Ever since fireworks began exploding over Cinderella Castle, Walt Disney World visitors have been oohing and ahhing for the resort’s nighttime spectaculars. Now all four theme parks at the massive resort feature elaborate shows that take place after the sun goes down. The Mouse likes to refer to each of its sendoffs as a “kiss goodnight.”
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has an abundance of nighttime shows—in fact, it has more than any other Disney World park. While most of the presentations still incorporate pyrotechnics, they also include a variety of other crowd-pleasing elements, especially eye-popping digital projections mapped onto buildings and other three dimensional surfaces. With brighter projectors, sharper imagery, and other technical and creative improvements, the shows have become potent showcases for Disney’s vast and rich library of movies and characters. Designers also draw on lasers, theatrical lighting, music, fire effects, live performers, and other effects for the presentations.
Let’s run down all of the nighttime spectaculars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. As you’ll discover, you would want to make sure that you carve out time in your itinerary so that you and your gang could ooh and ahh over at least one—if not all—of the park’s evening shows.
Note that in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Walt Disney World has temporarily suspended all nighttime shows, including the ones at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While the resort is planning to present holiday programming, it is not scheduled to include Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! The projection display, Sunset Seasons Greetings, runs continuously and therefore does not attract a large crowd like Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, and other scheduled nighttime presentations. The park will likely offer Sunset Seasons Greetings beginning in early November.
Introduced in 2019, Wonderful World of Animation is the latest show to join the park’s evening lineup.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios doesn’t have a castle. But it does have the Chinese Theater, a facsimile of the famous theater in (the actual) Hollywood, California. As the park’s central icon, it is the location for most of the nighttime shows. Since the real theater hosted the world premiere of "Mary Poppins" and other Disney films, the park’s theater is also an ideal spot to stage a show that features Disney’s more than 90-year movie animation legacy.
The 12-minute show begins, as it should, with a shout out to Mickey Mouse. Clips of the lovable character are projected onto the main entrance of the theater as well as on the building’s surface to the left and right of the entrance. Sometimes, it is one panoramic scene that fills the entire structure. More often than not, there are multiple scenes that simultaneously appear in different locations of the building. There is often interplay between and among the clips.
Most of the show’s introduction is devoted to Sorcerer Mickey, his character from "Fantasia." As the familiar scene plays, choreographed fireworks, laser beams (including pixie dust bolts that seamlessly appear to emanate from the magician’s fingertips), and fire bursts complement the animation. Even the trees in front of the theater pulsate with colored lights in sync with the action.
It can be a bit difficult to know where to focus as the hyperactive Wonderful World of Animation unfolds. Things get even more hyperactive as brief clips of characters and movies are introduced. In addition to Disney‘s hand-drawn masterpieces, computer-animated moments from the studio as well as from Pixar are included in the mix—sometimes all at once.
In one scene, for example, members of the superhero family from "The Incredibles" look on from the sides as the Seven Dwarfs take center stage. Other movies referenced in the show include "Coco," "Aladdin," "Cars," and "Sleeping Beauty." Mixing and matching the films can be a bit disconcerting, but it mostly works.
“We are all one big Disney family,” explains Tom Vazzana, show director. “It’s a great retrospective, and it’s fun to see all of the characters together at the same time. We’ve never done it before.”
With a catalog of movies that spans nearly a century, how did Vazzana and his team narrow down the picks? The producers created the musical bed first, which includes familiar tunes from "Wreck-It Ralph," "Big Hero 6," and other films, and then looked for clips that matched the soundtrack’s vibe. Vazzana says that he focused on movies and scenes that hadn’t been used in other park shows. (Although, the classic and ubiquitous spaghetti-kiss moment from "Lady in the Tramp" managed to made the cut.)
Wonderful World of Animation does not tell a linear story. Instead, it is built around general themes. A sequence devoted to love, for instance, includes clips from "Beauty and the Beast," "Wall-E," and "The Little Mermaid." For a montage about villains, Hades from "Hercules" and Captain Hook from "Peter Pan "are among the no-goodnicks. Among others, the characters from "Inside Out" and "Moana" contribute to a a sequence about friendship.
The show ends, as it begins, with Mickey Mouse and even includes Walt Disney himself reciting his famous line that “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.” The final sequence includes a vintage clip of Mickey in “Steamboat Willie” as well as clips of the retro “pie-eyed” Mickey who is featured in the Disney Channel shorts. It is that version of Mickey Mouse who will star in Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, the attraction that is set to open in spring 2020 inside the Chinese Theater.
According to its creators, Wonderful World of Animation will be a dynamic show and change over time. “As the animation library continues to grow, the show can keep growing with with us,” promises Vazzana.
Tips for Viewing Wonderful World of Animation
In general, you should try to arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled show time to grab a decent spot. There are no seats, so you would have to stand while you wait and for the duration of the 12-minute performance. The area in front of the Chinese Theater is quite large, so even if you arrive closer to the beginning of the show, you should be able to find a spot, albeit not a prime one.
The best place to see Wonderful World of Animation is in the center of the courtyard that fronts the theater and aligned with the theater’s main entrance. If you find yourself to the left or the right of the main entrance in the courtyard, you would still be able to enjoy the show. You could see the show behind the courtyard along Hollywood Boulevard, but neither the sight-lines or the quality of the audio that you'd hear would be ideal. If the courtyard is jammed, you could try to find a spot by the Dockside Diner in Echo Lake.
One of Disney World’s crowning achievements, Fantasmic! is a must-see. Unlike the park’s other nighttime spectaculars, it does not include projection mapping onto buildings. It does, however, feature classic Disney animation projected onto enormous water screens.
