REVIEW: ‘World of Color’ at California Adventure is a ‘new brand of night magic’

June 11, 2010 | 10:40 p.m.


This is a longer version of my review of the new spectacle at California Adventure. The review will run as a cover story in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times Calendar section.

Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year and there is a mad effort underway by the theme park’s masters to make sure that birthday isn’t met with sour headlines about the years of corporate disappointment or seasons of tourist apathy. So it was that the “new” California Adventure — or the latest “new” California Adventure — was ushered in Friday by the scheduled premiere of a new attraction, a water-and-fire show called “World of Color” that not only lives up to the hype, it manages to tap into the company’s long but sometimes elusive tradition of true spectacle innovation.

On Thursday night, a VIP and media preview showed that five years of planning for the 26-minute musical presentation were well spent. The show uses characters and score elements from eight decades of signature Disney films (but the emphasis is absolutely on the post-”Little Mermaid” Disney releases and, wisely, on the evocative Pixar movies), but it’s the canvas that startles — 100,000 images of animation are presented (amid fireworks, lasers and occasional jets of flame) on walls of water and roiling curtains of mist. Instead of smoke-and-mirror gimmickry, though, the collective effect is emotional, dreamy and somewhat bold in this hard, rectangular era of digital-screen obsession.

The nighttime show is presented above Paradise Lagoon and uses 1,200 specially designed fountains that create water whips, wide fans, thick geysers and shimmery cascades that stand, dart or dance with “Fantasia”-like expression. But more than, say, the cavorting fountains of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the waterworks for this show interact with projected images and the recorded music of 200 musicians, singers and voice actors for storytelling, which Disney does extremely well in its most shining moments.

The show starts off with a nod to its heritage — the name “World of Color” dates back to 1961, when RCA was the lone major manufacturer of color televisions, and, as owner of NBC, was trying to win over the black-and-white hearts of America with programming that promised rainbows of delight.

In September of that year, “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” premiered with an introduction by Walt Disney that – a la “The Wizard of Oz” — started in two-color drabness and gave way to a splash of hues. (You can see a version of that show’s opening in the vintage video above.) Images from that first introduction are used to open the new show, although (reportedly at the insistence of Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger) the music and image were remixed to make the sequence seem less clunky to the mash-up generation in the audience. The effect early on was to make “World of Color” feel like the first G-rated rave in California history.

The real pulse of this show, though, became quickly apparent with “Part of Your World,” a song from the 1989 film “The Little Mermaid” and the tie-in animation that played out on the smoke left behind from the show’s opening fireworks. The fountain water surged and shimmied, creating either a surprising sense of tidal power or jellyfish fragility. As the show continued, the artwork varied — Toy Story had some “Tron”-like angular constructs to it, WALL-E was like a gentle hologram from space, and Pirates of the Caribbean (the only live-action film included) evoked the imagery of the Disneyland ride of the same name.

The most powerful moments belonged to Pixar but, really, isn’t that the story of Disney’s recent history? The Disney princess sequences feel like Broadway performance numbers (and sometimes recalled the ethos of the vintage Esther Williams swimming-pool cinema) but the Pixar moments were emotional and economical; at their best, the soaring singing of Ariel or Pocahontas makes the listener lean back in awe — at their best, the words of Nemo or Woody make them lean forward for connection.

Disney World of Color California Adventure


The animation was shown on water “screens” that stretch 380 feet wide and 50 feet high (although during the show some jets sent water spiking up to 200 feet), and there was no moment more compelling than the simple projected image of giant balloons that seemed to rise up out of the lagoon while the music from “Up” played on the impressive sound system. To Disney’s credit, not all of the storytelling was gentle or winking — a stampede of animated beasts and the sight of a young lion cub at the side of his dead father took on the feel of a primitive and celestial drama when painted on the low night sky with water, lasers and smoke.

The show is presented in a space that, obviously, was designed with the production in mind. At the preview, there wasn’t a practical opportunity to see what the show looked like from the rear, which would be the Paradise Boardwalk area, and the plum viewing areas at the foot of the lagoon are somewhat limited. In other words, if you want to see “World of Color” in its full majesty, get one of the Fastpass tickets that will be available each morning at the Grizzly River Run entrance that will lock in access for the prime viewing spots. Also, if you go to the very edge of the lagoon, you will get wet — perhaps even drenched — and the sudden heat from the pyrotechnics display is enough that it might upset very small children.

