At ‘Disney on Ice,’ frosty ‘Frozen’ is star among classic stories

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It’s hard to think of a venue less touched by Disney magic than the dingy, hot dog-scented chaos of Oakland’s Oracle Arena. Nevertheless, until March 5, Feld Entertainment’s “Disney on Ice presents Worlds of Enchantment” will bring four classic Disney tales to this monument of inefficiency.

Braving the long lines and seemingly arbitrary rules about what can and can’t be taken into the theater is just the first adventure of the night. The rest of the evening is devoted to the daring escape by Andy’s toys from a fascist daycare in “Toy Story 3,” Ariel’s quest for love and legs in “The Little Mermaid,” a puzzling car show from “Cars” and, for the finale, the epic sing-a-long story of sisterhood in “Frozen.” Between stories, the hosts Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Donald make a welcome appearance to throw out some punny clues to the crowd.

The best entries are the two musical princess movies. Lavish musical numbers work better on ice than story-heavy segments, mostly because the plot-oriented ones struggle to find a neat way to condense the films they’re based on into a half hour (musicals have it easy — they just run through all the songs).

“Toy Story 3” ends up as a Wikipedia summary version of the toys’ escape from the prison-like daycare ruled by the menacing, strawberry-scented Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (who is very cute wobbling around on ice). “Cars” gets a far odder treatment — the novelty of cars on ice, rather than the plot of any “Cars” movie, is the attraction. To be fair, it is bafflingly impressive. The cars look unoccupied by human skaters, sport animatronic faces and glide neatly around the stage without bumping into each other. When asked how this was possible, skater Karey-Beth Delorey was evasive: “It’s all in the Disney magic. It really is pretty cool.” After circling the arena a few times to some fire effects and the tune of “Life is a Highway,” the bit is over. It’s neat, but a car can’t do a triple axel and there are snow anthems to be sung.

The musical movies are likely what all the toddlers in the crowd, sporting their princess best and brandishing overpriced light-up wands, are really there for. It’s helpful that the ice theme works a little better for these two — with “The Little Mermaid,” ice is at least water of a different form, and “Frozen” was basically made for an ice show. “Disney on Ice” is best suited to either powerhouse solos or heavily populated ensemble numbers — anything in between is awkward. “Under the Sea” is an especially good example of the latter, a flashy opportunity to fill the vast icy space with a menagerie of colorful sea creatures to the irresistible beat of steelpan.

The real star of the show is “Frozen.” As Delorey put it diplomatically, “Of course everyone has a little bit bigger of a reaction to Frozen.” The 2013 hit is still a huge draw, likely because it is the recent favorite of the show’s target toddler audience. The icy setting of winter-cursed Arendelle is condensed beautifully for “Disney on Ice,” enhanced with plenty of fake falling snow. “Let It Go” is a spectacular showstopper. Where the rest of the show could stand to be a little more extravagant, “Let It Go” does not disappoint.  

One can forget, amidst the corporate flawlessness of “Disney on Ice,” just how talented all the artists involved are. They manage to cartwheel, triple axel, lift partners and fly without breaking their smiles or their expressiveness during songs. Some of the tricks are breathtaking and the entire production is a technical marvel.

“Disney on Ice” is solid razzle-dazzle, contrived but charming. “It’s not just for the kids; it’s memory lane for the parents as well,” Delorey said. It’s easy to feel cynical about the whole affair, to write it off as a ploy to get people to purchase twisty novelty cups or giant cotton candies topped with foam Olaf hats, but it’s also hard not to tear up at college-aged Andy or thrill at the sight of Elsa’s freedom ice palace. The best thing for an adult to do is let it go, let it go and just be a kid again.

“Disney on Ice presents Worlds of Enchantment” runs until March 5 at Oracle Arena. 

Miyako Singer covers theater. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @miyasinger.