Don’t blink! You won’t want to miss Cinderella’s castle at the Magic Kingdom get a makeover as part of Disney’s nighttime fireworks and projections show.

Fireworks have been exploding over the spires of theme park castles almost since Disneyland first lowered its drawbridge in 1955. The Mouse’s nighttime shows have become an indelible part of the park experience. The castle-pyrotechnics combo is such a potent part of the company’s corporate identity and the cultural canon, Walt Disney Pictures features it for its production logo at the opening of its movies.

With the new Happily Ever After fireworks show at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, however, the fireworks have been upstaged. In fact, no pyrotechnics appear until well over a minute into the presentation. It’s not that the fireworks are incidental exactly. Plenty of bursts still light up the Florida park’s sky. But they’ve been relegated to a co-starring role at best. Along with the musical soundtrack, spotlights, and lasers, fireworks often support the show’s true main player: digital projections.


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Projection mapping, in which digital content is projected onto three-dimensional surfaces such as buildings, first appeared at the Disney parks a few years ago. Initially, the shows were stand-alone presentations that were occasionally punctuated with a few fireworks. The imagery, which is designed to fit the contours of the structures, used to be more abstract, with bright colors and shapes lighting up and animating buildings such as Disneyland’s “it’s a small world” façade and the Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle.

As the artistry and technology…