Magic truly is coming to life when ABC airs The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60 on Sunday night.
The special celebrates Disneyland’s 60th anniversary, showcasing the influence that the park and Walt Disney’s company have had for the last six decades. Over the two-hour special, viewers will be treated to special performances by Elton John, Idina Menzel, Jessie J, Tori Kelly, Fall Out Boy and more, as well as a special inside look at Disney’s newest park, Shanghai Disneyland, while Harrison Ford introduces new footage and shares news about the upcoming Star Wars land coming to Disney Parks.
Master of ceremonies Derek Hough, alongside Dancing with the Stars’ Witney Carson, will also perform a grand Main Street dance number — and you can expect a special guest appearance by a Disney icon! Other familiar celebrities from the World of Disney, including Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, and Bryce Dallas Howard, will also be on hand to preview their upcoming projects, and Frozen’s Josh Gad will take viewers on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of Disneyland’s best-kept secrets. (More on that here.) To get the run down on what’s in store, EW sat down with executive producers Evan Prager and Jesse Ignjatovic:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The special feels very similar to the ones Walt Disney himself used to host. How are you capturing that magic?
JESSE IGNJATOVIC: That was a jump off. When you see the very first frame of the special, it starts with the original graphic from The Wonderful World of Disney and transitions into the 60th anniversary graphic. Everything we’ve done since we started developing this in the summer time was to keep one foot in the archives and the history of Disney and to have that narrative carry through the show. As much as it’s contemporary, and you’re seeing today’s artists doing their versions of the music and they’re talking about Disneyland, we’re also basing it in from all that amazing footage from 1955 when the park opened and from before when Walt Disney created the studio. It was really important to us to have that narrative weaving through the show.
You have a wealth of material to showcase during the special. How hard was that to narrow down what you’re going to feature? Are you trying to get as much as possible in?
PRAGER: It is a challenge, for sure. It’s also a network primetime show. We want to make sure there’s a great mix of entertainment. We wanted to do a bunch of musical performances, which means that’s taking up a big chunk of the show.
IGNJATOVIC: Obviously the music is such a big part of Disney, so it’s making sure you touch on some of those big, famous songs that everyone knows that are Disney, whether it’s from the films or the most recent films, like Frozen. It’s about the breath of the music and also the animation. There’s so much Disney animation. One of the packages is “You’ve got to Have Heart,” and that’s looking at the Disney animators and how you bring these characters to life. They’re so human that you feel the feelings. We have another package called “Girls Rule,” which is about the strong female characters throughout the years at Disney. We have some contemporary artists and actors talking about them. The one thing we’re celebrating the most is Disneyland. Disney is weaved throughout, but it’s the park’s 60th, and we keep coming back to it.
PRAGER: We were really conscious of trying to make sure there was the proper amount of archive packages, as well as some of the new stuff like having Josh Gad walk around and show some of the secrets of the park today.
IGNJATOVIC: That’s part of Josh Gad’s “Behind the Magic” piece, where he takes the viewers into these places [like Club 33 and the Dream Suite], which is awesome. The first time I went into Walt’s apartment, it’s like going into Graceland where it’s frozen in 1955. It’s amazing to feel his presence.
Did you have a lot of stars coming to you wanting to be involved?
IGNJATOVIC: Yeah, everyone seems to have their Disneyland/Disney World story. With Sir Elton, it was really exciting. The offer went out and there was an immediate response of, “How do we make this happen?” It was down to scheduling. He really wanted to be part of this show, and it worked out, thank goodness. He did two songs for us, which is spectacular. We were able to do it during park hours, so the audience here got a real treat, and with the scale of fireworks and projections on the castle.
PRAGER: Other artists are fans, like Fall Out Boy wanted to do “I Wanna Be Like You.” Jessie J is a huge fan. Jessie J was just a matter of working out her schedule, because she was on Grease: Live. She wanted to make it happen and made it happen coming right from their dress rehearsal to do the show with us, because she really wanted to be a part of it. Then Tori Kelly wanting to do “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit. Everyone has their song or connection to Disney, so everyone made an effort to really be a part of it.
Can you talk about what Derek Hough is doing as master of ceremonies?
IGNJATOVIC: He’s doing two huge tentpole performances, one that kicks off the show and one right in the middle of the show, which are epic and really touch upon those big Disney songs that we all know and love. He’s setting up the night and introducing the presenters. He’s such an inclusive person; he makes everyone feel a part of it. The energy in there was so great, and he made the audience feel even more part of it. Everyone there is a Disney fan. He was the perfect person for the show.
The special seems very nostalgic, but you also get to unveil the future of the park with Harrison Ford introducing Star Wars land. How much will you get to show since its in such early stages?
IGNJATOVIC: Enough to get people super exciting, but leaving you wanting more. We’re still negotiating a trip to Shanghai. I want to see that in person! [We’re] huge Star Wars fans. It was really easy, because I think Harrison wanted to be a part of it. He was excited. The reaction to Harrison was massive. That was honestly one of the easiest things. He was so into doing it.
You’ve revealed quite a bit about the special, but do you have any surprises you’re trying to keep under wraps?
IGNJATOVIC: There’s an amazing moment with a huge Disney icon that I think is a show-stopper, so that’s something to look out for
Was there anything that was off limits?
PRAGER: Here or there, maybe little things. But it was a matter of, this is an operation that is ongoing 365 days a year. It was really a matter of trying to work within what they do every day. There were a couple little things that we couldn’t creatively come up with the right way to integrate it into the show, but for the most part, it’s been really good. We’re showing a sneak peek of Star Wars land! They’re opening the doors!
Will the special reveal the name of the Star Wars land?
IGNJATOVIC: Tune in for the second hour of the show.
What was your first big Disney memory?
IGNJATOVIC: I always think back to when my parents took me the first time, I was probably like 6, and going into the Tiki Room. You’re a kid, and all of a sudden these animals are coming to life. I just remember my father has a thick accent, saying, “You better look on the top of your head! Something just landed on your head!” I thought the bird pooped on me. It was so believable. That, and then the robot Lincoln. I thought it was Abe Lincoln! Disneyland has that ability when you’re a child to make all these things come to life, and I never forgot that.
PRAGER: I’m from New York. I came out here when I was 7 or 8. I just remember it seeming so epic. This was an entire world. Now I have two kids of my own. Being able to take them and have them see it for the first time and they love it, that is what’s making it even more special now.
The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60 airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.