As a practicing cynic, I was NUBI’s natural choice to attend the Wednesday premiere of Disney on Ice at the Barclaycard Arena. Unfortunately for me, the other guy in our party bailed at the last minute and I was left to endure the experience as a lone male with 3 girls.
One man, abandoned by his comrade, deep in unfamiliar territory for 2 hours (including toilet break). This is my story…
It was clear from the start that I was not the target audience for this piece. All around me in every direction and underfoot were small children in costume dragging their parents this way and that. For all I knew I was the only childless male in the house, and as I glanced at a few of the dads on the way to my seat I thought “There but for the grace of God”.
Still, I had seen a couple of Disney films recently and enjoyed them, so I settled in and decided to try and submit myself to the experience – in for a penny, in for a pound, and in any case squirming would only make things worse. I was ready for the sheer magic of seeing my childhood classics reenacted on ice to melt my frost-bitten heart.
Breaking The Ice…
The night was split into 4 segments, each recreating moments from Toy Story 3, The Little Mermaid, Cars, and Frozen, tied together with interludes featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy as compères. The production values were absolutely on point, and even as an adult and a theatre veteran I was able to suspend my disbelief long enough to avoid wondering about the people inside the costumes.
This was especially true of the non-human characters such as Slinky Dog or Olaf, whereas Buzz Lightyear could have used chest padding to match the look of the animation (the iconic wing backpack also never unfolded, which was disappointing).
Not knowing what to expect, I was hoping that the show would include new material, but instead it seems Worlds of Enchantment focuses more on interpreting existing scenes from the films. This may be fun for young children who would rather see what they know, but for the parents who have probably sat through countless showings of Cars or Frozen on a Sunday (as my brother-in-law has with Aladdin) there may be more than a creeping sense of deja vu.
This approach also hurt the show as a whole as each segment couldn’t decide whether it was a medley of musical numbers or a truncated retelling of the film, and as a result the stories being told felt incredibly disjointed. I know a 3 year-old may not care as much about narrative flow and consistency, but damn it I am a patron of legitimate theatre and I expect the plot to make sense!
A Chilly Reception?
Toy Story 3 took up the majority of the first half, essentially a whistle stop tour of the film. This was one of the most visually involved properties in the show and children are sure to enjoy touches such as The Claw (oooh) and the spectacle of the toy characters come to life.
Unfortunately, even being the longest segment, this still suffered from pacing problems and felt like a disjointed collection of story beats that could confuse some viewers.
The Little Mermaid got the short end of the stick when it came to running time, and the ice skating aspect seemed shoehorned in. The necessities of the art form completely destroyed any illusion of mermaidery as Ariel quite clearly had two legs pre-metamorphosis; what should have been a dramatic transformation was instead a change of tights.
I was also confronted with one of the most sanity-destroying sights on this earth, an impossible horror of Lovecraftian proportions: a fish…with legs! Fortunately I had time to recover during the interval.
Cars also got shafted on timing, and was definitely the shortest section of the four. The cars themselves were well-made and captured the look from the animation – sure to please the younger fans in attendance. However, the performance itself consisted of vehicles driving around in circles with a conspicuous lack of skating or anything ice related.
However, I did genuinely enjoy the Frozen segment. I hadn’t seen the film so the content still felt fresh to me, although from the countless Let It Go serenades I’ve been subjected to by my eternal torturers/friendship group I was expecting to like it the least. On the contrary, its story was easy to follow, the costume and production values were excellent, and it fit the ice skating medium hand-in-glove.
I was especially a fan of Olaf’s musical number “In Summer”, a tale of one snowman’s suicidal love for the sunny season featuring a colourfully costumed troupe of bees, flowers and butterflies. They contrasted well against the stark white of the Wintery set dressing and would be especially exciting for children, whom I assume are still fans of bright colours and comic relief characters. At least, that’s what I gathered from the last time my nephew came to visit and dominated the TV set with endless CBeebies reruns (no more Peppa, please!).
Let The Storm Rage On
I think the “On Ice” experience would have benefited from picking just the one show (Frozen), or at most two (such as Toy Story), as the viewing experience suffered from the timing constraints of packing four properties into two hours.
The production is also clearly and unabashedly for the seven and under crowd – which I haven’t been part of for a while – and may leave the twenty-something Disney hipster wishing they had watched the films again instead.
Look, I’m no kid and I’m no parent. My sense of childlike wonder has long since atrophied and only appears once under a full moon. I haven’t even seen two out of the four films being performed. No one should ever go into Disney On Ice expecting high art, but as a special outing for the well-behaved tiny human in your life you could do a lot worse than a visually dazzling show with all their favourite characters and moments performed ON ICE!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a song stuck in my head: “Let it go, let it gooo…”
Disney On Ice: Worlds of Enchantment is on at the Barclaycard Arena (formerly the NIA) until 1st November, and you can get your tickets here.