Disneyland's 'Snow White: An Enchanting New Musical' Reviewed

Disneyland: After too many years of shuttered attractions and disappointing or failed replacements, it is refreshing to see Disney mount something worthy of an endorsement for a change.

From Robert Niles
Posted April 10, 2004 at 8:44 PM
"Snow White: An Enchanted New Musical" marks the Disneyland Resort's second attempt at staging a musical production closer in quality to Broadway than standard theme park fare. The first, California Adventure's "Aladdin," was laudable for its scope, but ultimately offered nothing to match Robin Williams' bravura vocal performance as the Genie in the original Disney animated film.

"Snow White" does far better, actually improving upon the 1937 classic film in a few ways. In Walt Disney's original, Snow lived a sheltered life, growing more fair than her wicked stepmother simply through good genes and fairy-tale fate. In Eric Schaeffer's production, we meet a more savvy heroine, already in the company of her forest friends. And when she finds her Prince Charming, it is made explicit that her emerging love for him causes her beauty to grow.

Writer Darrah Cloud moves the action along by shrewdly elevating the Magic Mirror from bit player to the show's narrator. The device marks the show's strongest improvement over the original. After all, if the Mirror's supposed to be omniscient, wouldn't we want to be let in on a bit more of all he knows? Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio raised the stakes for this underutilized character by writing a spot-on parody of it in DreamWorks' "Shrek." It's nice to see Disney rise to a challenge and demonstrate the creativity to get its character back.

Alas, the changes necessarily eliminate the original's strongest scene: Snow White's terrifying run through the forest. But cut the producers some slack. That scene can frighten even older kids the first time they see it, and scaring the heck out of hundreds of children and toddlers at every showing probably isn't the best business strategy for the Disney company.

Schaeffer and his crew find other ways to display their visual talents, crafting a rich environment in their staging that capably illustrates the warmth of the Seven Dwarfs' cottage and the creepiness of the Evil Queen's turrets and dungeons.

Too bad Disney chose to stage this elaborate production in the outdoor Fantasyland Theater. This show deserves a darkened environment, not one sabotaged by inappropriate light flooding the stage from the wings. Disney compounds the problem by not running the show after nightfall, when, presumably, its target audience ought to be snuggling into their jammies.

Count another strike against Disney for its parsimonious decision to mount this production with an overamplified soundtrack, rather than live musical accompaniment. Yes, even a small pit orchestra would be wildly expensive for a production offering up to six shows daily. But Disney's hardly struggling for cash. No other company in the world has a better opportunity to expose the next generation to the thrills and rewards of live theater. Why stop halfway, offering visual delights but a canned soundtrack?

Given that this is a musical, one would think Disney would want to show as much commitment to the music as it has obviously demonstrated toward the staging and the libretto. But the performers' voices often sound thin, as if they were striving toward the next round of “American Idol,” rather than the coloratura of Adriana Caselotti.

And indulge me one more beef: Please let the actresses portraying the Evil Queen come forward to accept the audience's applause at the end of the show. This is theater, not a movie. And the curtain call allows us to express our appreciation for the performers – not just the characters they portray.

Those criticisms aside, let's be clear: Disney, finally, is once again attempting to raise the standard for theme park entertainment – at least through its stage productions. After too many years of shuttered attractions and disappointing or failed replacements, it is refreshing to see Disney mount something worthy of an endorsement for a change.

From Mr. D. T.
Posted April 10, 2004 at 9:43 PM
I haven't seen this stage production before, but I have seen the movie, and I CAN do without the terror in the forest. It's just me but I'm kind of sensitive to that part. But the good news is she IS befriended by the animals at the end of it.

The production MAY be better off with a soundtrack if it will give six daily performances. You are factual about the pit being so expensive. Food Rocks had a soundtrack. So did Spectromagic. And Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade. And Diamond Horseshoe. And America Sings, I'm sure. But those are different stories I wanted to give out.

At least the mirror gets to play a bigger role than it originally did. Not even the queen played that big of a role in the original. And it's 90 minutes long.

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