It was 1999. The world was looking forward to the new millennium. In nearly every country were planned celebrations to usher in the 2000’s. Though Walt Disney World is not a country, a grand celebration on a multi-national stage was going to showcase the new century with a spectacle. That spectacle debuted at World Showcase on October 1, 1999.
For me, the year 2000 didn’t just mark the turn of a century or millennium. I was graduating high school and I would be free to explore the world. My best friend and I planned a trip to Walt Disney World almost right after graduation. It was going to be our first “adult” trip – a celebration of graduating and a chance to have some fun before college. And, yes. We are huge Disney nerds that this was our grand excitement for graduating high school.
One of the most looked forward to sights at Epcot was Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. I always enjoyed the various Illuminations shows when I would visit Florida, and I heard this was the best yet. Now, keep in mind this is before social media and YouTube. There was no way for me to see it beforehand. This would be a fresh view.
The night we picked to watch we staked out a good spot enough ahead of time. The lights went down. The drumroll played. I was in awe…
The show has a bit of an abstract plot. It starts at the beginning of the world with the infamous fire barge representing the formation of the Earth. From there, pyrotechnics and fountains show off more formation of the world. Eventually, a fiber optic LED globe floats out onto the water with images of animals. The images start changing to formations of cultures and nations and people. As the show goes on, the buildings from various World Showcase pavilions begin to illuminate to surround the audience with the light show on the water. Images on the globe start to showcase famous representations of the human race.
The conclusion starting with We Go On has the globe show a line of people carrying candles, and representing much of the nations around the world. The spectacular end of the show has the floating sphere open up to have a giant torch. Pyro shoots from around the lagoon right in front of the audience, then suddenly, fireworks shoot from the center of the globe and from various barges around it.
Gavin Greenaway composed the soundtrack to the nighttime show. One interview I read with him he said that Kellie Coffey, the soloist for the We Go On song in the show, did it and Promise in one take. It’s a testament to how amazing this soundtrack is. The main theme has been played in various contexts, one of which was on New Year’s Eve 1999. I’ve heard it played by marching bands over the years at the Rose Parade in Pasadena. This soundtrack is a special one that has represented the optimism of the new millennium. Disney has used it in various places as well, and the accompanying Tapestry of Nations soundtrack has still been played long after the parade has gone.
The show has had a few iterations. Special Walt Disney World anniversary versions bring extra audio and sometimes a tag to it. At Christmas time, a Peace On Earth tag is done at the end that has the sky seem like the sun is shining. On New Year’s Eve, there is a special countdown that features pyro and illuminated pavilions to display which nations have ushered in the new year first. On the Fourth of July is a special American tag to celebrate the birth of the US.
Where originally the show was just supposed to be for a couple of years to highlight the turn into 2000’s, it became an instant hit. It is amazing to think of considering there is no reference to any Disney movie or show in it whatsoever…well except for an image of Walt Disney amongst other memorable people on the globe. It won many awards throughout its run and was well deserved for an original production with spectacular effects.
For me, this represented a turn in life. It gave me goosebumps the first time I watched, and every single time after. There has always been something about the combination of the songs, water, lights, fireworks, and video on the globe that has made something truly special. There have been times that I would stand after the show and stare at the water to think on life. I know that sounds sappy, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it has the word reflection in the name. The team that brought this together did an amazing job of taking us through history and having us have emotion through simple effects. There has not been another show like it in Disney history since its debut 20 years ago. There might not be another like it ever! It is a display that many looked forward to on their trip to Walt Disney World. It is a show that meant something different, but something wonderful, for many families. This was Reflections of Earth, and we say farewell and thank you for so many amazing memories.