I was a huge fan of Disney Dreams! when I watched with the live premiere (ahem) with the rest of the online community, and I was an even bigger fan when 6 weeks later I watched it with my own eyes, and ears, in Disneyland Paris. I’ve watched it many times since, through its various scene changes and seasonal variations and have been a fan throughout, some incarnations more than others. However, when Disney Illuminations was announced, I wasn’t sad that Disney Dreams! was ending, but more excited for what we were getting – a new night time show, with the some different film franchises featured, mostly.
I was very fortunate to be there for the public premiere of Disney Illuminations in Disneyland Paris on Saturday 25th March, and even though I was almost alone in not knowing John Legend’s music, he sounded pretty terrific during the pre-show, especially when he sung Beauty and the Beast with the Sleeping Beauty Castle sparking along with the music. Being the spoiler avoider that I am, I didn’t watch any of the leaked footage, nor did I rush over to YouTube and watch Ignite the Dream from Shanghai Disneyland when everyone and their uncle told me they were the same show. Firstly I wasn’t interested in seeing a video when I could see the show with my own eyes, and secondly the two Castles are very different, so even IF it were exactly the same footage (it isn’t) then it would be presented differently.
Apologies for the quality of the images – I like to use my own images where possible and I used my ailing mobile phone.
Disney Illuminations – The Introduction
I’ll start by saying that the opening segment with Mickey Mouse is superb, and the emotions that I was assured I wouldn’t have, I did from the get go. I’m more of a fan of Mickey than I am Peter Pan, though I do like Peter a lot, so I wasn’t missing Dreams! at this point, not at all. What was evident from that first scene is that the video mapping, lasers and everything that goes into making these spectaculars in Disneyland Paris, had now entered a new phase, one in which each and every element had been improved upon, with stunning results. The combination of music, special effects, fireworks and visuals in that opening scene are pretty much perfect.
Disney Illuminations – The Lion King and The Little Mermaid
Disney Illuminations then takes us on a journey through a variety of films, each one looking as stunning as the next…almost. Water flowing down the Castle was always a high point of Dreams! and in the Lion King scene it is again, accompanied by music that we all know and love. We go to the next scene via Mickey, who falls off of a log into the water, cue The Little Mermaid, which looks fantastic on the Castle. Speaking of which, Sleeping Beauty Castle is used more as a projection screen than with Dreams!, where you had breathtaking scenes such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, utilising the contours and landscape that Disney’s most beautiful Castle offered it. Illuminations feels less like it was made for specifically for Sleeping Beauty Castle than Dreams!, which of course it wasn’t, not originally anyway.
Disney Illuminations – Finding Nemo and Pirates of The Caribbean
After The Little Mermaid we get Finding Nemo, because you know, water! I should probably write more about the Nemo scene, but really it’s not my favourite film by a long stretch, and sandwiched in between The Little Mermaid and what comes next, it feels a little out of its depth – pun not intended. Seeing a huge gold bullion from Pirates of the Caribbean on the castle sent shivers down my spine. Unlike Finding Nemo, I am an absolutely massive fan of Pirates of the Caribbean – well, the first 3 anyway, let’s forget about the poor 4th effort and look forward to the upcoming 5th film which seems to contain more in the spirit of the original. Back to Illuminations and seeing that symbol of piracy, along with haunting Dead Men Tell No Tales audio had me smiling from ear to ear and beyond – emotions column full.
That was just the first few seconds as we then got Jack Sparrow, ship battles, the Kracken with accompanying fireworks and some amazing lightning effects, which more than any other scene felt like they were made for Sleeping Beauty Castle, and worked perfectly. Anyone who loves Pirates of the Caribbean is going to be in their element watching this, and it means we can get our fix in Disneyland Paris while the ride is closed for major refurbishments.
Disney Illuminations – Beauty and the Beast
The high doesn’t last though, as this is followed by the Beauty and the Beast trailer, and the weakest part of Illuminations, by a long way. I wasn’t being flippant by calling it the trailer, that’s exactly what it seems like and you get the feeling of this being shoehorned in only to coincide with the film release. It’s also the weakest part visually as the ballroom scene doesn’t render very smoothly at all.
Disney Illuminations – Star Wars
Quite bizarrely, we then get a Castle full of rising balloons in the style of UP, which in reality is a very unlikely transition between Beauty and the Beast and Star Wars! That’s very quickly forgiven as we see Han Solo and Chewbacca, and are given “Chewie, We’re Home”. Star Wars on Sleeping Beauty Castle – it’s what I always said I wanted to see when we all speculated on scene changes for Dreams!, and seeing that become a reality was both thrilling and heart warming. Hyperspace works very well with fireworks, and we get a collection of ionic Star wars visual and some equally iconic music. On seeing BB-8, I got very excited at the thought of being there this summer and how much my son would love to see that bit. The Star Wars scenes included a tremendous amount of different film moments from across the years in the time it was given, but it felt too short. Get rid of Beauty and the Beast and extend Star Wars – that’s my advice to the Disneyland Paris creatives in charge.
Disney Illuminations – Frozen and Finale
The last franchise specific scene is Frozen, because what piece of Disney is entertainment is complete without it today? I’m actually not one of the haters, and I both like the film and understand it’s place in the Disney world, including Disneyland Paris. As with most of Illumiations, it looks incredible, and the reactions from the crowd were as loud and joyous as they always are when Frozen is featured. We finish off with a montage of all the featured films, Mickey Mouse and some huge fireworks displays. I actually like that Mickey waves us goodbye, much like he does as you leave Disneyland Park at the end of the night, from the balcony of Main Street Station.
Disney Illuminations – Verdict
So, Disney Illuminations in Disneyland Paris – it’s not Dreams! that’s for sure, but nor is it trying to be. It’s a completely different type of show, which for me had just as much emotion and in some places more, but this came from my personal attachment to some of the footage included, and not from the storyline of the show, of which there isn’t really one. It’s spectacular to watch, and feels a lot bigger than Dreams!, and like they’ve learned how to use all the elements a lot more effectively. Those looking for a story that flows from start to end, tugging on your heartstrings along the way, may be disappointed with Illuminations. But then we all need variety, and there’s enough room in the world for both romance and action films.
I came away thinking I’d not be in a hurry to watch Illuminations again, but looking back at the video footage as I write this review, I can’t wait to do just that. I love Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean more than anything in Dreams!, so for me Illuminations scores very highly. That’s not to say it’s not without fault, and the odd transitions and order of footage do jar at times, and some may get the feeling of an extended trailer. Is Disney Illuminations for everyone and will it stand the test of time? Who knows, but it’s a bombastic showcase of epic proportions, and one that makes Disneyland Park come alive like never before.