Disney on Ice Toy Story 3 cries for critical analysis, which is why I brought my young friends Gabriel and Rachael. At 14 and 11, they’re close to the target audience, while old enough to render a considered opinion.
Driving home, Gabriel asked whether point of a review was to persuade people to see the show or to persuade people to stay away from it. Impressed at the astuteness of his question, I explained that the point was to provide context – and to be honest. Taking in my answer, he countered “in that case, you have to tell about the good parts and the bad parts. And there were a lot of bad parts, but a few good parts, too.”
As for the “good parts,” all of us were wowed by the parachuting aerialists – which even surpassed the parachuting valkeries in in Zambello’s Ring of the Neibelung, appearing at the Herbst last year. Rachael – who doesn’t give it up easily – was particularly impressed with the lighting projections on the floor rendered through the use of 1,260 gobos. Everyone liked the set – and thrilled at the ice periodically kicked up by the skaters.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good parts ended. Admittedly, satisfying both tykes and parents is a difficult stunt to pull off. The first act was peppered with intelligent lifts of everything from a few bars of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the bar scene in Star Wars to Gunsmoke. At the outset, it seemed to be a smart way to maintain the attention of adults. However, this flicker of intelligence ended in act II, which proffered a steady drumbeat of bad dinosaur rock. This desperation move ended the way most desparation moves do – and the number of mums with babes in arms exiting seemed grossly disproportional to the few making their way back to their seats. Suffice to say if you’ve had enough of the ’70s, you’ll cringe at Toy Story 3.
Even the story line itself seemed to wilt. Ostensibly based on Toy Story 3, Act I was loaded with plot taken from Toy Story 1 and 2. It was not until the second act, the action from Toy Story 3 really began. Here, Gabriel observed that the story wouldn’t have dragged had it gleaned more of the interesting elements from Toy Story 3.
Pop culture theorists would undoubtably have much to say about the seemingly regressive plastic soldiers and Barbie doll. The jarring resemblance of Barbie to Ann Coulter was difficult to overcome. While any thinking adult would take Barbie’s prancing around to Cindi Lauper’s “Girls just Wanna have Fun” and Nancy’s Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking” as high camp, that idea is wasted on those under 11. That Barbie did all the death-defying stunts on ice didn’t make up for the fact that Ken literally held the keys to the dream house. Barbie may have been the super hero at the end, but it was only by through a calculated display of female wiles – which is hardly a positive message for girls or boys.
The army of soldiers, modeled after the small molded plastic toys that enjoyed a spate of popularity during the Vietnam War,The was equally jarring. Deftly crafted, these little green men were costumed from the same material as football uniforms because the weight and sheen of the cloth looked exactly like plastic. These life-size replicas wouldn’t have been off-putting if they were fewer in number, tossed carelessly into the toy box, as were Mr. and Mrs Potato Head and Slinky. However, with whole platoons moving in unison to barked-out orders, their role was disproportionate enough to make a thinking person wonder who this was being pitched at. Watching the synchronicity of soldiers marching on ice was bizarre to behold.
The thin crowd suggests that Silicon Valley might not be the target audience for this production. That said, Toy Story 3 will be at the HP Pavillion through March 26th, and at the Oracle Arena in Oakland between February 29th and March 4th.
2 out of 5 stars (Boohoo)
San Jose ~ HP Pavilion ~ February 22nd – 26th
Oakland ~ Oracle Arena ~ February 19 – March 4th