Celebrating a Century of Disney
To honor the 100-year anniversary of the Walt Disney Company approaching in August, the entertainment giant is presenting Disney100, a celebration that kicked off in late January at the Disneyland Resort and will continue through the end of the year.
The key components of the event are two new nighttime spectaculars. Disneyland Park offers Wondrous Journeys, a fireworks show that includes projections on Sleeping Beauty Castle, the buildings that line Main Street, U.S.A., the facade of it’s a small world, and Rivers of America. Guests at its sister park, Disney California Adventure, can see World of Color – ONE, the latest iteration of the fountains and water projections extravaganza that overtakes Paradise Bay each evening.
To develop the shows, teams at Disney Live Entertainment and Walt Disney Animation Studios joined forces. For Wondrous Journeys, they decided to encapsulate the company’s rich history by incorporating every Disney animated feature in the production.
“It’s a daunting task to celebrate 100 years with over 60 feature films released,” says Roger Gould, creative director for the studios and one of the show’s chief architects. He notes that it’s apropos to focus on animation, since the company started as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. But where to begin?
To curate the clips, he helped assemble the “animation trust,” a group of seasoned animators, directors, designers, and other creative professionals.
“We asked them what inspired them to become an animator,” Gould shares. During its planning sessions, the trust kicked around the scenes, moments, and quotes that ultimately made the final cut. “It’s a love letter to our studios,” he adds.
The result is an engaging, emotionally resonant, crowd-pleasing production that showcases the company’s extraordinary legacy. Disneyland is much more than a place to stage the show. It, too, is an integral part of Disney’s history. According to Gould, there is mutual love between the studios and the parks.
“The idea that we were going to take our studios and celebrate it on the castle, on Main Street—it’s a dream come true,” he says. “From Walt’s Studio to the center of Walt’s park; it feels like a full-circle moment.”
While World of Color – ONE also has an enormous canvas on which to tell its story, its focus is more intimate. It shows the enormous impact that one person can have and likens it to the ripple effect of a single drop of water.
“I want guests to not only appreciate the beauty and the amount of time it took to put [the presentation] together, but to walk away with a sense of empowerment,” says Wendy Ruth, Disney Live Entertainment show director. The personal journeys of characters such as Mulan, Coco, and Moana fill the water screens and serve as examples—as does the man who started the company 100 years ago. “It was Walt’s drops of creativity, those first steps that he took, that is the reason we’re at Disneyland today,” Ruth adds.
The decision to include the Pixar film, “Soul,” as one of the show’s sequences posed challenges, she says. The creators were concerned how the jazz that it celebrates might translate on World of Color’s unique media platforms.
“Our fountain designer used the sheet music and assigned each instrument its own movement and color,” explains Ruth. As it turns out, “Jazz plays so well.”
In addition to the two nighttime spectaculars, Disneyland is using the anniversary event to debut Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Much like its counterpart at Walt Disney World, the attraction incorporates trackless vehicles, large-format projection mapping, animatronics, and practical sets to immerse passengers in the high-spirited hijinks of the retro Mickey Mouse shorts. It is part of an expanded Mickey’s Toontown, which will fully reopen in March with new play spaces and activities.
Disneyland is also bringing back the Magic Happens parade for the event. The procession closed after a brief run due to the pandemic. Its floats include characters representing films from both Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
The characters throughout both parks are decked out in platinum-inspired gear, and both gates sport platinum decor. The signature Sleeping Beauty Castle is especially bejeweled for the occasion. Specialty merchandise, including a Mickey Mouse plush rocking a purple and platinum tuxedo, is available for purchase. Limited-time food and beverage offerings, such as a retro lemon chiffon pie that recalls Disneyland’s early days, are also being served.
“We brainstormed all of the ways we could bring to life the spirit and wonder of Disney across 100 years for both our guests and our cast,” says a Disneyland spokesperson. “Our goal in becoming the heart of the celebration was to immerse guests in what Disneyland can uniquely offer: 100 years of storytelling that comes to life … in the park where Walt first brought these stories to life, and where they continue to live on.”