Shanghai Disneyland - Ignite the Dream / Disneytown

Shanghai, China

The sun sets over Shanghai Disneyland, and that means it’s time for one thing…

…Waiting amidst a hoard of humanity for the obligatory nighttime spectacular show!

Shanghai Disneyland’s show is called Ignite the Dream, which is either a really bad combination of Disney marketing buzzwords, or somehow dreams are flammable in China due to lax regulations. Your choice.

Ignite the Dream relies heavily on mapped projection, along with fireworks, some lasers, and a few dancing fountains that can’t be readily seen unless you’re near the front. It does help explain what were otherwise some questionable design choices, like why Gardens of Imagination had to be so big and empty (to hold the viewing area for the show), or why the castle is so bulky and boxy (to offer more space for mapped projection).

Like most of the rest of Shanghai Disneyland, Ignite the Dream is predicated on presenting the Disney brand, and is structured with a more generic umbrella brand statement at the beginning and end, with a parade of specific brands sandwiched in the middle. Here’s that intro, where you can listen to “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” sung in Mandarin.

Next we move into the showcase of Disney IP, beginning with The Lion King.

Mickey always seems to be swimming with bubbles in these shows.

Here’s Aladdin. I find it doesn’t work as well when they try to use the castle facade just as a projection surface for film clips.

It generally works much better when they can highlight the architecture using abstract patterns.

Disney’s been making clip shows for their parks for a while now, and while there is an art to doing movie clip montages, Ignite the Dream fails to demonstrate how to do the genre competently. Instead it settles for disjointed and sometimes downright confusing juxtapositions with sudden leaps between tone, even if the individual segments are nice enough. In this 3:30 second excerpt, we jump from Mulan (admittedly one of the better sequences in the show), to a barely-there Up segment that’s used as a segue into a Star Wars – The Force Awakens mix of teaser trailer footage.

Aaaaand of course it’s 2016 and Disney still cannot simply Let It Go.

A pink castle and other shenanigans.

Cars. Because Cars.

Pink castle time again.

More pyro ejaculation. Towards the show’s climax the smoke was so thick we could barely see the big erected castle thrusting its massive IPs in our face over and over again. (C’mon, you know the base pleasures derived by these types of shows all have a Freudian explanation.)

And that’s a wrap. Ignite the Dream is big, dumb, spectacular, and unquestionably Disney™, which I guess is all it really needs to be. On the plus side there’s ample viewing space for everyone, so it’s easy to catch in between evening power-riding while the queues are short.

Returning down Mickey Avenue.

Looking back down Mickey Avenue towards that castle so far away.

Time to leave under that gigantic central archway I noticed so familiar yet different when I first arrived.

To quickly conclude, many of the strengths and weaknesses of present-day Imagineering witnessed in individual attractions and lands at the existing parks are all present at Shanghai Disneyland, albeit on a much grander scale. Some parts truly are well worth the trip to Shanghai even if you’ve been to all the other parks and feel more than familiar with the formula. Other parts feel the product of too much influence by branding, marketing, or numbers people, or a design culture that’s increasingly governed by committee, or simply a lack of a compelling vision. Nevertheless, highs and lows are practically a necessary condition for any major theme park with as many complex interlocking pieces as this one has, even if the particular reasons for those peaks and troughs are different than elsewhere. And at the very least, one thing that cannot be said about Shanghai Disneyland is that there’s not enough to for an opening day lineup. We had two full days there with late night closings, and there were still several bits and pieces I didn’t have time for. The park is ripe for a strong future… provided, of course, that global capitalism itself doesn’t collapse in the near future. Hey, if there’s one big thing 2016 brought besides Shanghai Disneyland, it’s the realization that our present social and political realities are not as stable as once thought.

Real briefly before wrapping this report up, one other area I forgot to mention: Disneytown.

Every Disney resort needs it’s own retail, dining & entertainment district outside the main gate. (And Legos, there’s always Legos for some reason.)

Disneytown is festive yet not overtly theme-y.

Live music performers are always nice, playing traditional Chinese instruments.

The biggest selling point of Disneytown is the food. Considerably better than the food inside the park gates, and sorely needed comfort after a long, tiring two days in the parks. This was at the Xin Wang Cantonese tea house restaurant. Their buttered buns were also delicious.

By the time we finished, Disneytown was a Ghosttown.

Crossing the empty plaza on our way back to the transportation center. This was at the end of a two week long trip to China that also brought us to Beijing and Harbin. The odds are good that someday we’ll be back.

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2 comments to Shanghai Disneyland – Ignite the Dream / Disneytown

  • Timothy Cox

    The best of Disney’s projection based shows has to be the understated Tree of Life display that also debuted in 2016 at Animal Kingdom. It’s a collection of 1 or 2 minute mini-stories about one of the animals on the tree. Every 5 minutes there’s a different story. Then at set intervals there was a Disney based IP story which borrowed the music and theme but recreated them with real animals as the backdrop.
    I could have sat watching that tree for hours, it was such a beutifull experience.

    Thank you for this fascinating read on Shanghi Disneyland. It’s great to see you writing again and the new format is a joy to read.

  • Thanks, Tim! Haven’t seen the new stuff at DAK yet but I’ve heard from other’s it’s really good, so I’d like to get back there soon someday. Glad you like the new format; I was worried it may have been a little much for the amount of detail I wanted to go into for SDL, but should serve well in future reports. I enjoy writing for this site again, too!

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