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Portable Magic: When Disney Comes to Town

by Blake Taylor

Soaking in small bits of Disney magic between trips right in your own community.

Sometimes the stretch between Disney trips can seem like forever.  We’ve all had those days when we just want to crank our Disney CDs at full blast with hopes we might be magically transported to Main Street USA.  We want a little bit of Disney magic, even just a few hours of it, to bridge the sometimes-long gap between vacations.  It was during one of these episodes a few years ago that I glanced at an ad in the paper (too late, though, alas) and realized that I could have had exactly that, as Disney On Ice was in town for the week.

Well, duh!  There ya go!  My parents used to take me to Disney On Ice every year (including my first time when I was two… in the second row… and the villains came out first and scared me silly), but naturally as my siblings and I grew older, we stopped going.  In recent years, though, we’ve started attending annually again.  And you know what?  It’s pretty neat.  Not only are we now old enough to appreciate from a mature perspective the magic that we were once so enthralled in, but it provides a quick Disney fix that’s hard to beat, no matter how loud that CD is cranked.

Here’s a rundown of some of the major ways that Disney spreads the magic of its Parks around country:

Disney On Ice

I feel like many Disney fans have never experienced Disney On Ice simply due to it being deemed for young children.  And while the target audience is definitely the younger crowd, there’s a lot to soak in for anyone who is a fan of Disney Parks and movies.  Disney On Ice (DOI …what a funny acronym!) has been running for over twenty-five years and is produced by Feld Entertainment (the same company that runs the Ringling Bros. Circus).  Most of the time, DOI presents verbatim translations of Disney films, just on ice.  Sometimes a whole show is devoted to one movie, but most of the time multiple properties are combined into one show so as to attract a broader market.  For instance, one show currently touring brings together Cars, The Little Mermaid, Tinker Bell, and Toy Story 3—a perfect quartet representing a sampling of Disney’s four biggest franchises at the moment.

That brings us to the next eye-opening aspect of Disney On Ice: its ability to tell us what’s currently the bee’s knees in the world of Disney.  My family generally sees most new Disney animated movies, but since there are no young kids in our home anymore, I no longer have an accurate gauge of what Disney things kids have become obsessed with these days…. until I go to Disney On Ice.  For example, I saw Tangled in theaters in 2010 and thought it was a good movie.  I enjoyed the characters and songs, but I didn’t consider it much further beyond being a decent film.  But then I went to Disney On Ice and saw that Rapunzel received more applause than all of the other eight princesses in the room… and I got the impression that maybe this unsuspecting movie must really mean something to the Disney legacy and deserves a closer look.

For the most part, DOI sticks to the books as far as how the movies are translated to the ice in terms of story.  However, since an entire ice rink is at the show’s disposal, the medium is used to its fullest advantage possible and makes for some entertaining sequences that you didn’t see in the movies.  Some of these are just plain cool (like Rapunzel and Flynn Rider doing awesome tricks and stunts with Rapunzel’s extremely long hair hanging from the ceiling) while others are admittedly a bit questionable at first (like Jessie and Bullseye dancing to “These Boots Are Made For Walking”).  But more often than not, the creativity the ice offers comes to the show’s advantage.  Other really neat sequences I’ve seen were a march of the brooms from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and a busy New Orleans number from The Princess and the Frog that made the movie’s opening song enjoyably seem a lot like the opening of Beauty and the Beast, which it doesn’t feel like at all in the film.

Disney Live

Perhaps the best way to describe Disney Live (also produced by Feld Entertainment) is that it’s Disney On Ice without the ice, though there are several other distinct differences.  Disney Live (DL) began just several years ago and has much less history than DOI, and usually presents original stories rather than retellings of Disney movies.  Each production usually involves Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy wanting to do something (like put on a talent show or share magic tricks) and enlisting other Disney characters to help them, much like the castle shows in the Magic Kingdom.  There is occasionally an exception to this format (like the Phineas and Ferb show that’s currently touring), but those exceptions are few and far between.

Overall I tend to enjoy DOI more than DL.  Not only does the ice open the floor for a lot more fun in terms of big song numbers and that level of spectacle that we’re familiar with at the Parks, but I’ve noticed DL tends to have a significantly smaller cast than DOI.  I’m not sure the reason for this, but you’ll see a lot more characters at DOI than you will at DL.  Additionally, Disney Live tends to be geared more toward the Disney Junior preschool crowd, with a lot of open questions asked to the audience like on preschool TV (“I can’t find the hat. Do any of you see where it went?”) and an emphasis of interactivity (like dancing, clapping, and shouting in your seat).  That’s not to say that DL is not an enjoyable experience—it’s quite fun!—I just think most of the Disney fans who frequent WDW Radio would prefer DOI if you don’t have young children.  If you have a choice, I’d go with DOI, but DL is still a very magical time.


Disney Theatrical

An entire independent realm unrelated to Disney On Ice and Disney Live is Disney Theatrical (DT), the branch of The Walt Disney Company responsible for the Broadway productions and the successive tours those Broadway shows take.  Right now the shows on tour throughout the country are Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Mary Poppins, with the latter two also being on Broadway in New York along with Newsies.  These are definitely more sophisticated than DOI and DL, delivering a more mature and adult experience with emphasis on music and performance rather than appearances by favorite characters.

With DT shows, I often get the same feeling of Disney magic that I get when I watch the fireworks or a nighttime spectacular in the Parks—a warm, gentle, emotional magic factor that I know all you WDW Radio peeps are quite familiar with.  Whereas with Disney On Ice and Disney Live, I’m all “Disney is AWESOME! Rock on!,” with Disney Theatrical, I’m more “Wow, this is why Disney is so special.”

It’s important to note that a DT show is less likely to visit your town as frequently as DOI or DL.  While the other two both visit annually to the places they tour, the Broadway shows generally roll in once every two to three years, sometimes longer and sometimes shorter.  It’s a bit difficult to predict their frequency to any given city, but you’ll definitely know their arrival dates far more ahead of time than DOI or DL, sometimes over a year in advance.

Wrapping Thing Up

Disney On Ice, Disney Live, and Disney Theatrical are all brilliant ways that the magic we all love so much about the Parks lives on and reaches even more Guests, but this time right where they live.  It’s pretty special to be able to hop in your car and know that Mickey Mouse is only 15 minutes away, especially if you can’t make it out to Florida as often as you’d like.  Or, even better, think about all the kids who have never been on a Disney vacation who get to have a small sampling of that magic through these shows.  That’s what so cool about these productions.  They’re practically a mini-Disney World.  In your own town!  Possibly minutes from your home!  There’s a lot to appreciate.  Doi!


Blake is a college student focusing on Creative Writing and Media Studies. He enjoys making his family of six watch the parade on Main Street and then sprint to Frontierland in time to see it again. You can follow Blake’s random Disney ramblings on Twitter at @blakeonline, or at BlakeOnline.com.