Woody, Buzz, Rex & Company Are Back
... But They Now Sing and Dance!
In this scene toward the end of "Toy Story - The Musical," Woody and Buzz Lightyear become friends, much to the delight of their fellow toys.*
"Toy Story - The Musical" Debuts Onboard Disney Wonder
By Susan J. Young
If you're hoping Disney-Pixar's beloved "Toy Story" will make it to the Broadway stage in a few years, you're not alone. But whether that ever comes to pass, this year you have a superb new option for soaking up the magic of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and friends.
Just book a three- or four-day cruise on the 2,700 passenger Disney Wonder. The ship now takes center stage as it hosts a newly created one-hour production of "Toy Story - The Musical."
Debuting in April 2008, the new musical was created specifically for the ship's 977-seat Walt Disney Theatre (The theatre's entry area is shown at right; you'll notice the photo of a dapper Walt Disney *)
Now, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Rex, Bo Peep, Hamm, Slinky, Mr. Potatohead and other lovable Toy Story characters come to life on the high seas. And yes, they sing and dance!
Editor’s Note: We attended the VIP introduction of the new show and it knocked our socks off. While Disney hasn't said it would consider taking this show to Broadway at some point, we could easily see that possibility - given the quality and appeal of the production. But for now, the good news is that you and your family can enjoy the musical show onboard Disney Wonder.
With Broadway quality sets, costumes, songs and performances, this is the best production show we’ve EVER seen on a cruise ship.
Capturing Movie Magic
A bit of background .... Released in 1995, the "Toy Story" movie was a collaboration between Disney-Pixar. A sequel, "Toy Story 2" followed, and in 2003, the Online Film Critics Society ranked the original film as the greatest animated film of all time.
In 2007, the original "Toy Story" movie also was named by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. That's pretty stellar stuff considering the only other animated film to make the list was the classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep, Slinky, Rex and Mr. Potatohead perform onstage on Disney Wonder.*
Basically, for those who haven’t seen the movie, "Toy Story" focuses around the antics of a collection of toys belonging to nine-year-old Andy, a typical kid who loves to play and fantasize. The film and production show have the same basic story line, characters and theming.
Told mostly from the toys’ point of view, the story focuses on what happens as Andy ages? Will Andy's perennial favorite toy, Woody, the cowboy, hold Andy's attention? What happens when a new space-focused toy – a.k.a. Buzz Lightyear – enters the picture?
What challenges do the toys have in their lives? How do they approach those difficulties? And what “life lessons” do they (and movie/theater goers) come to learn.
It’s a movie of contrasts – big and small, good and evil, old and new. One musical scene is shown at right.*
The bad guys of the movie are the evil neighbor boy Sid and his vicious dog; Sid is the only really visible "evil" in the musical, although the dog's snarling can be heard. Sid's sole purpose in life seems to be the destruction of toys.
John Lassiter, the original movie’s director, showed up at the "Toy Story – The Musical" introduction to give his blessing to the new cruise line show.
Lassiter raved over the musical interpretation, noting that the “the characters will stay around longer than the movie.”
Guests at the premiere who were die-hard fans of the "Toy Story" movie seemed pleased at the outcome of the musical production.
They felt the musical quite faithfully followed the original movie story line.
Plus, they liked that the characters they had come to know and love remained true to form in the musical adaptation. In fact, the audience “oohed” and “aahed” as Rex, Slinky (see photo at left*), Hamm, Mr. Potatohead and Bo Beep were introduced.
Children who presumably had seen the movie and knew the toys' names laughed with delight. At times, one little girl “talked” to the toys as they performed on stage. She clearly thought they were real.
Editor’s Note: As one of the few folks on the planet who hadn’t seen Toy Story, I had planned to rent the movie before I attended the premiere. But then, I thought “Why not just let the show stand on its own? What if others too haven’t seen the movie? Will they enjoy the musical show? Will they ‘get’ it?”
I can now say, yes, if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll get it, you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll understand it. The plot and the endearing characters shine through.
Creative Performances and Staging
This production is Disney at its finest. Everything about this cruise line musical production reeks of quality.
That’s not surprising, considering that the creative team – comprised of Broadway, off-Broadway and regional theater veterans -- began work on this show in 2005.
They’ve had three years for creative finetuning. Rehearsals took seven months.
The show itself features 35 toy characters and two human characters – Andy and Sid.
Woody (shown at left with Rex and Slinky*) boasts cowboy attire plus plastic brown hair. This toy's movements precisely mimic that of a doll.
Buzz Lightyear is the razzle-dazzle toy, the embodiment of space technology. His costume isn't material but instead multiple layers of foam with digitally imprinted imagery. Throughout the show, he wears three different wing packs; one pack has a rocket attached to it.
