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Examining theme park musicals based on non-musical movies – DePaoli on DeParks

by Jeff DePaoli

I’m a big fan of musical theater and a big fan of theme parks, so I’m always quite intrigued when I hear of a theme park producing a stage musical that is based on a non-musical film property. Sometimes it turns out really well… other times, not so much. But I’m always interested in checking it out.

theme park musicals

One of the most successful examples of this in my opinion is “Finding Nemo – The Musical” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The music for this production was written by the composer and lyricist team from “Frozen,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. We did recently learn that this production will not be returning 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.

theme park musicals

Although Pixar films are often full of memorable music, it’s rare for the characters to break into songs themselves. The first time we hear Marlin, Nemo, Dory, and the gang from “Finding Nemo” sing is in this theme park stage musical. One of the tough things for the artists to do when creating a show like this is to take a property that is very well known and somehow convince the audience that the added music is part of the story’s natural world. I believe that “Finding Nemo – The Musical” does this swimmingly with songs like “In the Big Blue World,” “We Swim Together,” “Just Keep Swimming” and so many more memorable tunes.

These songs are so memorable in fact that they’ve lived on beyond the stage musical. Toward the end of your ride at The Seas with Nemo & Friends in Epcot, you’ll hear a bit of “In the Big Blue World.” This musical adaption is so successful that I honestly think of “Finding Nemo” as a musical and wouldn’t be against seeing another version of the movie made with the musical numbers added in.

But not all projects are as successful as “Finding Nemo – The Musical.” Another Pixar film that was made into a stage musical was “Toy Story.” “Toy Story: The Musical” was performed on the Disney Wonder cruise ship and had a pretty solid run of about eight years, but it’s not one that I hear people speak about very often. This may simply be because far more people experience a show in a theme park versus a cruise ship.

The only reason I know about this show is because I attended a presentation about it at one of the early D23 Expos with songwriters Valeria Vigoda and Brendan Milburn. This is the team who wrote the new music for the stage production alongside the classic Randy Newman tune “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” For a while, there was talk of this musical moving into the Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure after the removal of “Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular.” But as you probably know, “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” ended up taking over the space.

Disney isn’t the only theme park company turning their non-musical movies into musical stage 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 just seemed like such a bizarre idea — but sometimes those turn out to be some of the most pleasant surprises. When Disney announced they were putting “The Lion King” on Broadway, my first thought was that it would never work. They certainly proved me wrong, as it’s one of the greatest stage musicals of all time, but I digress.

“Creature From the Black Lagoon: The Musical” was based on the 1954 classic Universal Monsters movie, but it never really caught on with audiences and lasted less than one year in the park. I saw it multiple times, as it was just one of those things I couldn’t take my eyes off. 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 aren’t looking to have small cult followings enjoying their park content. They want to entertain the masses.

Overall, I’m always interested in seeing a theme park stage musical based on a 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 you would like to see musicalized for the parks? Leave a comment and let me know.

If you have any theme park topics you would like to hear my opinion on, let me know in the comments. You might just see it pop up in a future DePaoli on DeParks.


jeff depaoli

Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover 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.

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