The story from the beloved Pixar animated film, Finding Nemo, is retold on stage in a high-energy musical production. The lavish show hits all the right notes with bravura performances, sophisticated puppetry, and catchy tunes. It is, in my estimation, the best stage show currently playing at any North American theme park.
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Finding Nemo- The Musical Up-Front Info
- Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 1.5
- Themes of danger and grief briefly explored. Big, toothy, menacing sharks.
- 30-minute performance
- The show is presented four times daily. Arrive at least 30 minutes before the performance, and be prepared to wait in a long line. Don't be too discouraged by a huge queue; the 1500-seat theater swallows a lot of people.
Hey! Finding Nemo ISN'T a musical.
Nearly everyone walking into the refurbished Theater of the Wild at Disney's Animal Kingdom knows the characters and story from the smash hit, Finding Nemo. That's a huge plus for a production that attempts to condense the story from a full-length movie into a 30-minute show--and present it to a family audience filled with fidgety kids.
Unlike theme park stage shows based on classic films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or The Little Mermaid, however, nobody knows the songs from Finding Nemo. That's because there weren't any in the film. Major kudos, therefore, to Robert Lopez (co-creator of Broadway's Tony Award-winning Avenue Q) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The husband-and-wife team composed wonderful new songs for Finding Nemo- The Musical that are instantly hum-able and mesh perfectly with the fish tale.
The musical is brimming with Broadway cred. The characters are represented by puppets designed by Micheal Curry, co-creator of the celebrated puppets in the Great White Way production of The Lion King. As with that groundbreaking show, no attempt is made to hide the actors controlling the Nemo puppets. Anne Hamburger, executive vice president of Creative Entertainment for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, calls the Nemo performers "quadruple threats." "Not only do they act, sing, and dance," she says, "but they have become expert puppeteers.
It's quite an accomplishment."
It may sound odd to have an orange-hooded, bespectacled guy emoting and singing full voice alongside a puppet that he's clearly operating, but the human/puppet duality somehow works. At some points in the presentation, the puppets are momentarily separated from the actors for dramatic effect.
No gill, er, lip-synching
As in the film, the stars of the show are the plucky clownfish Nemo, his doting dad, Marlin, and comic foil, Dory. The memory-impaired fish provides plenty of laughs and helps guide Marlin to his imperiled son. Along the way, the duo meets Bruce, the leader of a group of reformed sharks, and Crush, the surfer-dude turtle who helps them cruise the current to Australia. Crush sings a show-stopping "Go With the Flow" that recalls the Beach Boys. Another winning tune is "The Big Blue World," which opens and closes the show.
According to Hamburger, there is no lip-synching in Finding Nemo. The rousing final song, which features a full chorus, is performed live.
"The Big Blue World" is reprised, briefly, in the cute and compelling The Seas with Nemo & Friends ride at Epcot. Co-writer Anderson-Lopez says she was surprised--and thrilled--to discover Disney wanted to use her song in a ride. "Growing up, I loved the ride with Figment at Epcot," she says. "Now, my music gets to be in an Epcot ride. I can't believe it!"
Transitions in the abbreviated 30-minute Finding Nemo- The Musical are sometimes abrupt, and the continuity is a bit choppy. But the music carries the show and nearly all is forgiven. And the story, of separation, coming-of-age, friendship, loss, and gallantry, while simple, is nonetheless timeless and powerful. I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that a few moments during the performance had me choked up. But then again, I'm a softie for orange clownfish lost and all alone in the big blue world.