One of the most breathtaking elements to the show is the way in which master puppet designer Michael Curry and costume designer Anne Closs-Farley used either articulated and/or inflatable puppets.
These puppets including a nine-foot-tall version of the dinosaur Rex (shown with Buzz Lightyear in the photo at right*) and a four-foot-round Hamm, the piggy bank.
These large puppets feature their original movie voices, such as Don Rickles as the voice of Mr. Potatohead.
Humans are actually encased in the puppets and cooled by interior air conditioning.
You won’t see the puppeteers' faces, though (as you would in Disney's "The Lion King"). Why? The creative team felt that to portray toys, the puppets should remain toys without human elements.
Rex and his friends are amazingly life-like – bouncing, running, turning and shrugging. Their heads bob, their eyes bat, their expressions vary. Inside, the puppeteers orchestrate a ballet of difficult and often simultaneous animated moves.
A real audience pleaser was the appearance of 75 cute little green aliens during a scene at Pizza Planet. The stage was literally awash with these endearing inflatables (Given their movements, our photo at left is slightly soft -- but you get the picture*)
From the music side, New York-based Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn, a husband-wife duo from the band GrooveLily, blended pop, rock and folk music to create a new seven-song contemporary score.
Randy Newman’s original hit, the Oscar-nominated “You’ve Got a Friend,” remains the signature song. But the new score features several catchy tunes -- including “That’s Why We’re Here,” and “To Infinity and Beyond” -- that may become classics in their own right.
One reason is the constant Disney “attention to detail.” Milburn told media attending the press preview that on one song, they did at least 15 versions with feedback by the overall creative team before the final version was approved. And that detailed feedback process continued for every song in the score.
Sets are colorful and eye-catching. For example, the Toy Chest in the opening scene is 12 feet tall.
Considering this is a cruise ship stage – without the backstage space that Broadway theaters might have for storing sets – the set design and transitional elements are stunning.
It’s even more amazing considering that Disney must retain the sets for two other shows backstage as well.
What to Expect?
Quality Performers: Most cruise line shows have decent performers, usually some great and some just so-so. Every single individual performance in this show was Broadway-quality. The vocal performances of the Woody and Buzz Lightyear actors were superb.
Eighteen performers from the U.S. and Canada create the story. To keep the quality high, several are “understudies” for the lead parts of Woody and Buzz, and several are floaters, able to fill in as needed. Some performers have Broadway experience.
Smooth Transitions: Often in musical shows on cruise ships, cruisers see scene transitions that are “fade to black” with several seconds ticking away between scenes. But in this show, the transitions were seamless, never dropping the audience's attention or breaching the show's continuity.
Stunning Sets, Costumes and Visual Effects: Check out Buzz Lightyear's rocket firing at right.*
Plot Contrasts: The story is told mainly from the perspective of the toys. Such real-life objects as a toy box or a crate appear as humongous set elements.
But as the story shifts to the humans, the toys themselves become incredibly small.
The production continually held our attention with these contrasts --between old and new (Woody versus Buzz; good and evil (the toys versus Sid); and big and small (as told from the perspective of either toys or humans).
One note from the parental guidance perspective... Is the new show suitable for extremely young children? Our view is "yes" but parents will need to decide. It really depends on the individual child. We observed some very young kids watching and enjoying the show in the company of their parents.
That said, some references to violence (in both singing and toy bashing actions by Sid, the evil kid next door) are a part of the give-and-take of the story line. I'd simply equate this to having your kids watch the "Wizard of Oz" and listen to the Wicked Witch of the West talk about "doing away with" Dorothy and Toto.
Overall, this production's theming centers around the value of friendship and the appreciation of others.
Seeing "Toy Story – The Musical"
"Toy Story – The Musical" is one of several shows featured during the course of a cruise onboard Disney Wonder.
Entry to this new musical extravaganza is complimentary for cruisers. That's a great value for a family of four, when compared to the cost of theater tickets on land.
Sailing from Port Canaveral (the line's terminal is shown at right*), Disney Wonder operates three and four-night Bahamas Itineraries.
The three-night itinerary departs on Thursday and visits Nassau, The Bahamas, and the line’s private island, Castaway Cay.
The four-night itinerary departs on Sunday, includes the same ports, and adds one day at sea.
In addition to the musical production onboard Disney Wonder (an aft view of the ship is shown at left*) this year travelers in search of Woody and Buzz Lightyear might head to central Florida's Walt Disney World Resort.
Toy Story is also featured in both a parade and a new 4-D interactive attraction, Toy Story Mania!
For More Information
Contact your travel agent, visit www.disneycruise.com or call 888-DCL-2500.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Susan J. Young. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.