Ten years ago today, June 11th 2010, one of the earliest and easily one of the most anticipated aspects of the radical renovations of Disney’s California Adventure made its grand debut. Set on the park’s Paradise Bay, World of Color wowed audiences from the very beginning with its dancing water and beautiful imagery spread across the expanse of what was then-called Paradise Pier.
In February of 2001, Disneyland’s sister park, Disney’s California Adventure opened to great fanfare but little acclaim. The park was lauded more for its small crowds than anything in the park, save for the innovative Soarin’ Over California attraction. The park was decidedly “un-Disney,” which from a design perspective, was the point. From the guest perspective however, it did not complement what was right across the esplanade and numbers showed it. Packed with more shops and restaurants than actual attractions, the park needed help, and needed help fast. Attempts were made, including A Bug’s Land for more kid friendly options, the debut of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Monsters Inc: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue replacing the infamous Superstar Limo, albeit almost four years after the former closed.
Enter Bob Iger, the new CEO of the Walt Disney company who recognized that this park was fundamentally flawed and threw over a billion dollars at it to make it a worthy neighbor to Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom. On the agenda: a new entrance complete with new Main Street-esque area, dropping the original “Districts'' of the park and making them “lands” Disney Park goers are familiar with, one of them brand new and celebrating California car culture (Later evolving into a land based on the 2006 Pixar Film Cars), more classic Disney “Dark Rides,” with a previously shelved idea resurrected based on The Little Mermaid. Once a land of fluorescents and fake neon, Paradise Pier was given a more classic, Victorian feel, taking guests to another time and place, with most of that budget being spent underwater for an all new nighttime spectacular that uses the large expanse of the lagoon.
This wasn’t the first attempt at a nighttime show that used the lagoon. In the holiday season of 2001-2002, Luminaria premiered with plenty of low-level fireworks and screens that would rise out of faux-gifts floating in the lake.
The show was similar in concept to that of Illuminations at Epcot, but the lagoon was not nearly large enough for what they were trying to do, filling the viewing areas with smoke, debris, and fear as some of the spinning fireworks would get caught in the wind and come a little too close for comfort. The show has not returned since.
Perhaps learning a lesson from Luminaria, as well as lessons from neighboring Fantasmic!, designers approached Paradise Bay again, looking more at the shimmering water than the night sky above it.
Walt Disney’s World of Color was now in development. In it, large tables submerged in the lagoon would use over 1200 fountains, pop-up bubble screens, lasers, projection equipment, the world’s largest mist screen and lighting that would rise out of a new terraced viewing area on the water’s edge. In it, we would follow the adventures of a singular water jet named “Little Squirt” as he went through the treasure trove of the colors of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, with various sequences based on Pocahontas, Wall-E, The Little Mermaid, Alice In Wonderland, Toy Story, Aladdin, Hercules, and other films peppered throughout before Little Squirt finds himself in a world with the shadows of night, dark and less bright, featuring a full sequence featuring the Disney villains. Prominently featuring flame throwing fountains, there was also a full apparatus that would rise out of the water to make a very large Chernabog appear on water for the Night on Bald Mountain sequence before the fire fountains really took over the stage during “Hellfire” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This ushered in a romantic sequence featuring music from the recent release, Enchanted, before wrapping up in a finale. All of this featuring new animation from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, and independent artists who contributed cut-paper animation and sand animation for the show, all set to a brand-new soundtrack recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.
If you have seen the show, a lot of this sounds familiar but not quite right, right? As with so many things in the evolutionary history of the Disney Parks, things change before the public gets to see them. Above is a video we were fortunate enough to capture of a test of this version of the show as seen from Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. This version of the show was never presented to a public audience aside from those with a great balcony view.
The long standing rumor is that Bog Iger saw the show and said it needed to be “more contemporary” to pull people in. The sequences were rearranged, cut, and added to.
In the end, Alice In Wonderland was cut completely (though the Cheshire Cat animation still makes an appearance in the finale), Hercules was dropped and the Aladdin sequence was extended to include “Friend Like Me.” The villain's sequence was shortened quite a bit, now only featuring Night on Bald Mountain (without the Chernabog apparatus) and “Hellfire,” but now with the addition of the hugely popular (at the time) Pirates of the Caribbean. Only one song from Enchanted made the cut, and is featured in the love and romance sequence toward the end of the finale. Little Squirt was abandoned entirely and the show was now an abstract visual feast with a loose story arc. And as for that music, about half of the newly recorded pieces were scrapped in favor of lifting the pre-existing soundtracks from the films that were featured. Some of the recordings were actually used in the new version of Fantasmic! that debuted at Disneyland in 2017.