Disney World of Color California Adventure

During the “Pirates” sequence, there was so much fire used that the park’s buildings were illuminated, undermining the illusions — not to mention the fact that (on a personal note) after a long day of walking the paths of a theme park, the cool breeze and clambake rhythms of “Finding Nemo” and “Little Mermaid” are a far nicer parental experience than flame-breathing pirates and the torch menace of gargoyles from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Really though, if “World of Color” has any weak points, it might have been the presence of projection dome screens that jut up like giant lollipops – they seem pesky against the water-cloud canvas backdrop and, more than that, they seem like digital intruders at the feet of a giant. Those images distracted, not unlike the the glow of a cellphone screen that belongs to the texting teenager sitting next to you at an Imax screening of “Avatar.”

Speaking of “Avatar,” there’s a crush of interest now in 3-D after the release of director James Cameron’s iridescent jungle-moon epic, but as several sad imitators have proved in recent months, just slapping a film into 3-D as an afterthought isn’t the same as taking audiences to a new place. With “World of Color,” Disney and its hungry-for-a-hit theme park have got themselves a Cameron-like moment of glow-in-the-dark spectacle — and, just maybe, a new brand of night magic that can coax today’s youngsters to look up, up and away from their cellphones.

— Geoff Boucher


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Photos: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times


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34 Responses to REVIEW: ‘World of Color’ at California Adventure is a ‘new brand of night magic’

  1. Ryan says:

    Fireworks? There are no fireworks in World of Color. Not sure where the reviewer got that idea, but it's plain wrong. World of Color is an amazing show that relies on water, fire, and light…and does so brilliantly!

  2. Jim says:

    The fireworks were part of the "world premiere" only – and aren't part of the regular show.

  3. James M. Vaughn says:

    Did you feel like you couldn't wait to see this "visionary" show again? And will you go with the general public and wait with them for hours to see the show again?

  4. R Clark says:

    "The most powerful moments belonged to Pixar" …that is this critic's opinion. I disagree.
    The Little Mermaid sequence did stir emotions, and it had to bear the burden of immediately following that spectacular opening. Lion King sequence made me exhilarated, then teary-eyed (with music from Enchanted and images of Bambi/Dumbo). Even the World of Color opening and closing with the updated music from the Disney show, that music is gorgeous.
    Maybe the most powerful moments were from Pixar films for this critic, but it was 20 plus minutes of an emotional whirlwind for MANY of us, both Pixar AND classic Disney. This was just the first time Pixar characters were used so heavily in a major show like this (ie.Fantasmic, Fireworks, etc).

  5. Jon says:

    I'm sorry, but this show was terrible. The only good thing was the fountains themselves. Truly wonderful, other than that, there's no heart and soul, no emotion, and certainly no story telling. I actually almost walked off about half way through due to boredom. This is nothing more than the Disney sizzle reel projected on water.

    • Ren Car says:

      Really? No heart and soul? Were you referring to the WOC show or to yourself? I watched it myself and there was a lot of heart and soul. You were probably fixated on Mickey's ferris wheel, lol!

  6. Mickey Mouse says:

    Hi Jon, next time you think of leaving the house just stay home and play video games.

  7. Tom says:

    Well everyone please DON NOT BASE YOUR DECISION ON JONS OPINION!!! I don't know what he was watching, but it think he was at the wrong show! This show is emotion and story telling at it's best!! I have no clue what a good show is to him if this is bad. world of color equals amazing!! jon equals MORON!!

  8. Disneylifer says:

    I just wasn't impressed. Basically, you are watching clips from movies you have already seen on water projection. There is no story, and I have no idea why they practically end the show with the death of Mufasa, and Simba screaming "Dad?"
    It was somewhat entertaining to see once, but it's no Fantasmic.

    • Kay says:

      I disagree I found the show much much better than Fantasmic. I thought it was beautiful and the fact that it includes clips from the movies I was practically raised on makes me love it even more. It actually brought me to tears but I guess some people are just hard to impress.

  9. Chad says:

    Brilliant! I so love Disneyland!!!

  10. Ryan says:

    The mouse is only interested in your money! Went to California Adventure to see the lightshow tonight…they failed to mention anywhere that the seating is limited just like fast pass distribution….and although they definitely staffed for the massive crowd they shut down all the rides and attractions! So basically they let thousands and thousands of people into the park (all parking lots at or near capacity) then shut down all the attractions…so the only thing to do was the light show but only a very limited number of people were allowed close enough to see it…in fact they blocked off the main walkway through the park right where the farmers market and wine cellars are…we expected it to be packed but to be cut out of half the park and have litterally nothing to do over there after making it all the way in was unbelieveable…if disney were a restaurant and a guest had an experience anywhere near the one thousands of us had tonight the meal would be comp'd and theyd be writing gift certificates in hopes that youd give them another shot and not blast the place on the Internet…the only conclusion to draw is that they wanted it the way it was…like I said they weren't caught off guard by the crowd…far from it…they were over staffed to make sure no one without a pass could see anything…I guess if disney can get the people to come out and they cant see the show or enjoy the attractions theyll still make sick revenue off the parking and concessions…so they don't say a word online, in the lots, or even at the gates…real bad way to treat people and there's nothing you can do about it except whine online about what a complete waste of time you were dealt…not a good time! if you were planning on going over and seeing the new show trust me when I say…save your gas time and money!!    

