Somewhere, beyond the sea – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park to be exact – you will find a whale of a stage show. Performed five times a day at the Theater in the Wild in DinoLand, U.S.A. is Finding Nemo – The Musical. This lively 40 minute production features original songs, acrobats, puppets, and plenty of bubbles (“my bubbles”).
Finding Nemo – The Musical was written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez .You may recognize this husband and wife team if you’ve heard of a small Disney Animation feature titled Frozen. The pair was asked by Disney to write a condensed version of Finding Nemo to replace Tarzan Rocks! at the Theater in the Wild. They wrote 14 original songs inspired by lines from the film, such as “Go With the Flow” and “Just Keep Swimming.” In order to fit the time restraint, Kristen Anderson-Lopez decided to focus on one theme, that the world is both dangerous and beautiful. This project was the first time that a non-musical Disney film was adapted for musical theatre. Robert Lopez brings over the concept of live puppetry from his Tony Award winning musical (albeit decidedly NOT family friendly) Avenue Q. The show is performed by puppeteer/actors utilizing a variety of puppeteering techniques, including rod (think Muppets), bunraku (large scale puppets with intricate features that often require multiple puppeteers) and shadow (flat articulated cut-outs). The puppeteer/actors are camouflaged to match their character, so the focus is on the actual puppet and not on the person controlling it, though there are cases where emphasis is placed on the vocal performance and the actor becomes the focus.
The theater space is large, with bench seating similar to other theater locations around Walt Disney World. It can fill up during busier times, and even during some not so busy times. I’ve visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park on slower days before, and the theater was still full by show time. This is a very popular show. Fastpass+ will allow you to enter the theater before standby, about 20 minutes before the show is scheduled to begin. The Cast Members will let you sit anywhere you want in the theater, but they still ask that you move to the end of whichever row you happen to choose. In addition to the main stage, there is a ramp that runs through the middle of the audience section about halfway through the audience. The characters utilize these areas during the performance, and many times they will interact with the audience as they do. I’ve had Chum the shark swim by for a closer look before. I would recommend arriving early or choosing this as one of your Fastpass+ selections, and then choosing a seat along the ramp and close to the front row, as these are the prime locations for interaction.
My only gripe about Finding Nemo – The Musical is that the exit area can bottleneck very easily. The building exits to a small courtyard that is also a restroom location, and has only one pathway in or out. When the show is over, the theater’s 1,500 guest capacity is released into this small courtyard, with many guests needing to use the convenient restroom after sitting through a 40 minute show (likely more than an hour if they’ve arrived when the doors opened). My suggestion is to use the restroom near Primeval Whirl if you need to, the facilities there will be much less crowded.
If you are a fan of Finding Nemo and also enjoy musical theatre, or if you just want a nice break to sit in the AC while touring the hottest park on property, (Am I the only one who thinks Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park is somehow hotter than the rest of the resort property?) then you need to add Finding Nemo – The Musical to your touring plan for your next visit. One bonus tip: listen closely to the seagulls as you exit, they aren’t saying “mine” this time.
(First photo from the author’s personal collection. Second photo from the personal collection of Aaron Rittmaster.)
Do you have any memorable experiences from Finding Nemo – The Musical? If so, I’d like to hear about it. Feel free to leave a comment here or Tweet me @JLShusterman.
Joshua Shusterman is United States Marine and has been stationed in both North Carolina and Hawaii. He is an avid Disney fan, and has taken several trips to Walt Disney World as well as Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, and Disneyland Resort. He has extensively researched military discount programs and offers from The Walt Disney Company, and loves to spread the word to his fellow service members. He can be reached on Twitter @JLShusterman or email at JLShusterman@Gmail.com.