Disney on Ice hit my hometown this weekend, so of course, I booked my ticket and spent Friday night looking slightly awkward in an arena full of kids dressed as Anna, Elsa, and Olaf (nobody dresses as Hans because Hans is, well, Hans is Hans…)
Having never been to a Disney on Ice show before I didn’t know what to expect (beyond, y’know, Disney characters… on ice). I knew the show was Frozen themed (yay!), but what that meant, I wasn’t quite sure. Would Anna and Elsa be skating to the Bolero? Would they be dancing and singing? Would they — wait, didn’t Anna have trouble skating at the end of Frozen, therefore making a mockery of this entire idea?!…
Gladly, I got what I was hoping for: a straight up adaptation of the film, but done with ice skaters. That may not sound too great for those who’ve already seen Frozen countless times thanks to their kids, but it’s exactly what I wanted because it offers the chance to see the same story told in a different medium. How would the skating rink change the make up of the story and the layout of some of the key scenes? There’s great value in that and it made for a fascinating experience.
But before you start thinking, “Paul, this is Disney on Ice, and you’re – what – you’re going to bore me with tales of storytelling devices and narrative integrity?!”, here’s Mickey, Donald, Nemo, Rapunzel, Puumba from The Lion King (!?) and a whole host of other favourites dancing to (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher. IT’S AWESOME!
Back to Frozen, the story is pretty faithful to the film, with only a few major diversions: we never see Anna and Elsa’s parents and Hans doesn’t confront Elsa at her ice palace. These are understandable changes as they make for a less cluttered, quicker narrative. The only real knock-on effect is that Hans seems to disappear in the middle of the story, making his turn to villainy at the end seem a bit forced.
There are changes elsewhere, of course, but they’re mostly to the set-up of songs. Fixer Upper and In Summer, for example, need to find active roles for Anna and Kristoff, who are largely passive during those numbers in the film. So On Ice has Kristoff showing his distain at Olaf and the Trolls’ obliviousness, while Anna joins in the singing and dancing. It’s a necessity, but a neat one because it highlights Anna’s deep joy at pretty much everything and makes her seem even more charming. I mean, look at her during In Summer!!
Frozen‘s so full of complex, melancholic emotions that it’s pretty challenging to translate to a happiness-and-joy-for-the-whole-family ice show. I mean, how do you take a scene about two lonely kids struggling to connect with each other and make it feel… fun? I was impressed that Disney On Ice didn’t even try. Do You Wanna Build A Snowman in ice format may be even sadder than it is on screen because it’s so small.
While other sequences go big with the set design, Snowman is Elsa’s bed, a door, and nothing else. Anna skates around enjoying her freedom and trying to persuade her sister out of hiding, while Elsa herself stays alone on this tiny bed refusing to budge. In the film, at least we saw Elsa a bit, at least there was something there for us to latch onto. In On Ice, there’s nothing, she’s lost – literally as well as emotionally. Anna may as well be singing to herself, which is kinda the point.
The reprise of For the First Time in Forever is another highlight and masterstroke of economy. In the film, the two characters sing their parts directly to one another, and they’re both pretty static, with the force and meaning of the words adding the dynamism. Fine for film, not so much for ice. If I’m going to see a show with the phrase ‘On Ice’ in the title, guess what: I wanna see some gosh darned ice dancing.
So what we get is something akin to a chase, with Anna and Elsa skating around the stage singing the song to one another. Just as with Do You Wanna Build a Snowman, it makes literal what the film conveys as metaphor: Elsa looks as trapped as she feels, unable to escape the spectre of her past and her worries about hurting her sister. It’s dynamic, it’s dramatic, it’s a damn near perfect alternative version of the film. Basically, it’s exactly what it should be!
Of course, no performance of Frozen would be complete without Let It Go, and it says a lot for the quality of the show that it’s actually one of the least impressive parts. That’s not to say it’s bad, because it’s not; if I tried to say it’s bad I’d have every little girl who sang every single letter of the song pointing at me and making weird noises like Donald Sutherland at the end of the 78 Body Snatchers remake. And that’s not really what I want.
My point is that there’s actually very little you can do with Let It Go. While many of the other songs need to be changed for the stage, Let It Go is a stage production already: a single character against a largely static backdrop singing their heart out. There’s very little you can change, and there’s very little you’d want to change. So that’s what we get here: the film, but with more ice skating. Which is cool.
(Look I got this far without making a bad ice pun!)
If you want to see a Disney ice show and, like me, don’t really know what to expect and fear you may end up looking a bit daft in a sea of squealing kids, just go for it. It’s a genuinely wonderful production that brings the characters to life in a fun, faithful way. It also reveals a lot about storytelling techniques, staging for maximum dramatic effect, and why cinematic mise-en-scene is fundamentally limited when compared to the sta— OH MY GOD ANNA, THAT’S THE MOST AMAZING DANCING EVER, I LOVE YOU!!!