I’m a huge fan of musical theater and a huge fan of theme parks, so I’m always quite intrigued when I hear about a theme park producing a musical based on non-musical film property. Sometimes it goes very well… other times not so much. But I’m still interested in checking it out.
One of the most successful examples in my opinion is “Finding Nemo – The Musical” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The music for this production was written by the team of songwriters and lyricists of “Frozen”, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. We recently learned that this production will not return to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in its original form, but that we can expect a reimagined “Finding Nemo” musical in 2022 with some of the same songs created for the original production.
Although Pixar movies are often full of memorable music, it is rare for the characters to launch into songs themselves. The first time we hear Marlin, Nemo, Dory and the “Finding Nemo” gang perform is in this theme park musical. One of the hard things for artists to do when creating a show like this is to take some well-known property and convince audiences that the added music is part of the natural world of the story. I believe “Finding Nemo – The Musical” does it wonderfully with songs like “In the Big Blue World”, “We Swim Together”, “Just Keep Swimming” and many other memorable tracks.
These songs are so memorable in fact that they have lived beyond the musical. Towards the end of your ride to The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, you’ll hear a bit of “In the Big Blue World”. This musical adaptation is so successful that I honestly think of “Finding Nemo” as a musical and I wouldn’t be against seeing another version of the film made with the musical numbers added.
But not all projects are as successful as “Finding Nemo – The Musical”. Another Pixar film that turned into a live musical was “Toy Story”. “Toy Story: The Musical” was performed on the Disney Wonder cruise ship and had a pretty solid career of around eight years, but it’s not a subject I hear about very often. Perhaps this is simply because a lot more people attend a show at a theme park compared to a cruise ship.
The only reason I’m familiar with this show is because I attended a presentation about it at one of the early D23 shows with songwriters Valeria Vigoda and Brendan Milburn. The team wrote the new music for the stage production alongside Randy Newman’s classic aria “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”. For some time, there was talk of installing this musical in the Hyperion Theater of Disney California Adventure after the withdrawal of “Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular”. But as you probably know, “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” ended up taking up space.
Disney isn’t the only theme park company to turn its non-musical films into musical productions. Perhaps one of the strangest examples of this would be “Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical” at Universal Studios Hollywood. There was a lot of hype for this stage production when it came out because it seemed like such a bizarre idea – but sometimes it turns out to be one of the nicer surprises. When Disney announced that they were putting “The Lion King” on Broadway, my first thought was that it would never work. They’ve certainly proven me wrong, because it’s one of the greatest musicals of all time, but I digress.
“Creature From the Black Lagoon: The Musical” was based on the classic 1954 Universal Monsters movie, but it never really wowed audiences and lasted less than a year in the park. I saw it a few times because it was just one of those things that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. I believe with the right marketing angle, “Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical” could have ended up having a cult following like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. But theme parks are not looking to have small worshipers enjoying their park content. They want to entertain the masses.
Overall, I’m still interested in seeing a theme park stage musical based on non-musical property. It doesn’t always work, but it’s always interesting to see the choices made. What do you think? Do you have any favorite examples of this non-musical to musical trend, or a non-musical property that you would like to see musicalized for parks? Leave a comment and let me know.
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Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voice over artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast”, the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys”, “On the Rohde Again”, “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com. DePaoli’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent Attractions Magazine.