“Disney on Ice” is a strange and impressive family outing

"Disney on Ice" features Disney character favorites. (Grant Pearsall/Snapper)

Grant Pearsall
Staff Writer

As a parent, you sometimes do things for your children that you cannot imagine would ever be part of your daily existence. There are the humdrum moments like tricking your offspring into eating healthy with celery masked with peanut butter as ‘ants on a log.’ Then there is the more dramatic moments– awake at 3a.m., driving around your colic-afflicted baby listening to a Phil Collins album on repeat hoping they fall asleep before you have to hear “Sussudio” one more time. Other times it means spending an afternoon seeing talented figure skaters dress up like cartoon princesses and giant foam headed mascots and skate around to award winning Disney music. For me, this time, it is definitely the latter of the bunch.

"Disney on Ice" features Disney character favorites. (Grant Pearsall/Snapper)
“Disney on Ice” features Disney character favorites. (Grant Pearsall/Snapper)

On a breezy, chilly afternoon in the verdant farmlands of Hershey, Pa. “Disney on Ice” opened to delight crowds both young and old. Outside the Giant Center, a sports arena adjacent to Hershey Park, families streamed across the expansive parking area, tiny hands clasping adult sized ones threading through cars in an en-mass exodus to locate The Mouse. Inside, pregnant mothers shepherded about their tiny flocks of boys and girls attempting to quickly pass by vendors peddling $25 plastic swords and faux pink beer steins full of shaved ice hoping to reach their seats before little ones took notice. Shortly after 3p.m. the lights dropped down on a partially filled ice-hockey arena that typically plays host to the Hershey Bears, an NHL farm team. The audience cheered– a chorus of tiny, chirpy voices. The big, big show had begun.

The “Disney on Ice” website describes the show as, “…one colossal party on ice, with all your favorite Disney friends.” This is not entirely inaccurate, though it may be more appropriate to say that it is nearly a century of Disney animated films and intellectual properties, chopped and screwed. The show in proper is a multimedia affair– lights strobe as a giant screen shows prefabbed cg scenes while ice-skaters heavily costumed as Disney characters skate in time to songs culled from Disney’s extensive library.

The show opened with Lumiere, a charmingly effete candelabra of “Beauty and the Beast” fame skating out to invite the crowd to “Be Our Guest” as the song by the same name blared. Shortly the rink was filled with characters from “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Peter Pan” and many more. The crowd roared with approval as Mickey and Minnie Mouse emerged from a giant foam birthday cake to MC the proceedings.

At one point during the show my daughter yelled in alarm, “Why does Pluto have pink eye!?” I’m not sure if a foam headed cartoon dog can contract conjunctivitis, but in the meantime I was so engrossed with the show and her question that I accidentally ate part of the bag my soft pretzel came in. This is hashtag Dad Life at its finest.

On a conceptual level the show’s two-hour narrative is strange, clearly tooled to younger audiences and appropriately short attention spans. Small story vignettes, mostly centered around Mickey Mouse transition one to the next– a birthday party with the Mad Hatter becomes a Halloween celebration with Jack Skellington and a cadre of villains becomes a romantic daydream featuring Minnie Mouse and the full catalogue of Disney Princesses and their respective beaus.

On a technical level the show is extremely impressive– at times the rink is filled with skaters displaying much physical prowess, weaving between each other in tightly choreographed patterns and figure skating routines. The skaters often execute on difficult technical maneuvers, like spins, lifts and double axels– all while clad in unwieldy costumes. One particularly satisfying vignette rehashes the “Sorcerers’ Apprentice” sequence from “Fantasia” with a dozen or more skaters dressed as neon brooms, sweeping the area in time to the score as Mickey conducts.

The most impactful element of the show is that it is structured around pre-recorded audio with both music and dialogue– the skaters must hit their marks as well as pantomiming their dialogue to one another. In one or two instances, the skaters fumbled, botching a difficult maneuver, but always recovering quickly returning to hit their prescribed beats without so much as a hitch in the overall choreography.
“Disney on Ice” is unquestionably an event tailored to parents and their children.

However the Disney brand is so culturally monolithic it seems unlikely that a person could sit through the proceedings and not find themselves smiling and humming along to one tune or another. The show’s extravagant, pyrotechnic filled conclusion was met with enthusiastic waving of glow-in-the-dark princess wands and the cheering voices of tiny tots, telling the story of a satisfying afternoon with the mouse house crew.