Saturday, January 9, 2016

‘Finding Nemo – The Musical’ Raises the Bar for Theme Park Entertainment

By Rebekah Coley

It is common knowledge that the worldwide Disney Parks and Resorts are renowned for being a hub of thrilling attractions, delicious restaurants, and countless shops. Did you know that the parks also offer a variety of stage productions for the theatre lover/non-thrills seeking guest? If you’ve never gotten a chance to check out Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom production of Finding Nemo – The Musical consider putting this on your “must-do” list. Join us today for a full review of this amazing show that you absolutely won't want to miss...

Recently, I was able to go on a week-long trip to Walt Disney World with my boyfriend (now fiancé). Besides the obvious delight in getting engaged at the happiest place on Earth, I’d say that this was a highly successful trip for a variety of reasons. A coworker recently labeled me as a WDW “lifer” and I translate this to mean that I have been to Disney World more than once and don’t need to have a child to justify another visit. Being a “lifer", I have gone enough to have established “usual” places to dine, shop and visit within the Disney property. It is tempting to always revisit these places because not everyone can hop on a plane to Florida once a month (boo). Despite that, it is important for all fans to remember that you could spend weeks at WDW and still not try every experience. Keeping that in mind, my fiancé and I decided to make a concentrated effort to mix up our roster with a couple of new restaurants and park attractions. This turned out to be an excellent goal well worth achieving. In addition to gorging ourselves on lots of new and delicious park cuisine, we got the opportunity to see the parks themselves in a different light by seeking out different entertainment and rides. The attraction that most impressed me and left me wailing about all of the wasted years, was Animal Kingdom’s “Finding Nemo” musical...

If you are familiar with WDW’s Animal Kingdom, you’ll understand that although the park has grown since its opening in 1998, most people still cover it in a half-day. Yet, although the park is not stuffed with things to do, most of the attractions are well worth seeing. Specifically, I always made sure that I was able to catch the “Festival of the Lion King” production. Don’t get me wrong, this show is also spectacular and features a variety of highly skilled dancers and acrobats. I had also seen it about 4-5 times. Since my fiancé and I had planned to leave the park in the afternoon and we only had time for one sit-down show, we chose to finally see “Finding Nemo” the musical. After an unexpectedly impressive 40 minutes of theatre, we both insisted on buying the soundtrack and now here I am- writing a article about how ridiculously amazing this condensed musical was.

Don’t let my collection of Minnie Mouse ears fool you, I am quite aware that WDW has more than one show that is hopelessly tired and outdated. These are shows I still see for the sake of nostalgia while being well aware that they should be replaced on the spot. Even some of the newer shows still have left much to be desired. For example, I only enjoyed the “Frozen Sing-Along Celebration” show at Hollywood Studios because one of my best gal pals was able to go see it with me. Everyone in the audience (mostly) had to be aware that the show was uninspired, non-creative, and was thrown together with as much consideration as the disappointing “Frozen” segment of ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”. Even Disney’s actual Broadway musicals haven’t always found the elusive sweet spot of appealing to all ages while also pushing the limits of entertainment (e.g. the unsuccessful runs of the “Tarzan” and “The Little Mermaid”.) However, this show completely defies these past errors and is truly what every WDW stage show should strive to be.

First of all, let’s take a look at the visuals. Disney has struggled with finding ways to bring shows to life onstage when the stories don’t involve human characters. Some interpretations are artistically groundbreaking (such as “The Lion King” musical), but most of these animal-centered shows are elementary Disney-On-Ice productions where giant mascots skate around and wiggle while dialogue is being played over a speaker (not that I have first-hand experience seeing these… cough). “Finding Nemo” is told by fish so the production staff also had to figure out a way to create an underwater setting. These challenges were overcome by having the actors control large, artfully designed puppets. Puppets with graceful, ever moving arms and fins so that they floated in the “water” when they moved. In addition to the puppet mastery, the performers also flew around the stage hoisted by wires to imitate swimming. The actors themselves wore jumpsuits with colors that coordinated with their character. Similar to my experience seeing “Avenue Q” for the first time, I found myself watching these puppets more than their human counterpart. The scenery itself was vibrant and contained a backdrop screen to assist with particular scenes (e.g. the dentist tapping on the glass of the fish tank). To be honest though, the characters truly are the scenery and they needed little assistance to fill the stage with presence.