    • Ren Car says:

      I wouldn't trust you, Ryan. I saw the show and it was fantastic. I also read on Disney's webpage that you must have a fast pass to get a good section for you to see the show. Unlike you, I read the fine prints. What is so wrong with Disney making profits wherever they can? They are not forcing you to buy their products or eat at their restaurants. Your mistake and you blame it on the Show?

      Just because you had a bad experience, due to the fact that you did read the fine print, you want people to trust you with your advise? It is a good thing that I have my own mind, and a good thing that I have been there.. done that.. and had a great experience. It is also a good thing that I gather empirical evidence instead of listening to disgruntled customers like you who didn't do his homework and blamed everything on disney but yourself, lol.

      Actually, if what happened to you happened to me.. I will be blaming no one but myself. It is called accountability, and you obviously don't have one :-)

    • Karl says:

      Its your fault for not doing your research ahead of time and knowing you need a fastpass for the best viewing area. And its not like you can't see the show from elsewhere on the pier.

  11. Jenn says:

    I'm sure this is a great show IF YOU CAN SEE IT. We arrived at the park only to find out you need to get fast pass tickets & they were sold out early. You are able to view the show from the area's by the ferris wheel but all you see is colored water shooting into the air. You can't see and of the graphics. When I asked why there was no info posted about needing fast pass tickets I was told it was on Disneys website. Guess I missed that & then was told we could always come back tomorrow. Unfortunatley we fly back to the east coast tomorrow & I'm not sure even if we stayed another day I would want to spend another & $378 for a day in the park. VERY DISAPPOINTING

    • Ren Car says:

      I suppose you were disappointed with yourself for missing the "fast pass" claim on Disney's website? Always read the fine print :-)

  12. Matt says:

    It is on Disney's website that you need Fastpasses for the show. Sorry you missed it.
    I have seen the show three times. Once with a Fastpass in the viewing area. And twice by the Ferris Wheel when no more passes were available. I was able to see all of the projections, just in reverse.
    As recently as yesterday, Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror, Soarin, Grizzly, Monsters Inc, and a handful of kiddie rides were opened during the World of Color show. So they don't close down everything as was previously mentioned.
    All in all, I had a pleasant experience at the park on my last few visits regarding the show. The show is very good!

  13. Ed says:

    Finally saw it. What a disappointment. It’s a really loud corporate clip reel. Didn’t this used to be Disney’s CALIFORNIA Adventure? Here was a chance to renew the commitment to the California spirit by creating something that is akin to Epcot’s Iluminations. We got a bunch of cartoon clips instead. This is a huge, huge, HUGE letdown to me. I agree with the comment that it was boring. Like watching a movie at a drive in theater in the rain. There are moments of beauty, but mostly it’s the Bellagio fountains, Disney-style and WAAAY longer. Too long. I’ll definitely stay for Disneyland fireworks in the future, but won’t bother with this again. It’s a massive disappointment, not worth any of the hype.

  14. proxybox says:

    Walt Disney would be disappointed! WOC lacks a story. A story is the basis for all concepts at Disney properties. Believe it or not, Pleasure Island in Orlando even has a story behind it. WOC succeeds only in demonstrating Disney’s ability to utilize technology in interesting ways. But.. to make a show timeless, ie. the Electrical Parade or Fantasmic, there has to be a unifying thread that makes it cohesive and compelling.

    My wife mentioned that she felt that she was being sold a preview of Disney animation movies. That is tragic! WOC is a shotgun, or maybe a cut and paste, of various clips hashed together to make a sequence. Interjected in between is a corny theme song about color.

    It is entertaining but not in the ‘Disney’ way. That’s my two cents.

  15. chris says:

    Wow, have no clue what some of these people were watching when they saw WOC. This show was not only amazing, it was breath taking. Beautiful. It was a celebration of all the best of Disney movies, and its music. To me, this was my most favorite of the park. I would for sure travel to CA to see this show again. (Infact I will be next year). Its also very unique. You can't compare it to Fantasmic or the fountain in Las Vegas. That is like comparing apples, and oranges.
    And yes there is info on the site regarding a fast pass. We knew this and got our fast passes early that morning, and were able to see it just fine. And yes there were other rides operating during WOC.
    One thing I will look forward to when the newness wears off is the ability to sit down while watching it. That is the only thing I didn't like. They try to get so many people in their to see it, you can not sit down. They won't let you.
    But other than that, it is an AWESOME show.

