It’s January again, my un-favorite month of the year—cold and snow, and nothing to look forward to but Presidents’ Day. But I do feel a little better than this time last year, after I had made the mistake of going to see the endlessly touring “Disney on Ice” when it touched down in Boston. I went because I was pretty bored and I love figure skating, and it’s always fun to see it live. I knew, of course, that this wouldn’t be anything like competitive or exhibition figure skating. I wasn’t expecting much more than some decent ice skating and a bit of Disney flair.
It cost thirty bucks, which, these days, seemed like a bargain. Bummer Number One: I paid for my ticket in person, at the box office, and they still charged me a two-dollar handling fee. That was a first for me. I guess “handling” now refers to when they take (handle) your credit card, swipe it, and hand it back to you. OK—thirty-two bucks.
When I first heard the term “Disney on Ice,” I thought it had something to do with the false rumor that Walt’s body is frozen. (Is that the secret subtext underlying the mammoth success of Disney’s feature film, Frozen?)
Anyway, with the two-dollar surcharge still a bitter taste in my mouth, I made my way through the sea of families, the parents of whom were on their way to getting bled dry by the endless array of incredibly expensive snacks and souvenirs. I pictured a hologram of Walt holding the parents upside down by the ankles and shaking them loose of their every last penny. I’m approximating the prices, but I seem to remember six-dollar snow cones and popcorn and even more if it was served in some flimsy plastic Disney-themed container. They sold every imaginable kind of souvenir, from the cute and clever down to the trashiest chotchke. The intermissions were nice and long to allow for maximum selling time. The deafening sounds of Ka-ching! threatened to drown out the cheery noises of the kids having a good time.
As I made my way down the steep stairs of the stadium, I looked forward to the uplifting aesthetics of the performance that would make me forget the din of the marketplace. No, seriously, I’m not that dumb, but I thought it might be kind of fun.
The theme of the show was travel adventures, and the travelers were the unwieldy quartet of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Donald and Daisy Duck. In short, it seemed like a double date made in hell. They stood around exchanging garbled dialogue that emerged from loudspeakers. Their travel plans served as the dramatic through line that segued in and out of some of Disney’s most beloved movies. I couldn’t wait for them to get off the stage so the show could really begin.
They went to the Tropics. Cue the Little Mermaid and company. I remember finding the costumes a bit down at heel, and the wigs pretty ropey and garish. I had expected more in this area from the Disney people who are known for crisp, immaculate maintenance.
(I remember when I visited Disney World in ’97. As the boat floated out of the enchanting—and I’m not being sarcastic—“It’s a Small World” attraction, I saw a half-eaten hot dog with mustard on the ground. I was taken aback. I mentioned it to two of the kids working the ride and they reacted with decidedly un-Disneylike stony expressions.)
Back to 2013 and the ice show. I concluded, early on, that it was less like the Magic Kingdom and more like Fantasyland on a budget.
Ariel skated around somehow, although I don’t recall how she managed it with her mermaid tail. The highlight of this sequence was an enormous inflatable Ursula, the glamorously mannish octopus villainess. She emerged with a lot of steam and dark lights and threatened Ariel before backing away and deflating.
I kept wishing that Bette Midler would come whizzing out as the sassy mermaid Delores De Lago, tail and all, singing and making raunchy quips while zipping around the stage in her motorized wheelchair. I didn’t wish upon a star. I merely wished, so maybe that’s why she didn’t appear.
My seat was near the front row, but way off to the side, putting me behind much of the action. During an intermission, I moved to a prime area where there were a lot of empty seats. I was just settling in to enjoy the Peter Pan segment when a surly security guard approached me. She was grim and unforgiving and forced me out of my adopted seat, just in time for me to miss the beginning of the flying sequence. It’s hard to give your undivided attention to the show when you’re doing the walk of shame back to your assigned seat. Captain Hook’s big pirate ship cheered me up some, but once you’ve seen the helicopter in Miss Saigon, everything else is a let-down.
As Peter Pan’s story unfolded, I realized that my bitterness would be hard to shake. Tinker Bell, who was by far the best skater, selflessly drinks a poisoned glass of milk that Captain Hook has intended for Peter. As she flutters between life and death, Peter begs the audience to applaud to keep her alive. I think the applause is supposed to convince her that we believe in fairies, and that this unconditional support revives her. I half-expected Peter to instruct the audience to buy another six-dollar snow cone to keep her from expiring. By that point, I had a full-blown case of the grumps, and so I wanted the luminous little busybody to die. Then I realized that the sooner we revived her, the sooner the show would be over, so I clapped until my palms burned.
Somewhere in all of this they squeezed in some Lion King excerpts, and an interminable re-telling of the more recent masterpiece, Lilo & Stitch. I’ve blocked most of that, but I do recall that it had something to do with a young woman and her lonesome tween sister in Hawaii. I think they were doing laundry and chores. Then Stitch, a sci-fi creature, appeared and made a mess of the place and became Lilo’s BFF. At some point, I think she hid him in a grass hut, but I can’t be sure. It was riveting stuff.
I’d have to say that the best part was unexpected. There were several guys and girls playing smaller roles and moving the scenery around. A few of the guys had warmed up the audience before the show by skating around and tossing glow rings back and forth. Throughout, they skated playfully, while at the same time they kind of phoned it in.
They were probably sick of touring in this show and living out of suitcases, but made the best of it by goofing around a little on the ice. Their half-desultory, easygoing skating was somehow appealing, even endearing. Like Elsa from Frozen (who now has her own ice show), they had learned to “Let It Go.” But, unlike the pushy, ear-splitting belting of Idina Menzel, they let it go by gliding carelessly across the ice. I just hope they got free snow cones.