The finale for season two of The Wonder Years will be on 9:00 p.m. EDT on ABC and then on Hulu the following day. Ahead of this episode being broadcast on ABC and then Hulu, Daps Magic was invited to the Disneyland Resort for a preview in the Opera House of the final episode of the season and a Question & Answer panel with some of the people who made this episode happen. In the lobby of the Opera House, an exhibit showcased props and costumes from the episode. There were also snacks available in the lobby for cast members who were attending the preview as part of a special backstage magic for the people who bring the magic to life on a daily basis.
For those who haven’t been watching the show (what are you waiting for?), The Wonder Years is a Peabody Award-winning series that follows the Williams family in the late 1960s. The Williams are a Black middle-class family that live in Montgomery, Alabama. In this episode, The Happiest Place on Earth, the family goes on a family vacation that includes going to Disneyland. Along the way there are some challenges and obstacles that lead to some laughs and life lessons. This is an episode that will be enjoyed by those who already watch the show and also those who haven’t yet seen it and tune in to see a show that was filmed at Disneyland.
Along with seeing the preview of The Happiest Place on Earth, there was a Question & Answer session with some of the people that made this episode happen. Hosted by Princeton Parker, the panel included The Wonder Years director Ken Whittingham, production designer Aiyana Trotter, and costume designer Barbara Chennault. They were joined by Chris Sheppard, VP, Disneyland Resort Event Planning Operations & Strategy and Kean Almryde, Content Programming & Synergy Manager Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Yellow Shoes Creative Group.
Throughout the panel, some themes began to emerge as Princeton Parker asked the panelists questions the reimagined version of The Wonder Years, filming this episode at Disneyland, and also some questions about Disney memories in general. They gave a glimpse at the culture that can be found across different divisions of The Walt Disney Company.
First off, there is clearly a focus on authenticity. This could be heard from all of the panelists. Director Ken Whittingham shared how he related to the Williams family as he was about the age of the youngest son in the show at about the same time in the 1960s. He brought up his feelings and experiences of getting to go to Disneyland as a kid and tried to impart them in this episode. Both the costume and production designers also talked about the importance of creating authentic props, sets, and costumes that were accurate for 1969 (when this episode takes place) and not just making it good enough. On the Disneyland side of the panel, both Chris Sheppard and Kean Almryde also hit on themes of authenticity. This included showing the park in a way that was accurate to what guests would experience in 1969. This meant including only the parts of The World Famous Jungle Cruise in the episode that were there when the episode took place. Choices for characters that were seen, the Disneyland Band, and Dapper Dans, were all made to give an accurate representation of Disneyland during that year. The authenticity also extended to the relationships seen in the episode as well. This leads to moments that connect as people relate to what they see happening on screen.
Another theme that organically surfaced throughout the panel was the importance of teamwork. Throughout the course of the panel, shout-outs were made to different people and departments that helped make this episode (and series) happen. This came both from the television production side of things and also from the Disney Parks side. Kean Almryde summed it all up saying, “It takes a village.” This could be seen across the board as people shared stories of collaboration, teamwork, overcoming challenges (it was pouring quite a lot on the two days this episode was filmed at Disneyland), and filming a television episode in a living and breathing theme park.
It was interesting listening to the panel talk about what it took to make The Happiest Place on Earth an episode of The Wonder Years and realizing that the stories they told and the behavior they model really also reflected in the series and episode itself. The episode shows a family of individuals who are growing, coming together, and encouraging each other to be the best they can be. It is a fun episode that had a surprising amount of heart that connects with people of all ages and backgrounds. Family dynamics in all families have similarities, sometimes good and sometimes not so good. This was seen on the screen throughout this episode. The family dynamic could also be seen in a positive way in the way that the panel interacted with each other, shared stories about the process of making this episode, and also showed their love for those who weren’t up on the stage in the Opera House as well.
The Happiest Place on Earth will be part of a two-episode season finale of The Wonder Years on ABC on August 16th. Other episodes of The Wonder Years can also be found on Hulu for those who like to binge a show. This episode is a very enjoyable episode that also felt very real. While I didn’t grow up in the 60s, I related to the family going on a road trip to go to Disneyland and the excitement and challenges that came with that. It was very much what I experienced in the late 80s and early 90s. I found myself chuckling at multiple obstacles and moments in the episode as I thought of my own life experiences. The Wonder Years is a very enjoyable series that was based on the award-winning series of the same name. This version doesn’t try to clone the original version. Instead, it offers its own unique perspective on a different era of wonder years. It is definitely worth checking out and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.