World of Color debuted to the public on June 11th, 2010 with a star-studded media event with plenty of famous fans walking the Blue Carpet. Flying slightly under the radar, Mickey Mouse made a surprise appearance, one of the first times he was interacting and conversing with the crowd much to the amazement of the audience. The show the public saw for the first time consisted of the following sequences:
- Opening/World of Color Theme
- The Little Mermaid (Part of Your World/Under The Sea)
- Finding Nemo/Pines of Rome (Fantasia 2000)
- Toy Story
- Aladdin (A Whole New World/Friend Like Me)
- Spring Sprite (Fantasia 2000)/Pocahontas
- Heimlich/The Old Mill
- Pirates of the Caribbean/Villains/The Lion King
- So Close/Love and Romance/Transformation
- Finale/World of Color Theme
The show has largely stayed the same since it’s debut, but there have been numerous additions, encores, holiday shows, and special editions for park celebrations.
Later in 2010, an encore piece after the finale was added to the show to promote Tron: Legacy. Dubbed the “Tron-core” by many fans, this new addition was temporary and included scenes from the upcoming film and its trailer, as though “The Grid” had just taken over the show-space. Using the existing infrastructure for the show, the new addition was a hit with its special effects and moreso the way it ended, returning the pier to normal as though nothing had ever happened in the first place.
In 2011, the bulk of the villains were removed and replaced by an extended sequence for the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. This was later trimmed, but the villains have yet to return even today, with the Pirates sequence going straight into Scar and The Lion King.
A similar add-on took place to promote the release of Brave, placed smack in the middle of the show after “Friend Like Me.” Similar to the Tron-core, the scene showed clips from the film and the trailer and utilized existing effects to portray aspects of the film. This, unlike the Pirates piece, was removed shortly after the film had made its way out of theaters.
The show also had a holiday tag early in its run featuring the characters from Prep and Landing during the holiday festivities at the park. This one would actually play prior to the show, fading out and into the opening of the show. In 2013, the holiday idea was pushed even further as a whole new holiday show was developed, loosely tied to the new film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Frozen. World of Color: Winter Dreams debuted that holiday season, actually ahead of the release (and monster success) of the film and hosted by Olaf. The show featured not only scenes from Frozen, but other winter-y vignettes and a retelling of the Nutcracker with the characters from Toy Story. It was also preluded by a performance of an original song, “Glow” performed by people from around the globe who submitted a video of their performance. The show returned again in 2014 with new and dropped sequences (notably the Toy Story Nutcracker) and without “Glow.” There was also a new show to alternate performances with in 2015 with World of Color – Celebrate.
In 2015, World of Color was put on hiatus for the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, and World of Color – Celebrate: The Wonderful World of Walt Disney premiered for the 18 month celebration. The show dropped the abstract spectacle and focus on the fountains and turned the venue into a narrative, almost documentary experience retelling the story of Walt Disney and Disneyland. Complete with Sing-along. The show was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and Mickey Mouse on the water screens with it’s stand-out sequences promoting the new Star Wars film under the veil of Star Tours, and celebrating the legacy of animation for 8 minutes, 4 of which were a performance of “Let it Go.” After the celebration was over, this version of the show was (thankfully, depending on who you ask) retired and the original World of Color returned.
In 2016, the Frozen craze was starting to subside (not a moment too soon) and a new holiday show, World of Color: Seasons of Light hit Paradise Bay. The show dropped Olaf as the host and went back to what made the original World of Color work so well, focusing on the music and the performances on the water. Populated with holiday tunes and wintery clips on the water screens, the show prominently features The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole, a performance of Baby It’s Cold Outside by Michael Buble and Idina Menzel, and the crowd pleasing Wizards in Winter by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, featuring Goofy and Max trying to set up their holiday lights. This show returned in 2017, and 2019.
In 2018, the show went under a routine refurbishment while Paradise Pier was going through a transformation into Pixar Pier. Just as the first phase of the new pier was scheduled to reopen and the show to return, Disney announced that the return of World of Color would be delayed for an unspecified amount of time, giving only the vague update of “sometime next year.” Some Disney Park fans grew weary, as there have been some historical precedents regarding attractions and shows going into “extended refurbishment.” See also: SpectroMagic. A rumored halloween version of the show was in the works, even with controversy surrounding a performance by Bobcat Goldthwait reprising his role as Panic from Hercules and tweets by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn. Halloween 2018 came and went without any form of World of Color.
Throughout this time, work was more obviously being done on the platforms housing the infrastructure for the show, and just after the new year, people were noticing more testing and progress.
In February of 2019, World of Color was back in it’s (almost) original form. No villains, still a lot of Pirates. The villains, however, would get their chance as Halloween 2019 saw the premiere of that rumored Halloween show, World of Color: Villainous. The show is exclusive to the park’s Halloween event, Oogie Boogie Bash, and follows the tale of Shelly Marie. Shelly is a young girl that wants to be a villain for halloween and encounters numerous Disney villains along the way.
World of Color has become a staple of Disney California Adventure over the last ten years, becoming their signature nighttime spectacular. Incorporating it into park’s special events like Lunar New Year with the “Hurry Home” Preshow, and even New Year’s and Fourth of July festivities. Although the park is set to reopen soon, World of Color being a nighttime spectacular will likely not be available right away. When it does return though, there will be beauty untold that’s ours to behold to dazzle our mind and our eye! Until then, have a pleasant evening and always remember to dream in wonderful color!