The Disney 100 party has kicked off at the Disneyland Resort, and part of the celebratory offerings includes the new nighttime fireworks show called Wondrous Journeys.
We recently spoke to Roger Gould from the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ creative legacy team, who together with directors at their studio, worked with Walt Disney Imagineering to create the new spectacular.
“They essentially came to us and asked if we could help make this show that would feature all of the films that our studio has made. We of course said ‘yes’!.” said Gould to us over a video conference. For context, the Disney 100 celebration marks the Centennial celebration of The Walt Disney Company, which started with Walt Disney establishing his groundbreaking animation studio back in 1923.
The 61 films that the animation studio has made since then essentially come together to make one whole story for Wondrous Journeys. The process, according to Gould, began about a year ago with Gould and show director Jordan Peterson gathering Disney Animation’s creative trust (consisting of creative leaders like their film’s directors) and asking them a simple question.
“We asked them what was their moment or character in a Disney animated film that was the spark that made them want to be a part of this legacy. There were all were different answers from nearly every movie, but they all had emotion at its core, so we started there,” Gould said.
Gould and team ended up then creating a framework where there would be one story arch to unite them all: a story of the creative process at Disney Animation. The show opens with early pencil sketches to represent an idea coming to life. As it develops, color is added and characters are established before the challenge to that character enters in. And befitting of any Disney animated film, it takes that moment of challenge and ends with a moment of resolution and hope that is a staple to any Disney animated film.
The fireworks show is not a historical retrospective of each Disney film, rather it takes stages from each film’s creative and process to tell this new story. And since most Disney animated films have the same emotional beats, Gould said it was easier for them to pick those moments in each of those 61 films. “When a sad moment happens, we all feel it, and when we get picked up from those moments to burst into joy, we all feel that too. Our characters do a great job of bringing us close,” he said.
Using Disneyland Park, its attractions, and even the fireworks themselves as a canvas along with new technologies were also an exciting challenge for the team. Gould mentioned that custom animation, graphics, and physical props were created so that you just wouldn’t be seeing the same scenes that you see in the films. “Instead, you can bet that when you see characters like Baymax in the show, you’ll see him like you’ve never seen him before,” Gould shared alluding to the surreal moment that Baymax flies across Sleeping Beauty Castle during the show.
Music was also something that weaves the Wondrous Journeys story together. Gould mentioned that it was also interesting to combine all the iconic scores and songs that most of their movies have, but the framework of combining aspects of each song with specific narrative beats made the job easier. “Among the 18 songs we use, when you hear the aspirational medley of songs sung by Moana, Quazimodo, Hercules, Belle, you’ll know we made it work,” Gould said with a smile.
Working together with Walt Disney Imagineering, the show ended up being designed and programmed all the way until its world premiere on January 27. There was one after-hours night, however, that Gould, Peterson, and the Disney Animation Creative Trust were invited to preview the show inside Disneyland Park. After the first viewing, that’s when the team knew they made something special fitting of Disney’s 100th anniversary.
“It was an emotional night for everyone. It just reminded us of the important work we get to do, and what we hope future generations of dreamers and storytellers can do for the next 100 years,” Gould said.
Wondrous Journeys nighttime spectacular is happening nightly (and with fireworks on weekends) for the Disney100 Celebration at Disneyland Park. Check Disneyland.com or the Disneyland app for showtimes and more information.
Our very special thanks to Roger Gould and the Walt Disney Animation Studios creative legacy team for contributing to this story!