There are few concrete truths in this mixed up, crazy world, but one of them is that Finding Nemo – The Musical at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the best stage production at Disney World. In fact, I am so certain that I will not even explain my reasons…thanks for reading!
What!? You are dubious of my claim!? Okay, I’m about to drop a Nemo-shaped truth bomb on you.
Let’s start at the beginning: Many Disney parks productions are called “Broadway quality” by people who apparently don’t understand how good Broadway level shows actually are. In actuality, Disney’s productions are “very good theme park quality.” Finding Nemo, however, is actually of Broadway quality, and that starts with its creator.
No, I don’t mean the fine folks over at Pixar, even though they did a wonderful job creating the world in which Nemo, Marlin, Dory, Crush, and others inhabit in the motion picture. While a story is essential to great musical theater, the show is nothing without great music. If you are a fan of the movie Finding Nemo, you probably remember that it is not a musical.
To add the music for the 40 minute production, Disney went out and got Robert Lopez…yes, THAT Robert Lopez. Okay, you probably don’t actually know who he is, but odds are you have seen some of his work. Lopez co-wrote two of the most innovative Broadway musicals of the past 20 years: Avenue Q and Book of Mormon (and if you don’t know them, you should be warned that they are most certainly not Disney and not safe for work). He has also contributed songs to South Park and The Simpsons, and he wrote the wonderful musical episode of the sitcom Scrubs.
Lopez has also done quite a few family friendly projects, as well, such as Wonder Pets, and he has created music for Phineas and Ferb and the most recent Winnie the Pooh movie. Lopez has been nominated for an Emmy and has won three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and a Daytime Emmy. This guy is a pro.
The result is four original songs (with a few reprises and such) that are catchy, enjoyable, catchy, well constructed, fun, and really catchy (I am a lock to be singing “Big Blue World” for hours following a viewing). The songs expertly mix humor, drama, and tension, all while pulling tidbits straight from the well loved movie the show is meant to represent.
The music is not the entire show, though, for the characters have to be represented, as well. Since these are non-human characters, putting their likenesses on stage was no small challenge. The result is a mix of puppetry styles, with all of the main characters being directed by their puppeteer/actors live on stage. The idea of seeing both the large puppets and the puppeteers at the same time seems like it would be jarring and distracting, but it adds quite a bit to the performance. Seeing the actors deliver their lines, sing, and emote really drives home the characters joy and pain…sunshine and rain (whoops, broke into a Rob Base track there).
The mechanics at play in Finding Nemo – The Musical are just as fascinating as the show itself. The actors having to also be puppeteers is one thing, but the complexity of the multitude of puppets using wires and poles and the creativity of the sets and ancillary characters really has to be experienced to be understood. As you can see by some of the pictures, this is not a sock puppets and cardboard stage production.
I have taken people to see this show who range in age from 8 weeks to mid-60s, and not one person has not enjoyed it (okay, the 8 week old slept, but he loved it at 1). It is a wonderful show with amazing talent and great music. It will make you laugh, and it will tug at your heart. What it will not do is disappoint.
Thanks for reading!