Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic
Directed and adapted by Jerry Bilik
O2 Arena, London
Disney tentacles have stretched far and wide since early success with Mickey Mouse shorts and, working at the frontier of animation technology, the first feature length Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It would be interesting to know how the creators of this show came to choose the content from the vast choice of material available; certainly they stuck to the animation catalogue and were aiming to please everyone or at least not offend anyone. Teenagers unsurprisingly fall through the net though, being too young to be nostalgic about their own childhood cartoon films and not interested in someone else's.
It would be impossible to know all the works from a generation-spanning 87 years of output (The Walt Disney Company was actually founded in 1923 but who's counting) but I am of an age where my interest in animated films waned from around The Aristocats and was not renewed until shortly after The Lion King and motherhood. Watching this show I was conscious of the knowledge gap.
For all that the excerpt from 1992 film Aladdin provided a turning chorus line of 22 high-kicking genie clones and a Genie-Aladdin duet that included a synchronised back-flip making for an impressive start.
The downsized story of Nemo the lost fish had none of the charm of the original and suffered from choreography which included far too much flapping of "fins", but Beauty and the Beast followed hot on its scales, and what sentimentalist could be disappointed with a romantic ice ballet to the "Tale as Old as Time" theme song.
The first big cheers of the evening were reserved for Woody, Buzz and Jessie of Toy Story and the cynic in me wondered whether the cheers were as much for the characters as the fact that it marked the end of a Come Dancing style sequence of love duets. This comprised the usual romantic suspects: Cinderella and Charming, Snow White and her Prince, Pocahontas and her hunter, a mermaid (I think) with her partner and Aladdin with his. For me this was a love duet or six too many though the various ways heroines were draped over and swung about by their cherished ones was technically impressive.
As Disney is a pan-global aggregation it was probably inevitable that there would be a politically correct multi-cultural celebratory something and we got one as the first act closer. I was never the target audience for a multi-national winter wonderland carnival populated with fur and sequined bedecked folk prancing in and out of archways and waving to the audience - a lot, REALLY a lot of waving; and when the auditorium darkened and the many arches lit up in a great lightbulb fest I was reminded of Harrods by night and pondered the show's carbon footprint rather than being awestruck as many around me were.
After interval wine (surprisingly hard to come by, O2 management take note!) and the opportunity to part with money for branded souvenirs (but strangely no Disney DVDs), we got a mini parade of many characters and then a potted Pinocchio complete with the Blue Fairy, a vision in fluttering chiffon flown in on a star, an extending nose and lots of Hi Diddle-dee-dees.
Gepetto having been restored to terra firma, a mutant grey coloured primate character (obviously from the inter Aristocats-Lion King era) sounded a gong that summoned ancestors of ancient China for a telling of the Mulan story. Somebody had been busy in the interval adjusting the sound levels and the clearer amplification together with a stepped up choreography that was both interesting and had dramatic purpose gave the second act the most memorable scenes of the evening.
Saving the best till last has always been a reliable approach and there was a swift pass through The Incredibles before we got to The Lion King, which continues to hold the title for the highest grossing hand drawn animation film in history.
Timon and Pumbaa set the scene for the eagerly awaited "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" romantic duet that took us right back to the prince and princess formula of the first act but this time with tails and a satisfyingly complex choreography. "The Circle of Life" accompanied all the performers coming on stage for a finale that culminated in Mickey's arrival, much more waving, fireworks and the Disney signature chorale of "When You Wish Upon A Star".
It can sometimes be a strange experience to sit in a huge auditorium and feel like you are the only person who is not "getting it" but I simply couldn't surrender myself entirely to the Disney machine. The links between the film stories are a necessary evil but the corny and contrived dialogue largely delivered by Mickey Mouse, with similarly squeaky "wife" Minnie, grated every time and the finger-wagging, repeated admonitions from Jiminy and friends were inappropriate and irksome. I don't need you to lecture me or my children thank you, Mr Cricket.
This show was an event of two halves: the half I didn't like and the half I did. Being 'Disneyed' for the evening was quite an experience and an enjoyable one thanks to the very talented skaters whose skills often surpassed the context of their performance. Disney On Ice is a visually striking, energetic and colourful entertainment and with the exception of teenagers there's something for everyone, "doesn't matter who you are". How's that for corny, Walt?
"Disney On Ice - 100 Years of Magic" runs until 31 October
Steve Burbridge reviewed this production in Newcastle
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti