fate. Instead of obeying her father and staying on her island, she goes beyond the reef to save her people.
The characters depicted here needed that initial push to get them going (Merida’s impending forced marriage, Carl from Up getting sent to the retirement home, etc.), and just like Moana’s grandmother tells her to listen to the voice inside of her, we must also listen to the narrator. There’s a voice inside of us that has a wish, a heart’s desire, and now we must go after it- even if that prospect seems daunting.
But there’s one thing we mustn’t forget- these characters didn’t all go on their adventures and find their happy endings alone.
Friend Like Me
What follows is a nice little segment that shows many Disney/Pixar characters as they create lasting friendships during their journeys. Aladdin kicks us off by reminding us that there’s nothing quite like having a best friend by our side, and here we see proof that friendship is just as important as wishes and adventures.
We see friendships from films such as Tarzan, The Jungle Book, Monster’s Inc., and Zootopia, along with some of my favorite pairings such as Woody and Buzz, Ralph and Vanellope, Timon and Pumbaa, Joy and Sadness, and Hiro and Baymax. Without these friends, where would our heroes be?
One of my favorite parts during this sequence is that Robin Williams’ voice can be heard singing the finale of “Friend Like Me” at the end. In “Wishes,” another voice actor did Genie’s role (“Hello people, up here! We’ve got some wishes to grant!”), and I’m so glad they included the original Aladdin music as a tribute, of sorts, to everyone’s favorite big blue friend.
This scene also touches me personally, because I would not have gotten to where I am today without my personal best friend, my husband. Which is a good segway into the next sequence- another important element of achieving your dreams is love.
Love is an Open Door
This scene hits me right in the feels every damn time. It may be because Olaf opens the sequence by saying, “Some people are worth melting for.” This is a quote my husband and I are quite fond of, and it’s even engraved on the inside of my wedding ring.
We are then treated to a re-mix of “Love is an Open Door.” It’s a slow, melodic version of the song from Frozen, and while I know some don’t like it, I personally think it’s a masterful piece. A full moon rises over the castle, and we are treated to another montage, this time of characters displaying acts of love.
What I like most about this sequence is that it shows us that love comes in all forms, and love is important to fulfilling our destiny. Like Tiana at the beginning, sometimes we must be reminded to include love as part of our dreams. It doesn’t always have to be romantic love- it can be love for family and friends.
We see baby Dory being hugged by her family, Wall-E and Eve dancing around the castle, and Tarzan and his mother Kala sharing an embrace as emotional music such as “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “You’ll Be in My Heart,” and “A Whole New World” plays. Finally, lanterns light up the sky as Rapunzel and Flynn Rider sing “I See the Light.” We are reminded that, without love, our adventures and end goals would be rather lonely.
Plus, when challenges inevitably come along, we need these friends and partners by our side.
The love music fades, and the Emperor of China (from Mulan) speaks sternly to the audience:
“The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”
We see another montage of our characters going through epic battles; these are the challenges and adversities they must overcome if they are to reach their happily ever afters. And while by this point, their sense of self is stronger, the characters learn that by joining forces with others, they can better overcome confrontation.
The Incredibles come together as a family to defeat Syndrome and the omnidroid. Ariel, with the help of Prince Eric, defeats Ursula. Simba accepts the challenge of facing his Uncle Scar. Aladdin uses his wits to save Genie and Jasmine from Jafar, proving that he’s more than just a “streetrat.”. Love drives Prince Phillip to defeat Maleficent and rescue Aurora. Pirates turn the castle into flaming ruins by teaming up and fighting their adversaries.
Whether our heroes are driven by love, freedom, or responsibility, we see them overcoming their battles and finally reaching their moment of triumph.
Go The Distance
Rain clears away the last vestiges of battle, and Mufasa appears on the castle.
“Remember who you are. You are more than what you have become. Remember.”
In the midst of challenge and turmoil, it’s easy to lose ourselves. When facing our hardest moments, we all deal with it in different ways. We insist that we can overcome our battles alone. We try to push away the problem and ignore it. Whatever we end up doing, we must remember to stay true to our hearts. Adversity brings the chance to show who we really are.
As “Go the Distance,” from Hercules booms over the speakers, we see our characters in their moments of triumph. Though all our heroes went through moments where they almost gave up, or thought they couldn’t do it, they all preserved- along with their friends, family, true loves, and a better sense of who they are and what they can do.
Emotional scenes turn into stained-glass portraits, and we see these characters finally achieving their happy endings. Elsa hugs her sister, Anna. Hercules becomes a true hero. Moana restores the heart to Te Fiti. Cinderella outsmarts her cruel stepsisters and stepmother, and finds her prince. Merida reconnects with her mother. And so on, throughout many famous Disney moments.
All our favorite Disney characters achieved their happy endings. And, as the narrator reminds us, so can we.
“I will beat the odds/I can go the distance/I will face the world/Fearless, proud, and strong…”
The journey has come to an end. But not for us.
We have been told what the key is to unlocking our happy endings. We have been told to wish, to go out and achieves those wishes, and to do them along with friends and loved ones. Most importantly, we’ve learned that we can overcome adversity and stay true to ourselves. We need to take the lesson from “Wishes,” and let that lesson guide us on our new mission- to find our own “Happily Ever After.”
One of my favorite lyrics from the theme song comes on at this part, and I think it mimics the message of the show perfectly:
“The battles, the stories/the losses and all the glories/We’re changed by the way/We live every day/Just look up and reach to the sky/We all have the courage to fly.”
Tinker Bell flies overhead, and the castle erupts in glittering sparks. A new adventure is beginning. Wishing is all well and good, but in the end, you must reach out and find your own happily ever after.
Whew, that was a long one! If you’ve taken the time to read…thank you so much!
Here’s a link to a nice, 4K version of the show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7FFFENv6i4&t=1217s
If you’ve seen this show, did you like it? What message did you take away?
Hugs and Fishes,