Backstory: Happily Ever After replaced the beloved Wishes, ending it's over-a-decade run in the spring of 2017. It is likely not the last new addition to Magic Kingdom's nighttime lineup as the park still remains without an evening parade.
Touring Strategy: This show makes ample use of projections onto Cinderella Castle and thus is best viewed with the entirety of the castle in sight. Makes way more sense now why they opened up all of that extra viewing space around the hub. You should probably watch it from somewhere facing the castle head-on. My old spot of watching from near the carrousel in Fantasyland will probably still be good for the fireworks views, but I have no idea how much, if any, of the projections are displayed on the back of the castle.
The Show: A rousing orchestral piece opens the show and the voice of a new fireworks show narrator (no more Jiminy Cricket) begins with the words that so often close fairy tales: "and they all lived happily ever after." This will be the theme of the show, that all of our dreams and all of our "hearts desires" can be realized, just like they always are for the heroes and heroines of our favorite Disney fantasies.
The castle begins to come alive with changing colors and some projections of fireworks until the fireworks appear to explode out of the castle and fill the sky around it. The castle turns blue as one final firework flies through the sky. Tiana appears in projection form on the base of the castle and sings leading to more fireworks among a blending melody of Disney classics including Part of Your World from Little Mermaid and Out There from Hunchback of Notre Dame (an unusual choice for a featured song, in a show filled with them.) Quasimodo disappears amongst a flurry of fireworks as we switch over to the next section of the show.
The castle appears covered in Polynesian jungle foliage as Moana joins us for a medly. Projections keep changing through a flurry of Disney characters and iconic moments including Lightening McQueen, the balloons from Up, and characters from Finding Nemo as the song changes to the now famous How Far I'll Go. Aladdin's lamp appears at the center of the castle, leading to a Friend In Me inspired medley of songs and projections from Aladdin, Tarzan, Lion King, Toy Story, Jungle Book, Wreck It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Inside Out, and Monsters Inc. It culminates in, of all things, the conclusion of That's What Friends Are For, the vultures' song from the Jungle Book, and particularly with a large mouth appearing out of the castle to sing the baritone Sher Khan's closing line.
The castle then turns to ice but we are redirected from the expected Let It Go scene with Olaf saying that "some people are worth melting for" and then a version of Love Is An Open Door. A large heart firework leads to more fireworks amongst scenes of tender loving Disney moments set to You'll Be In My Heart. Included are clips of the family from Inside Out, Simba and Nala from Lion King, baby Dory and her parents, and Dumbo and his mom. Next the castle is filled with the lanterns from Tangled, which take off into the night sky.
These tender moments are replaced with a medley of Disney's epic battle scenes from movies like Mulan, Little Mermaid, Lion King, and Sleeping Beauty, ending in an epic and awesome crescendo with music from the live-action Pirates of the Caribbean and including my all time favorite Disney fireworks show effect: a projection making it appear as if cannon fire has blown holes into Cinderella Castle (originally from the old Pirate and Princess Party.)
Things calm down and the castle is filled with rain, putting out the fires of battle, as Mufasa appears in the clouds to tell us to "remember who you are" and leads into a section featuring Go The Distance from Hercules, another great but relatively obscure Disney song. The castle is wiped to a more familiar state only with gold gilding on it's spires. The rest of the castle morphs into stained glass windows displaying a litany of Disney characters, including a few who hadn't appeared elsewhere in the show including Pinocchio, Cinderella, and Peter Pan. As the narrator tells us that the show has come to an end and reminds us that our story continues long after we leave the park, a final crescendo of the show's theme song, a full-sky explosion of colored fireworks, and Tinkerbell's famous fly from the castle makes for an epic conclusion to the show.
Thoughts: So this is an interesting show to review. Foremost, practically, it's really hard because there are all kinds of things happening at the same time. Fireworks going off, songs changing, things projected on both the castle and the walls to either side of it. And this is just what I could see from the YouTube video I used to write the recap. Being in the park live for this show has to be an absolutely breathtaking experience and one that you can have multiple times and see new things to appreciate each time. Hardcore Disney fans have to be thrilled with the music choices, which shy away from the commonplace stuff and opt for some rarities, all of which match the show so beautifully that if someone is unfamiliar with the songs and the movie they come from that they will likely just think the songs were written for the show itself. The projections look awesome. It is hard to believe that they are actually images projected on a real structure. The fireworks themselves are not much better than the ones that came along with Wishes but as a total package, the show is nearly perfect.
One thing I found off was the glaring omission of Beauty and the Beast in any form in the show. I could have missed them but I've watched a few times, especially looking out for it, and didn't see one. So if it is there, it is fleeting. My thinking is that perhaps there will be an inclusion of something from the live-action version since it is so recent and a huge commercial and critical hit. And you have to assume that Disney can change up the projections at will, like they do with scenes in California's World of Color. Frozen is also downplayed, which is fine since it is more than plentiful elsewhere in the resort. And I also noticed the lack of anything Star Wars related in the show. Star Wars scenes would have fit the story of the show so I'm thinking that it must be a conscious effort by Disney to keep Star Wars contained to Hollywood Studios, which might as well just go the whole nine yards and change it's name to Star Wars Kingdom once the new rides come out.
In closing, I was almost moved to tears multiple times by this show. It doesn't come out and tell you how to feel like Jiminy Cricket did as the voice of Wishes, and no show will ever hold a place in my heart the way Wishes did, but this show does a spectacular job pulling on the heartstrings. If you are even remotely predisposed to having strong personal feelings of love, sadness, loss, hope, or reminiscing, this show will bring out the emotions as none as done before.
Disney did a great job replacing an extremely beloved show. I don't know if the time was right to make the switch but the new show is an excellent addition to the Disney Parks nighttime entertainment lineup. I don't know if it quite has the story cohesion from beginning to end to beat out Fantasmic for best nighttime show at Walt Disney World but it is technically (the projections) superior and certainly superior in that it actually has fireworks throughout.
Overall Rating: ****3/4