  16. […] Pictures Backlot. More recently, the park added a “Tron: Legacy” segment to its new World of Color nighttime attraction, projecting light cycles onto towering plumes of water in the liquid […]

  17. Ren Car says:

    The show doesn't have a heart? Perhaps the reviewers didn't have a heart? I dunno but the show does have a lot of heart. Some people were not impressed? I supposed they can do much better than WOC in their backyards? Worst yet, these people were expecting a show ala video games, lol

  18. kingfoamer says:

    I wonder if the people complaining about this show are EVER happy. It was amazing to say the least. I work in the entertainment industry and never have i seen a multi media extravaganza like this. I actually got to meet one of the technical directors of this show. People have no idea what went into this. Creating new technology, getting patents, trying to figure out how to make the the arora borealis come to life. I saw the show 3 times while i was there and it got better evey time. It is a totally different show from the front row than it is from the back, but equally impressive. it did lack a unique story, but it made my emotions run the gammit, It was amazing!

  19. Jack says:

    It's a fine piece of technical work that will razzle dazzle midwestern tourists who are easily impressed by loud noises and shiny things. But, I have to agree with those who said it lacks a story or heart. The Disney parks were built on story telling and taking journeys through the past and present. This was indeed a meaningless patchwork of songs and film reels, and–as much as I really wanted to like it–I have to agree that it smacked of corporate promotion and was completely devoid of the traditional Disney magic. It's pretty solid evidence that Walk and his imagination are long gone and no longer factor into the development of the parks.

    Don't get me wrong–this show is entertaining and worth seeing once. And, I feel for the folks who were blindsided by the Fastpass thing. Being from L.A. and having lots of experience at the parks, i never better than to think they would welcome me with open arms without any advanced notice or preparation. But, i can totally see how less experienced travelers would be caught by surprise by the way they herd you like cattle away from the attractions after you just just paid $100 to vist their park. It is a shame.

  20. Clint says:

    World of color is a Great Show. Yes you need to get the FastPass! Then be there early enough to get a good place in your FastPass assigned viewing area… That means you will be sitting for an hour holding your place within the viewing area before the show starts…. That is just how the system works… Good, bad or indifferent… That is how it works… And Disney has a lot of staff there to make sure it does! Work the system to your benefit… Yes there is the VIP preferred seating/dinning…. I did not try this but that looks like another way to buy yourself into the best viewing areas… Most of all THE SHOW IS "WONDERFUL"…well worth whatever you have to put I to it….

  21. Bianca says:

    WOC would have probably been a great show, if I could have seen it. It was not just me but most people around me were straining their necks to see any of the movie montage, the most I could see was colored water shooting up in the air. I was very disappointed they made the "screen" so small. You would think it would be much bigger for how large the audience is. I got my Fast Pass around 10:30am so I'm not sure what else I could have done to get a better spot. Pretty much if you aren't in the very front or very back, it's almost impossible to see most of the show. It's not worth the amount of people you have to get through at the end. I would rather leave early and miss the crowds.

  22. cristina cisneros says:

    it was an awesome show to all the haters

  23. Kal says:

    Personally I adore this show and I like it better than Disney's fireworks or Fantasmic. I've seen it twice so far and hope to see it again the next time I get the chance. To those who think the show lacks a heart I really have to disagree. The music combined with clips of beloved disney movies and beautiful lights and water spraying into the air was nothing less than magical. And almost everyone in the crowd reacted with fond "awws" during the highlights of the show such as the part from Up mentioned above. I found the show breathtaking and had a moment when I realized that I had been smiling to myself like an idiot for the past ten minutes without realizing it. If you're considering whether or not to watch the show you absolutely need to give it a chance.
    If you want the best experience get your fastpass early as they run out in the morning and get in line about an hour to an hour and a half early. If you don't want to waste an hour of your time at the park waiting for the show I would suggest grabbing some food and eating it while waiting for the show to start. Find a spot to stand closer to the side (I prefer the left) of the viewing area rather than in the middle where a lot of people congregate as you can see it better from there and you're more likely to be at the front and get as close to the front of the railing as you can.

  24. Heather says:

    We left in the middle of it…good for about 5 minutes till you realize you're just watching a giant disney commercial. Boring!

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