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First Look: Mickey and the Magical Map

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The Disneyland Resort invited local media for a behind-the-scenes look at Mickey and the Magical Map, the new stage show coming to Disneyland's Fantasyland Theater on May 25. The show marks the return of the Fantasyland Theater as a true live-performance venue following several years of use as the Princess Fantasy Fair meet-and-greet. Now that the Princesses have their own new home outside the walls of Sleeping Beauty Castle, the theater has been renovated with an all-new sound system, new control booth and a high-tech LED screen that sets the stage, and becomes a character of sorts, for Mickey and the Magical Map.

Disney says the new show "represents Disney storytelling at its most thrilling," and there's not much more I can add after today's preview. With rehearsals underway for less than three weeks and quite a bit of technical work still to be done in the theater, we had just a very brief glimpse behind the scenes, and certainly not a full preview of the finished show. As such, it's only fair to reserve any comments until the show debuts for the theme park audience in May.

Our tour began inside the Fantasyland Theater for a look at two video segments from the show, and a brief discussion of the technology of the renovated theater. It's clear that a lot of effort went into reclaiming the theater as a performing venue, and there were lots of statistics thrown around - the 6-panel LED screen has over 1 million light sources and weighs over 10,000 pounds per section. There are 6 miles of fiber optic cable controlling the show. The 9.1-channel surround sound system uses 61 speakers.

But as proud as the show directors seem to be of the technology, they are equally emphatic that the gee-whiz factor is not the story of the show. We heard it several times from several people, "the technology always needs to be in service to the story." Disney provided this video clip showing just a few seconds of the video screen:

The screen (which is clearly designed to split into sections and move during the show, though that wasn't shown during our preview) is used as a backdrop, but also serves as a character (Spot, the unfinished section of the map that Yensid references at the end of the video clip above), and then seems to absorb Mickey Mouse as he starts his journey. It sounds like a neat concept, and I'm looking forward to seeing how well it plays for an audience.

After visiting the theater, we moved to a backstage rehearsal studio where we watched performers rehearse part of the Jungle Book sequence from the show. I've noted before that the story for this show sounds like something straight from a Disney Cruise Line production (which is not a bad thing, just a comment), and I had that sense of deja vu watching this rehearsal. Mickey and the Magical Map uses an articulated King Louie character which can "sing" along and blink his eyes. The same character was introduced last year in the Wishes stage show on the Disney Fantasy.

While there are other similarities between the two productions, it sounds like the Disneyland show is taking a new look at some familiar themes. The Jungle Book sequence has a Bollywood-inspired musical overlay, and will feature a live trumpet player interacting with King Louie. Disney provided this video from the rehearsal presented for the media:

We don't have full details of the other five scenes, but know that one includes a Princess medley of Pochahontas ("Just Around the Riverbend"), Mulan ("Reflection") and Rapunzel ("I See the Light"); another goes "Under the Sea" with Ariel and friends; one visits Lilo & Stitch for "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride;" and one includes Tiana from "The Princess and the Frog." Disney released this video of music producer Bruce Healey and the orchestra recording session for the new show.

After the previews, we gathered for a presentation by and question-and-answer session with Kevin Eld (vice president of creative entertainment for Walt Disney Imagineering) and Michael Jung (vice president of creative theatrical development for Walt Disney Imagineering). The two spoke extensively about their careers, and their perceptions of theme park entertainment, before coming to work for Disney. Both said that they were initially surprised at just how much entertainment was presented within the theme park environment, with Jung noting that more people saw Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular in the show's first year at Disney California Adventure than saw Cats during its entire Broadway run.

Eld spoke of his first visit to Disneyland Paris before coming to work for Disney, and watching the reaction of children in the audience during one of the stage shows. Now, in creating new entertainment for the Disney parks and cruise line, he said that his team always strives to remember who their audience is and to present entertainment in unexpected ways.

Like World of Color, Jung said the technology used to create the magic map offers the producers the opportunity to change the show to update sequences as new Disney movies are released, to incorporate additional Disney characters or even add holiday overlays. Eld said this is especially important in creating a show for Disneyland, which has such a high percentage of repeat visitors.

The session ended with a final question which may inadvertently have provided more insight into the future of Disney theme park entertainment than the Disney publicists may have intended. A reporter from a Spanish-language outlet asked if there had been any consideration given towards presenting bilingual shows, and Eld responded "we have to acknowledge that it's inevitable." He discussed the efforts at Disneyland Paris, where some shows are presented in as many as six languages, or Hong Kong Disneyland, where visitors speak different dialects of Chinese. While conceding that Disneyland had a similar need, he cautioned that it's "important not to underestimate the challenge."

Mickey and the Magical Map opens to the public on May 25. A cast of 50 singers and dancers (two casts of 24, chosen from over 900 performers who turned out to audition in Los Angeles), will present the show five times a day.

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  1. sjhanksaz's Avatar
  2. Mouse Wizard's Avatar
    Speaking of bilingual shows...

    Back in December in San Francisco when Disney hosted the Christmas tree lighting at pier 39, with the fan five doing various songs and dances before the tree was lighted. The biggest cheer for anything was when they began Feliz Navidad.

    Bigger than cheers for Carsland, Disneyland, and Mickey Mouse!