Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Drawn to Life’ is a masterpiece in storytelling

by Tharin White

Recently, I was invited out to experience Cirque du Soleil’s new show at Disney Springs, “Drawn to Life.” I had seen the previous show, “La Nouba,” on a few occasions, so I had an idea of what to expect. Cirque du Soleil is known for being the best of the best in their field. I went into this show with the highest expectations, and I was still blown away. “Drawn to Life” is the perfect combination of fantastical stunts, strong storytelling, Disney nostalgia and moments of disbelief.

Rhythmic gymnastics in sync during their act in Drawn to Life.

“Drawn to Life” is a first-time collaboration between Disney and Cirque du Soleil, one that is long overdue. It encapsulates the exact feelings of Disney nostalgia that so many shows, movies and merchandise try to achieve. The show is a live acrobatic journey telling the story of Julie, a determined girl who discovers an unexpected gift left by her Disney animator father: an unfinished animation. As she dives into the inner world of animation, guided by a surprising pencil, Julie embarks on an inspiring quest filled with her childhood Disney memories.

Aerial Pencil act during Drawn to Life.

Technology enhances the story

The show showcases newer technologies, specifically projection mapping. Using tech in a show can be difficult, because you want the performers and story to still shine. “Drawn to Life” found this exact point; the performers always shine, but the surround sound, projection mapping and massive mechanical equipment are there to enhance the story, and they do just that.

Without spoiling it, there is an emotional dancing scene where projection mapping brings Disney stories to life. This scene had the entire crowd weeping as it brought the love of the two performers to a peak. The story of “Drawn to Life” relates so perfectly to famous Disney stories and it peaks during this moment. In fact, Cirque du Soleil makes so many of the performances and stunts directly tie into the main story, and Disney films from the past.

The technology used in this show isn’t flashy, either. This is cutting-edge equipment used in ways that I haven’t seen before. In fact, I had myself guessing whether the performers were in such perfect sync with the animation, or if their bodies were being live-tracked to make special effects go off. While it is my guess that live-tracking was being used, I cannot be certain. What I can say though is that the aerial pencil act, the partner trapeze act, and the dance-based balancing act were the most amplified by this use of tech.

The animators, Julie, the Pillow and Mr. Pencil in Drawn to Life.

Disney animation adds the nostalgia

But the show doesn’t just showcase older Disney films. Newer releases, like Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Big Hero Six,” are included in the show. And “Drawn to Life” doesn’t rely too heavily on Disney, as it also tells its own story. Fans of hand-drawn animation will delight in the small details that are shown off in big ways. There’s even a sequence that subtly teaches about how RGB light works to create white light. “Drawn to Life” places a history lesson of animation in the middle of its five star high-flying acrobatic performance.

There is also an act where performers become pages where hand-drawn Disney animations come to life and interact with each other. Classic Disney characters like Baloo, Mrs. Potts and Chip magically appear before you.

“Cirque’s world-class creative and production team worked closely with us, getting to know and understand every aspect of Disney,” said Natalie Woodward, vice President of Production, Disney Live Entertainment. “Our incredible collaboration on ‘Drawn to Life’ has created a show that celebrates Disney’s legacy in the art of animation in a unique and signature style that is pure Cirque du Soleil.”

“Drawn to Life” was developed in partnership with Michael Jung, executive theatrical development for Walt Disney Imagineering. The story is driven by 10 unique acrobatic acts alongside animation from beloved Disney films, as well as all-new animation created by Disney artists led by Eric Goldberg, best known for his work on characters like the Genie in the animated classic, “Aladdin.” 

The Old Mill dangerous wheel act in practice.

Strong storytelling takes it beyond its predecessor

Cirque du Soleil’s “La Nouba” was an incredible offering at Disney Springs for years. In fact, it was the longest running Cirque show in the world when it ended on Dec. 31, 2017. While the show was memorable, its story could be lost from time to time. I myself, had left saying, “I loved what I saw, even if I didn’t really know what was happening.”

That will not be the case for “Drawn to Life.” In fact, I think that is where the Disney collaboration is key. The show, much like other Cirque shows around the world, tries to steer away from spoken word when possible. The movements, grunts, yips and cheers from the performers does most of the speaking. This is where Disney films come in to align the story with the performance. Any moment of slight confusion on exactly what is being told is alleviated by an element of a Disney story. Whether it is close-up and obvious, like projection mapping-drawn lines on the ground during the aerial pencil performance, or subtle moments like when characters show up in the pages on the ceiling, the story holds strong.

Opening night celebrations by the cast, crew and executives of Drawn To Life for a successful opening after over a year of delays due to the pandemic.
Opening night celebrations by the cast, crew and executives for a successful opening after over a year of delays due to the pandemic.

“Drawn to Life” is the 50th production created by Cirque du Soleil. Its premiere coincides with the 50th anniversary celebrations at Walt Disney World Resort. I can confidently say that this is one of the best new offerings at Walt Disney World. This performance truly showcases peak Cirque and peak Disney and is a can’t-miss experience for your next Disney trip.

“Drawn to Life” performs Tuesday through Saturday in Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort. You can purchase tickets here.


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