Harmonious: A Discordant Story

When the World Showcase Lagoon darkened on September 30th an interesting space was created. Wherein Disney wanted to create a nighttime show that was more in line with those in its other parks. That tries to fill the shoes of the beloved Illuminations but also follows the lackluster Epcot Forever. A part of a rebranding of Epcot and a centerpiece in the new vision for the park. Disney committed to disrupting the views of the World Showcase, for what would be gained in this show. It bore the weight of heavy expectation from all sides. As the first few notes of Harmonious began to play, what would fill that space?

Harmonious opens with a voice:

“All around us, the world is alive, with music.
Voices calling out in search of one another.
We find each other in song.”

This opening primes the guests to expect a story about how music brings us together, how it can reach beyond boundaries to be understood. After an instrumental opening, the first segment is a multilingual mashup of “How Far Will I Go” and “I Can Go the Distance”. The show then proceeds to set aside any lofty notions as a string of bilingual Disney tunes follows. The only connecting thread is that the songs are from Disney movies set in a different region/country and sung in English and the dominant language of that region/country. The effort to create cultural remixes of each of the songs is the best decision in the show. There is little connection between song selection and the World Showcase. For each one that could be attached to a song there is another country completely left out. Instead the song choices seem picked from popular tunes that were in “Happily Ever After” that fit the “international” criteria. 

I casted about for other connections or themes, but none were uniform. There were a few “I Want” songs that match those in the first segment but the majority are just “Cheer Up, Kid”. Some songs sport similar themes but are separated from each other so that any connection is lost. The only two segments that appear to match the coming together theme that was stated in the opening are Saludos Amigos/The World Es Mi Familia and the closing number. The inclusion of Someday as the finale song just made the disparate nature of the rest of the songs stand out. It is a much slower tempo then the rest of the segments and it’s so on the nose with the connection theme that it highlights the lack of show cohesion. This closing number highlights another problem with the show, pacing. 

From @j_mcelroy Twitter

Harmonious has a flat story progression composed of small dips and raises within each musical segment. There is no overarching movement to the show as a whole. This became evident by the confusion which surrounded the end of the first show. Both guests and online viewers were a little confused by the ending. Happily Ever After and Illuminations had a more traditional story progression; following the common Cinderella story structure.They both took you on a journey, while Harmonious is a playlist. It starts alright as it builds in the instrumental intro then the first segment builds on that. Aladdin continues the build, followed by a dip with Reflection. After that it becomes a flat line as an upbeat number is followed by another till we fall off a cliff with Someday.  I think that’s why people were confused; they expect to end with more energy than when they started.

All that said, Harmonious ends up being a solid show but one that doesn’t leave an impact. The pacing of the show doesn’t create a memorable story, it just blends in with Happily Ever After, Enchantment and other playlist shows. The theme is wanting, currently restrained to multiculturalism through the limited scope of Disney Animated IPs. If this is part of the rebranding of Epcot, it  makes me sad. Bright spots in the show shine through and hopefully the show gets more post debut tweaking. 

Quick Segment Thoughts:

  • How Far Will I Go / I Can Go the Distance – Sound mixing feels off and features many different languages but the song’s message of exploration/striving don’t match to opening statements as they are both loner songs.
  • Aladdin – Traditional visuals, and Arabian Nights is the best choice since it’s the most influenced by Middle Eastern music.
  • Jungle Book/I Wanna Be Like You – I preferred this segment when it leaned more into Bollywood musical. Paper puppetry design is strong and helps root the segment in more traditional southeast Asian culture.
  • Mulan – Chinese works really well with Reflection. The inclusion of Loyal Brave and True felt like a corporate decision.
  • Lion King – One of the two best segments. Since many of the Lion King songs were written with the input of an African songwriter it all blends so well. The Africa bridge in the middle, I wanted to be the entire segment.
  • France Beauty/Hunchback – I would have probably dropped the Beauty and the Beast intro since it is not identifiable without the visuals. Out There is a strong choice.
  • Brave – Fun, upbeat, great use of all the show elements. 
  • Coco/Latin America – The other best segment. The song choice of Saludos Amigos and The World Es Mi Familia actually fit the concept. The visuals mix the movie with the culture, the festival banner and the dancers felt more authentic than any other part of the show. 
  • Dig A Little Deeper – Okay. It would have been better as a match to Reflection. Felt more like the show ender.
  • Someday – Lack of visuals. When the center is the globe, the hills should each show the people from a country they are pointing towards. Why was this not in multiple languages too?

One thought on “Harmonious: A Discordant Story

  • Redoing the original vocals was a mistake, IMO. The Tom Hulce version of Out There is superior to the easy-listening radio version they used. Also they used just a hint of two of the melodies from Frozen and Frozen 2 at the very beginning, which is just no surprise at all.

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