Attraction Review: WORLD OF COLOR (Disneyland)

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by Tony Frankel on June 23, 2010

in Extras,Theater-Los Angeles


When, in 1991, the Disney Corporation unveiled its plans to pave over the Disneyland parking lot and build WestCOT, Disney fans were thrilled. Modeled after EPCOT in Florida, the new park would offer attractions focusing on the imagination and technological achievements of mankind in Future World, and celebrate different cultures in the World Showcase.

Because of financial constraints and NIMBY neighbors, the top brass decided to build Disney’s California Adventure Park instead. Unfortunately, the new park was a hodgepodge of ideas that did not pan out into a cohesive day of entertainment. The $600,000,000 enterprise felt cheap and had a redundant theme, and it also lacked Disney-quality attractions (although there were occasional glimpses into brilliance, such as the Soarin’ over California ride). One of the themed areas, Paradise Pier, was a replica of the type of amusement park that Walt Disney himself detested — all of this at the same price of DCA’s iconic neighbor. Attendance dropped after the first year.

So what’s a Mouse to do? Begin a 1.1 billion dollar makeover. Most new attractions stem from the Disney-Pixar pantheon, such as A Bug’s Life and Monsters, Inc. The future will bring guests Cars Land. Even the name of the park has been changed: Disney’s California Adventure is now Disney California Adventure — an update that evades my comprehension more than algebraic inequalities). No matter the contextual morph, it feels like The Mouse is building Disneyland, Part 2.

This leads us to the opening of Disney’s latest attraction: World of Color, a 25-minute water, color, fog and fire spectacle located in California Adventure’s 3.5 acre Paradise Bay. The Imagineers have succeeded in producing a breathtaking feat of technical wizardry, employing no less than 1,200 varieties of fountains that are capable of reaching 200 feet high.

The show uses 28 projectors to add a patina of well-known Disney clips on walls of water that shimmy and burst like Old Faithful on steroids. One water screen stretches 380 feet across the lagoon. Since different lasers, gyrating head spots, and sundry rock-concert gadgetry are employed on these hydro-screens, I’m glad I don’t need to ingest Magic Mushrooms for this experience.

Disney is masterful with sound. Mark Hammond’s phenomenal score, which includes new compositions and classic melodies, seems to emanate from above like an atmospheric discharge from heaven. The soundtrack employs a 100-piece orchestra and more than 100 vocalists that blast out from, yes, over 100 speakers. David Hamilton’s orchestrations are well-balanced and inventive.

The show is comprised of at least eight sequences, each sequence constituting a theme such as fear, romance, and underwater. The creators call these “storytelling arcs,” but the truth is that there is no storytelling in this show. World of Color does indeed take us to whole new levels of sight and sound, but it left me yearning for a whole new level of heart. Without any form of narrative, there is nothing to create an emotional connection with the audience. The best Disney magic embodies the ideals of dreaming, imagination, a “can-do” spirit, and adventure — all of which are lacking here. Disney Parks, normally an entertainment Renaissance in the dark-ages of our culture, seem to have become a microcosm of entertainment in general: give the public an “awesome,” high-tech show and they’ll be too razzle-dazzled to notice that there is no story.

The biggest applause of the night was when the face of Jack Sparrow (a.k.a. Johnny Depp) appeared out of (or rather, on) the mist. (Disney is clearly going for the recent recognition factor; the majority of images erupting before us arose from the last 25 years, not the first 60.) The football field-sized lagoon is then set ablaze, which may be hot enough to melt your contact lenses, and that’s not a critique.

There are two shows a night scheduled for summertime, but a third show at 11:15 was added to accommodate the crowds. There is a pre-show before the 9:00 World of Color. Picture this: the main viewing area is composed of different sections of colors. Über-hyped, cheerleading co-eds lead a competition based on the audience’s ability to scream about who has the best color. I would love to see it again, but I have an appointment to munch on a thousand shards of glass. Certainly, that would be a less painful experience. It was ghastly, truly ghastly.

On opening night, some guests argued that World of Color is Fantasmic’s bigger brother without the live characters, animatronics and story — especially since they both project film onto mist. Well, stop arguing. That’s exactly what it is. But if the Imagineers had created a storyline that touched our hearts, the similarities would not have mattered. Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are both dark rides, aren’t they? I don’t hear anyone griping about that.

Disney fans may need to experiment when it comes to the best viewing area. This reviewer saw it twice. From the rear center, there is a clear, panoramic view of the entire lagoon, but the water’s surface, which includes fog and rows of primary colors, was blocked by the heads of thousands of people in front of me. Nevertheless, for those who wish to view the 9:30 fireworks from Main Street in Disneyland, this is the spot from which to view the 9:00 show; hardcore Disney fans can bolt and make it to the fireworks with seconds to spare.

The second viewing was in the dead center, front row. The sections up front were the least populated. When people saw how wet the ground was, they turned around and looked for another viewing spot. (Looking in my crystal ball, I see vendors selling World of Color ponchos to unsuspecting guests corralled towards the front.) The show from there was far more astounding even though there was more neck-craning and dodging of water showers. It is definitely the place to be on a hot summer night. If you are anywhere near the front viewing area, prepare to get moist — if not soaked, depending on the wind. Now it is clear why everyone is standing for this experience: up close, the ground is too wet to sit on, so those in back have to stand up for a clear view of the show. It will be very interesting to see if Disney can address this issue.

No one I chatted with, whether park employee or guest, is certain as to the very best viewing area, but here is a major caveat: you will be on your feet all day, wait an hour on your feet for the show to start, and then stand for 30 minutes on your feet. Ouch. Moses himself could part Paradise Lagoon for the finale and some would wonder if all that pain was worth it.

Disney is already attempting to address the crowd control and moo-factor by passing out 3000 FastPasses at the Grizzly River Run when California Adventure first opens. For those with money to burn, Disney also offers lunch boxes and dinner packages (up to $39.99) that come with passes to better viewing areas. Holy Goofy! Do you mean the greatest minds in the creative world could not come up with a show where every viewing area is great? I know Michael Eisner is out, but we can still blame him, can’t we?

My favorite part of the night was after the last show ended and guests headed for the exit: the lagoon had rows of tiny fountains, lit by primary colors, and the World of Color insignia was projected on some central mist. It was so startlingly beautiful in its simplicity that it was magical; it even touched my heart.

photos by Scott Brinegar courtesy of Disneyland

World of Color
Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California
open run

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