The latest Disney on Ice tour, celebrating 100 years of Disney animation, started when the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio fell on her butt and ended with Princess Anna from Frozen doing the same, but in between those rare pratfalls (and their gracious recoveries) there really was some unforgettable magic down on the ice. Not only was a truly impressive display of stagecraft and technical skating skill to be seen, but I got to witness what it was like to see a child enraptured by a hero creating live art. It’s the sort of thing I’ve seen countless times on people’s faces at, say, a concert, but for kids, who tend to see the world through the garish lens of cartoons, watching these stories recreated in a packed venue was extraordinary.
Let’s start with this: Frozen is still huge, you guys. I mean it is an ongoing concern in the hearts and minds of the youth of today. I did Rocky Horror for ten years and even I have never truly seen anything like it. Girls ten and under of every ethnicity from across our diverse city cavorted in the aisles as Elsa and Anna, and when the showcase of a condensed version of the film took center stage in the first act it was like God or Lemmy had showed up.
Like most fathers I’ve seen Frozen approximately 834 times, and the temptation to become cynical is always there. It melts away, though, when thousands of kids just lose themselves singing “Let it Go,” pouring their hearts out to the avatar of their favorite princess dancing on the ice below them. My own daughter was moved to tears as Anna froze and Elsa cried for her lost sister even though she’s seen this story resolved happily countless times before. That sort of total suspension of belief is good for our crusty old adult souls.
It’s nothing compared to the response to the brief Lion King segment that happened near the end of the second act, though. From a sudden darkness Rafiki emerged to the opening chant of “Circle of Life” and the applause and cheers drowned out even the response to “Let it Go.” I remarked to my wife how I was amazed such a relatively old film could still draw that emotional gasp, and she told me that it probably had a lot to do with the fact that people who watched the movie as kids were now sharing it with their kids, creating a multi-generational experience. So maybe we’re not so cynical after all, at least to judge by the audience.
There were some down notes. The Finding Nemo segment involved a strange merger of fish costume and skater that frankly looked like the sort of scientific experiment that gets a biologist’s funding cut and warrants a visit from the ethics committee. The second act started strong with a performance of “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin, which still brings a tear to my eye thinking about poor Robin Williams, but was otherwise somewhat brief and lackluster. The Toy Story segment was ultimately forgettable, though I did appreciate how well Mulan condensed into a ten-minute ice performance.
Other stories? Not so much. Beauty and the Beast is not a film that can retold in a few minutes of skating and be anything less than weird, though the fact that it segued into an excellent parade of prince and princess couple skating was very awesome. Aurora and Phillip were conspicuous in their absence, but it was otherwise one of the most compelling parts of the show.
Overall, the show was captivating and fun. When it was at its most representational, such as the waves in Finding Nemo and the avalanche in Mulan, it was at its best. Some of the more cartoonish aspects did shine. Aladdin’s magic carpet was brilliantly done, and sick as I am of Olaf I can’t deny that crafting a suit that can break into pieces and be skated in on stage was a really impressive trick. It was a magical time.
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Random Observation of My Daughter: They should do this with Doctor Who.
Text to my Wife During the Simba / Nala Couple Skate: Things are about to get furry AF.
Best Irony: Opening the show with a lecture on eating healthy and moving around while the audience sits for two hours and eats stadium food.
Disney on Ice is at NRG Park through Monday, April 18.