In a brisk 20 minutes, the show follows the standard formula of placing songs and characters from Disney's animated classics into an original setting, in the style of a jukebox musical. Here, we get highlights from Pocahontas, Jungle Book, Tarzan, Tangled and Brave. (Yes, amazingly, not a single bar of 'Let It Go'...)
The ensemble, as creatures of the titular forest, serve as one of the most intriguing and imaginative framing devices for a Disney show in recent memory. The thought that's been put into this really shines through in the movement and costume work – each performer has a distinct look and persona, and wouldn't look out of place in a Cirque du Soleil show.
This standard has been a mark throughout the Katy Harris era of Paris's entertainment offerings – even when each show needs to find a new package for the familiar classics, there's an integrity and level of detail that means they serve as successful pieces of theatre on a wider level. For many families, a trip to Disneyland Paris is going to be the one big leisure expense of the year, with prices in the West End and similar far out of reach. If the parks can offer a taste of that to visitors who might otherwise not encounter this kind of performance, that's something to applaud.
So much so, it's almost a disappointment when the show brings out the familiar characters and songs. But it is undoubtedly what audiences will have come to see, and the ensemble remain involved and weave throughout these set pieces in ways that feel integral to the design. The familiar and new elements mix well, thanks also to some neat musical arrangements.
The live vocal performances (sitting alongside some lip synching) are strong. In the preview I attended the standout was the performer playing Rapunzel, who gave a genuinely nuanced performance with a real commitment to telling a story through song – trickier to achieve in a space like this. The show is sung entirely in English, a notable change from norm for Disneyland Paris. Not that it especially matters; we all know the words to 'I Wanna Be Like You' whether we admit it or not.
It's a good fit for the arm of Frontierland that it's nestled into. While the Frozen additions over the Summer were nicely designed into the space, they weren't an intuitive match – but the look and content of Forest really feels like it's been inspired by the area that houses it. When a show only has 20 minutes to deliver a complete package, the advance storytelling that a location provides can help a lot.
The problem – as is often the case in the Chaparral – lies in the supporting frames of the auditorium that block the view for much of the audience. The recent Frozen Sing-along got away with sightline issues as there was so much distraction in the effects, screens showing film clips and performers scattered throughout the audience. Forest however is a more subtle, intimate show (and in many respects more traditional) and so sights are a more prominent issue. If you're going, I'd strongly advise queueing at least 30 minutes prior to the show to ensure you get a centre-bank seat. It's well worth the investment in time.
Sightline issues aside, the design work is good. It's simple – as a result of having to fit on top of the Frozen Sing-along set which remains to be revived on a quick turnaround this summer – but the simplicity has been made to work for it. The characters and stories emerge from the hidden nooks and corners of the set, often conjured with minimal décor. The Tarzan set piece uses nothing more than a rope dropped for him to swing on, The Jungle Book created with the appearance of King Louie's throne, and Brave with just a few target boards for Merida to fire arrows at. (The Tangled set piece gets a little more elaborate, but 'Now I See The Light' does kind of call for it – and it's a beautiful, earned moment.)
It's not the bombastic show many will expect, but represents an imaginative kind of theatre we don't see so often in the parks. Moreover, it fits the identity that runs throughout the Parisian park in comparison to its international cousins – there's a beautiful intimacy to the place that's often lacking in the bigger Magic Kingdoms, and it's satisfying to see that represented here.
The show runs until May 8th, when the Frozen Sing-along returns. Current rumours suggest it might be revived when Anna and Elsa check out – if it gets the response it deserves this time around, I expect it will.Tweet
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