Disney on Ice: The Good, The Bad, and The Fishy

28 Dec

Finding NemoIt is a somewhat embarrassing fact of my Disney obsession: I feel the need to attend Disney on Ice virtually every time it comes to town. When Broke Hoedown Jr was younger, I could kinda pass it off on him. Everybody understands a mom taking her 5-year-old to the cute little ice show, right? But now that he’s eleven, and tall for his age, it’s impossible to hide the fact that I’m the one who really wants to go. On the way in, I asked him whether we should perhaps bring his younger cousins along next time. He saw right through my ploy, and told me that if he wasn’t embarrassed to be there without a little kid, why should I be? He even asked me why I hadn’t brought my Pal Mickey (truth is, I would’ve brought him if I’d thought of it).

Now, I wouldn’t keep going to these things if there wasn’t something good about them, and today’s show was no exception. Today, we saw Disney on Ice: Finding Nemo (or, as Mr Broke Hoedown prefers to call it, Finding Nemo On Ice). It had the excellence in costumes, choreography, and scenery to which we have become accustomed. (I wish I could have gotten a few good pictures; I’d obeyed the warning on my ticket that said “no cameras allowed,” and then watched with some frustration as everybody around me snapped away merrily with their good cameras, and all I had was my Blackberry.) While some scenes just couldn’t come across right on the ice (such as Marlin and Dory inside the whale), others were whimsical, almost delightful. The jellies came across just right, and the stage full of twirling little turtles was almost too cute to bear. And you know that I cheered and waved when Mickey and friends skated onto the stage, right?

Cute Little Turtles

Being a Disney on Ice veteran viewer, I knew what I was getting myself in for in terms of the plot. It’ll always be cute and cheesy, sometimes including a truncated version of one or more Disney movies. But something felt a little more wrong than usual about the adaptation of Finding Nemo . . . and Broke Hoedown Jr, in all his wisdom, was the one who pointed it out to me: Two key scenes of the film, in which the moral of the story becomes clear, had both been omitted, and as a result, Marlin came across as simply a worrywart, instead of a parent undergoing a serious existential crisis.

The first scene we missed was, in fact, the very first scene, which lays the foundation for the central crisis in the film: Can one survive terrible loss and still embrace life? And the second major missing scene was the “swimming down” moment very late in the film, where Marlin synthesizes all that he’s learned, and finally lets his child lead the way.

Am I being too hard on poor corporate Disney on Ice by chiding them for omitting these two distressing scenes from a whimsical production, created for the enjoyment of little kiddies? Well, I would have thought so if I hadn’t seen Finding Nemo: The Musical at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The staging and music is every bit as child-friendly, and I wouldn’t hesitate a moment before taking a small child to see it. Yet the creators of this adaptation (better known for creating Avenue Q) kept the spirit of the movie alive, with the angst and fear providing the backdrop for the very real letting-go that every parent in fact must eventually do.

Sure, children can enjoy the fun of Finding Nemo without understanding Marlin’s essential conflict. But if they do, they miss the chance to understand the world a little more deeply, and perhaps even (gasp!) have a little glimpse into the emotional world of their parents. I asked my son what he thought parents should do if they didn’t think their kids could handle the opening scene of the film, and he told me they should just skip it until their kids were old enough to handle it. His words exactly: “If parents can’t stand the heat, they should stay out of the game.”

Making matters worse, I found myself pondering the “Disney-fication” of Broadway, about which I’m not the first to worry. The family sitting behind me kept marveling aloud (very loudly, in fact) about how inexpensive the Disney on Ice tickets were, in comparison to seeing a Broadway show. The more they went on, and the more detail they went into, the more it became clear that they saw the two as cultural equivalents. . . . and I had to wonder how far they’d take this. When their children were older, would they think they could skip the new Tony Kushner play, because their kids had seen Beauty and the Beast on tour? Would Shakespeare and Albee take a back seat to High School Musical in Concert? I need a little fabulous as much as the next person, but life would be a bleaker place without Angels in America and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It scared me in the same way I get scared when I hear someone say (without irony) that they don’t really need to visit London, because they’ve already been to Epcot’s UK pavillion.

I’d still “FastPass” Disney On Ice: Finding Nemo, especially for Disney freaks like me who are seriously jonesing for a fix, and whose kids get exposure elsewhere to satisfying narrative and the fine arts. After all, if I’d expected real theatre from Disney on Ice, I’m sure I’ve gotten what I deserved. But please, as a note to the people sitting behind me, and to all those who care about the fine arts: Let’s remember that all that glitters is not gold, and that fancy pyrotechnics are no substitute for good storytelling.

2 Responses to “Disney on Ice: The Good, The Bad, and The Fishy”

  1. sambycat December 28, 2007 at 5:26 pm #

    well put. i too fear those that have that type of feeling about epcot. i like going to disney because of the park and all it offers not because i think i’m gleaning some kind of cultural experience. conversely, i think the friends i have that don’t “get it” also can’t see the joy of visiting disneyland, say, and assume that i’m one of the folks you describe!

  2. Doc December 28, 2007 at 7:04 pm #

    Nice insight with regard to London. I used to live outside of London and traveled back and forth to Europe regularly. As much as I love Epcot World Showcase, it is only a snapshot. It is nothing like the real thing, and a nice Merlot taste oh so much better when it is enjoyed at a cafe in Paris.

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