Although the clarity is not as sharp because of the water medium, the effect is captivating. Many of the early clips in the show, which include scenes from films such as "Dumbo," "Beauty and the Beast," and "The Lion King," incorporate water in some way. That reinforces the water screen concept and makes the lack of crisp image detail more forgiving.
But Fantasmic! is not just a clip show. The 30-minute presentation tells a story that centers on Mickey Mouse and his active imagination. It is a simple, but classic tale that pits the forces of good and evil against each other.
The Disney villains, including "The Little Mermaid’s" Ursula, Jafar from "Aladdin," and Cruella de Vil from "One Hundred and One Dalmatians," represent the evil team. Sorcerer Mickey leads the good team charge. Mickey is a character actor. He is joined by over 50 live performers. The epic show also includes colored fountains, fireworks, barges that serve as floating stages, huge sets, wild effects, and more. The finale includes a showdown with villain mastermind Maleficent who transforms into a 40-foot-tall dragon.
Tips for Viewing Fantasmic!
Determine the showtimes for the evening you will be visiting the park. You could check online, or you could use the My Disney Experience Walt Disney World app. Generally, Fantasmic! is shown once each night at 9 p.m. During the busiest periods (the week between Christmas and New Year’s, around Easter, etc.), the park may add a second show.
Unlike the Disneyland Park version of the show, Disney’s Hollywood Studios stages Fantasmic! in an enormous, dedicated amphitheater that offers seating. It is located at the end of Sunset Boulevard. Although there are around 7,000 seats, the show is so popular, the theater often fills to capacity. (There is standing room in addition to the seats.) Plan to arrive an hour before the performance if you want decent seats. On evenings when there are two showings, it is likely that the second one wouldn’t be as crowded.
You could make a Fastpass+ reservation for Fantasmic!, but it only guarantees that you’ll get into the theater. You would still be on your own to nab seats, so the reservations don’t serve much of a purpose.
A better strategy to guarantee good seats would be to either reserve a Fantasmic! Dining Package or book a Fantasmic! Dessert & VIP Viewing Experience. In both cases, you would be able to enjoy some good food and you would have primo reserved seating for the show.
Virtually all of the seats in the main theater section are good, although you may miss some of the action if you are located at the extreme ends of the theater. Most of the best seats, which are located in the center of the theater, are reserved for VIP viewing.
Most of the interplanetary action at Disney’s Hollywood Studios takes place inside Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. But the park also offers the motion simulator attraction, Star Tours - The Adventures Continue, near Echo Lake. And it presents the nighttime show, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, which, like Wonderful World of Animation, is a projection show that uses the Chinese Theater as a backdrop.
The 14-minute presentation includes clips from the entire "Star Wars" canon, including the original trilogy, more recent installments, and standalone movies, such as "Solo: A Star Wars Story." As with Wonderful World of Animation, the show explores themes such as love, action, and the villainous dark side by weaving together clips from many of the films. Of course, Darth Vader, in all of his heavy breathing glory, plays a significant role during the villains montage.
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular includes plenty of pyrotechnics. Along with lots of lasers, the fireworks complement and help punctuate much of the screened action. The creators of the show get playful with their use of projection mapping. For example, at one point the Chinese Theater appears to shake in its foundation as the action gets especially intense.
Fans of "Star Wars" will love the show. Even those who are not fluent in the adventures of Rey, Boba Fett, Han Solo, and the gang will still enjoy the spectacle, especially the fireworks.
Tips for Viewing Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
Determine when the show will take place for the evening you will be visiting the park. You could check the Disney World site, or you could use the My Disney Experience Walt Disney World app. Often Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular follows soon after Wonderful World of Animation.
Follow the viewing tips that are outlined for Wonderful World of Animation above. You could secure a prime, reserved viewing area for the show by purchasing tickets for the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party.
During the holiday season (roughly early November through early January), Disney’s Hollywood Studios gets into the Christmas spirit with nightly showings of the projection and fireworks show, Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!
Like the park’s other mixed media shows, the action is centered on the Chinese Theater, and the presentation includes lasers, theatrical lighting, a lively musical soundtrack, and other effects. At one point, laser-enhanced “snow” falls on the crowd.
Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! features characters from Disney's "Prep & Landing" animated TV special who are searching for Santa Claus so that they can save Christmas. The show includes holiday and winter-themed clips from classic Disney cartoons featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Chip and Dale, Bambi, and others. Tim Burton’s quirky "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is also part of the festivities. The chirpy show ends with a rousing rendition of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."
Tips for Viewing Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!
Find out when the show will take place on the evening you will be at the park. You could check the Disney World site, or you could use the My Disney Experience Walt Disney World app. Refer to the viewing tips that are outlined for Wonderful World of Animation above. You could secure a reserved viewing area for the holiday show by purchasing tickets for the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!” Dessert Party.
Another holiday season feature, Sunset Seasons Greetings is unlike the other nighttime shows at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Instead of a set performance time, it runs continuously starting at dusk each evening. The show takes place along Sunset Boulevard and uses the The Hollywood Tower hotel from the Tower of Terror ride as the backdrop for its projections. Lasers and lighting enhance the projected imagery.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the "Toy Story" characters, the Swedish Chef from The Muppets, and Olaf of "Frozen" fame each star in a brief Christmas-themed vignette. In between each scene, projected snow falls on the hotel. If you want to watch all four vignettes, including the interludes, plan to spend about 15 minutes.
Tips for Viewing Sunset Seasons Greetings
You don’t really need to make any plans to see the show (other than visiting the park during the holidays and remaining there after the sun sets). Just stroll down Sunset Boulevard and enjoy the presentation.