ORLANDO — You have to hand it to Disney. After inventing the feature-length animated movie all the way back in 1937 with “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs,” winning the first Academy Award nomination for Best Picture featuring an animated movie with “Beauty And The Beast” in 1991 and now breaking box office records in 2013 with “Frozen,” it would appear that conquering one medium just wasn’t enough of a triumph.
Disney, of course, took on Broadway years ago, seamlessly transferring movie hits like “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Mary Poppins” into Broadway smashes. Now along comes “Disney on Ice Presents Frozen”, an expansion of the 2013 3D computer-animated musical fantasy-comedy film that was produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures.
The story, taken from Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” might eventually find its way to Broadway as well (not to mention the potential for tons of direct-to-video sequels). In the meantime, though, it’s hard to deny that the ice-covered stage inside the Amway Center arena is the ideal location for a story about a princess lost in a kingdom that has become trapped in eternal winter (in July yet!), who sets off on an epic journey with the help of a brave iceman, his pet reindeer, and a comedic snowman.
In fact, on a steamy September night, inside a very well air-conditioned Amway arena, it was hard to deny the sublime charm of watching it repeatedly snow – and noticing the sheer excitement on the faces of the little ones in the audience watching those faux flakes come down. Snow in Florida in September – how do you beat that?
One way is to create the kind of charming and extravagant scenes that “Disney on Ice Presents Frozen” is able to offer us, including a spectacular dance inside a Russian kingdom. Ice skating lends itself remarkably well to the scenes of the great festivities that are a part of the coronation of Elsa, the princess of Arendelle. There’s an irresistible energy and spirit to these scenes that make it all spellbinding – and this is very early in the story, meaning there’s so much more to come.
There was always more than a bit of darkness within those Hans Christian Andersen tales, from “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” to “The Little Match Girl,” that made them feel quite different from the sugary treat we normally expect from children’s tales — and Disney doesn’t shy away from that in “Frozen.” In fact, this seems like the ideal creative partnership, especially when you think back on those moments in the earliest Disney animated features that haunt so many children’s nightmares — Snow White screaming in terror as the huntsman raises a knife to cut out her heart, Pinocchio crying in fear as he turns into a donkey, Bambi crying for his mother who has been shot and killed by hunters. The world is indeed a scary place at times.
And so it is, at times, with “Frozen.”
The giant inflated snow creature that lurches on stage had the little children in the audience on edge, but a far more impressive moment came when the Princess Anna and the iceman Kristoff are chased by a pack of ravenous wolves. The ice skaters playing the wolves manage to seem fierce and threatening, even as they gracefully skate across the ice. It’s one of numerous scenes that are so impressively staged that “Frozen” is likely to prove as appealing to the adults as to the tiny ones.
This being a Disney production, the story provides a nasty villain, a suspenseful ending, and plenty of sentimentality. But it’s also the ideal choice for a Disney on Ice production, created with the maximum amount of imagination and charm. Of course, there are also songs, lots of songs from the movie, and the kind of rousing ending that Disney is known for.
But it’s also a real joy to see how well this particular story translates to an icy arena and the skills and talents of actors who also manage to be extraordinarily good at skating. Even if you don’t have children, chances are you’ll love this production.
“Disney on Ice Presents Frozen” is being performed at the Amway Center today and Sunday, with shows at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Amway is at 400 W. Church St. in downtown Orlando.
Contact Freeline Media at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..