This is an early look at our review of the new Mickey and the Magical Map stage show at Disneyland. Additional information and photos are coming soon, so please check back later this evening for the full story with images.
For seven years, the Disney Princesses, aka the Royal Mafia, held court inside the shell of the old Fantasyland Theatre. The last bit of live theatre performed in this space, Snow White: An Enchanting Musical, was a high-concept piece of stage work that featured elaborate sets and songs from the classic 1937 film, but left with little fanfare. The celebrated heritage of live performance at the Disney parks was set aside in favor of a princess meet-and-greet that proved enormously lucrative for the park. But, with the royal moneymakers relocated to a more permanent and appropriate location in the charming Fantasy Faire Village, the theatre became available, once again, to stage some Disney magic.
Enter the stage musical, Mickey and the Magical Map, an all new, technologically advanced stage show. The storyline in most Disney theme park shows is superfluous, and mainly serves as framework from which to hang a series of musical numbers that feature our favorite Disney songs. In this case, we meet classic Apprentice Mickey. He wants, more than anything, to be a real sorcerer. Yen Sid (Disney spelled backwards, get it?) is the head wizard, who has created a magical living map that transports its creators to exciting new lands of fun and adventure. One day, Mickey discovers an unpainted spot on the map and decides to prove himself as a master wizard by filling in the gap. The plot is then set in motion, and we are treated to a series of often highly entertaining musical numbers, as Mickey learns what it is to be a real wizard.
The musical’s centerpiece, the magical map, is a 35,000+ square inch, multi-tiered video screen that performers interact with seamlessly to wonderful effect. The digital images are bright and clear, with characters appearing to literally step in and out of its surface. The character Yen Sid is actually fully portrayed on this screen as he speaks with Mickey throughout the performance. While at first the concept seemed dubious and perhaps a cheat, it works. The Yen Sid character is large and in scale against the Mickey performer without seeming too menacing. One problem, however is the rudimentary looking, rendering of Yen Sid himself. Polish on his appearance seems to be missing, as the computerized textures of his figure seems far more plastic than other elements on the map. It’s not a deal breaker, but certainly something that sticks out.
The show opens with an original bit of music that is fine, if not a bit forgettable in comparison to the far more catchy tunes that follow. We are first transported to a spectacular destination with an articulated-head King Louie performer singing “I Wanna Be Like You.” This is a super strong, fun number that gives the show a great beginning.
We are next transported to three far off kingdoms. A beautiful trio between Pocahontas, Mulan, and Rapunzel occurs with their songs and stories intertwining. This is another wonderful number, in which the Magical Map plays a lovely supporting role, accompanying the performers with complimentary imagery. This is another highpoint to the show.
Then, well, things go a little off course. “Under the Sea,” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, is next, but seems as though it is now a compulsory song for any current Disney montage production. Backup dancers stream in from the wings of the stage as the lead singer operates an awkward Sebastian the crab puppet at waist height. Bubbles stream from the ceiling as dancers invade the audience. The number ends on its patented high note. But, the song’s over-use with the peculiar puppetry doesn’t help to create something interesting, but rather just familiar.
Stranger still is the next number, “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride.” Up until this point in the show, we have seen at least one character in each number. But, here, the troupe of limber dancers cavort only with the bright Hawaiian graphics emanating from the map and a few steel frame surfboards. The song comes after a major plot point and is built up to be a big number. Instead, it is just OK. Not horrible, but not remarkable, and completely missing any of the characters from the film. No actors playing Lilo or Stitch, just projections. An odd choice, to be sure.
Thankfully, the plot finds resolution and Mickey finds his way in the Wizard Workshop. The closing number in the grand finale does a good job of bringing the show back on track with a rousing rendition of “Dig A Little Deeper” from The Princess and the Frog. Strangely enough, Tiana is the only character from that film to make in appearance in what should be the big finish. The set reveal for this scene is wonderful, and is more than adequate, allowing the show to end on a grand note. But it would add real weight to end the show if just one or two more familiar faces from that wonderful film were added.
In the end, the confetti cannons explode, the audience cheers and everyone has a big smile on their face. And that’s what is really important. This is sold Disney fun. Yes, Mickey and the Magical Map has a few very fixable flaws, but is still a wonderfully entertaining stage show, in the grand tradition of some of the original Disney stage musicals that we have seen in the park in the past. Most importantly, it is light years better than the Princess meet-and-greet-and-hair-and-shop that was here before! In fact, we can easily imagine fans falling in love with this charming stage show, much in the way DCA’s Aladdin has its loyal following.
Mickey and the Magical Map will run daily in the park starting Saturday, May 25th.
Daily Showtimes Starting May 25:
11:30 a.m., 12:45 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 4:25 p.m., 5:40 p.m.