Wednesday 19 December 2018

Icing on the Disney cake

Machiavelli aside, Disney is still pure showbiz value, writes Sam Healy Having been prodigiously wrist-slapped in Naomi Klein's No Logo, Walt Disney Inc. must surely be the corporate whipping boy of the decade. An institution whose characters were once loved unanimously and unconditionally, the Disney 'entertainment machine' is now often portrayed as a dangerous combination of naive surface and Machiavellian core.

This portrayal, though not without truth, misses a fundamental point. Disney was, is and probably always will be expert in entertaining children. Since the early days of mice and ducks, right up to Mulan and The Emperor's New Groove, the organisation has known exactly what makes sprogs froth with delight and this year's Disney On Ice show, arriving in Ireland later this month, is ample proof.

As might be expected from a troupe that is synonymous with America, everything in Disney On Ice is big. From the 150x70ft skating surface and 3000 miles of lighting cable to the 99 costumes and 31-strong cast, the entire production is a blitzkrieg on the snapper's capacity for awe.

This year it is the turn of Tarzan, The Lion King and the classic Jungle Book to be iced (a producer's in-joke, maybe: three tropical tales made Arctic).

After the sheer scale of the show has finished astonishing you, the skaters themselves take over. All of the principle performers are world-class figure-skaters or ballerinas, and all remark on the added challenge of maintaining gravity-defying fluidity of movement in a padded costume.

Robin Johnstone (Jane in Tarzan) says hers "is definitely the most physically demanding role (she has) ever skated." The skating in Tarzan is quite literally breathtaking: in the chilly air next to the skating surface, you can see little clouds as children pant with delight.

The speed and poise of Tarzan (Stephane Morel) and Jane, particularly in their duet pieces, are worthy of classical ballet. And who ever saw Nureyev scramble up a grapevine? I confess to a preference for the early-era Disney films, whose sentimentality I find a little less shrink-wrapped than the modern works, so The Jungle Book is my icy highlight.

Far from being translated verbatim from the film, however, the D.O.I. version is totally reworked, with painstaking choreography and a swing reworking of the entire score. The result is a visually mesmerising extravaganza.

Characters from The Lion King, meanwhile, frame the whole performance. The particoloured monkey Rafiki and young Simba discuss various elements of the leonine condition asprequel to each tale.

Disney's stock in trade is imagination, and in a sense these ice-capades are a purer, more immediate form of this than the company's mass-media output. Ice-going kids see their favourite characters not mediated by a TV or cinema screen, not pre-recorded, but live and in the flesh.

* Disney On Ice runs at Millstreet, Cork from March 23 to April 1, and at The Point, Dublin from April 11 to 22.

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