With the colorful stage set, let me now gush over how incredible the music is. Considering that the movie is not told through song, the production staff decided to use all original songs. I’m ashamed to say that I was turned off from initially seeing this show because the songs were unfamiliar. However, I was quickly won over five bars into the first tune. The original dialogue from the movie does lend itself to cute song titles and clever lyrics. From the Broadway-esque shark song “Fish Are Friends” to the Beach Boys-inspired number for Crush, “Go With the Flow”, each song is catchy, appealing, and unique. Afterwards, I found out that the songs were all composed by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez: the married duo that gained fame for their “Frozen” melodies. The truly interesting fact though is that Robert Lopez also happened to be the co-composer of both the “Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q” soundtracks. Mind blown. I’m pretty sure that Walt wouldn’t have overlooked this, but I for one am glad that Lopez’s talents for songwriting are diverse in nature.

With a solid score in place, Disney does a fabulous job of casting performers that sound eerily similar to the movie’s original voice actors. I feel that this was a wise choice on their part to imitate the movie as opposed to encouraging the actors to find their version of Dory or Marlin. The inconsistencies in character portrayal would fall flat for a show that runs several times a day with several different casts throughout the week. However, the re-imagined settings, puppetry, and original songs will more than satisfy the adult audience members who weren’t planning to see a Disney Junior level production. But yes, I also appreciated the creepily similar vocals.

Along with an award-winning collection of songs, the abridged script is equally well-written. For a forty-minute show that covers the entire movie, I was surprised to say that I never felt like the plot was rushed or forced. True, there isn’t a great deal of dialogue and some events are glossed over, but none of the truly character-building moments were cut. (For example, this is quite a contrast to Hollywood Studio’s tired production of “Beauty and the Beast” which axes the dramatic scene of Belle taking her father’s place in captivity.) This brief show is paced exceedingly well and is a refreshing change from other laughably short productions or concerts comprised entirely of movie medleys. Most importantly of all, this script has heart. In forty minutes, this show reminded me that unlikely friendships are possible, underdogs can find their inner strength, and the overprotective nature of a parent often comes from a place of deep, unyielding love.

If you are also a “lifer” and haven’t made it to “Finding Nemo” yet, put it on your “must-do” list for the next trek. This same recommendation also goes for anyone planning their once-in-a-lifetime WDW vacation. If a Florida trip isn’t in your foreseeable future, you can watch the full show in HD below...

(For your viewing pleasure, please remember to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player in the top left-hand corner of the page prior to playing the videos below if you are on a desktop computer.)

If you don’t have the time to watch, you can also listen to the entire soundtrack, which also includes show dialogue...

Either way, I am calling out to all Disney and musical lovers- Do not miss this show. Don’t make the same mistake I did and go fall in love with this show.... Right Now! You’re welcome :)


Rebekah Coley is a Pittsburgh native who has been obsessing over Disney films (and the corporation in general) for her entire life. Starting with a childhood of constantly dressing up in princess costumes, memorizing songs, and watching the newest Disney VHS tapes on repeat, her love and passion for Disney magic has not faded over time.

In addition to loving the most popular Disney movies, Rebekah has a soft spot for underrated works that didn’t receive the same fanfare (e.g. A Goofy Movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.) It is a passion of hers to remind other fans of their existence and excellence.

By day, Rebekah works in professional development and holds a Bachelors degree in Human Resources Management from Point Park University. By night, she performs in community theater musicals, reads and exercises compulsively, and strives to stay on top of any Disney-related news. As a lover of entertainment, Rebekah’s blogs focus on reviewing Disney’s theme park productions, stage adaptations, films, and books.

You can find additional examples of Rebekah’s work on her personal blog-

You can find all of Rebekah's articles here.

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