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Fridays with Jim Korkis: Finding Nemo — The Musical



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

FINDING NEMO — THE MUSICAL

By Jim Korkis

[Editor’s Note: Finding Nemo – The Musical has not re-opened since its pandemic shutdown in March 2020. Since Jim wrote the below, Disney World has announced that a “reimagined” version will debut in 2022. –Dave]

Finding Nemo – The Musical is a live musical stage show based on Disney/Pixar’s 2003 animated feature Finding Nemo and incorporates puppetry to portray the characters. It is performed at the Theater in the Wild at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It officially opened January 24, 2007.

Since the original film about Marlin the clownfish trying to find his lost son Nemo with the help of the forgetful Dory did not have any songs, they had to be written for this interpretation of the story. They were written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband Robert Lopez, who besides writing the songs for the animated feature Frozen, had written scores for several popular Broadway musicals.

They wrote fourteen songs including The Big Blue World that is also used at The Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion at Epcot.

Co-writer Anderson-Lopez said, “Growing up, I loved the ride with Figment at Epcot. Now, my music gets to be in an Epcot ride. I can’t believe it!”

To condense the feature-length film to just forty minutes, the team focused on a single theme from the movie. “We held on to the central conflict of son and father,” Anderson-Lopez explains. “We kept the same theme — that the world is a beautiful place and you have to take a leap of faith in letting your children go out.”

Anderson-Lopez said that the couple agreed to write the adaptation of “one of our favorite movies of all time” after considering “The idea of people coming in [to see the musical] at age 4, 5 or 6 and saying, ‘I want to do that’….So we want to take it as seriously as we would a Broadway show.”

The puppets were designed by Michael Curry, co-creator of the puppets for Disney’s Broadway smash hit, The Lion King, among many other credits. The oversized sea creatures include Crush who is the size of a VW Bug and the incredible 22-foot-tall Nigel the Pelican.

The show includes a variety of puppetry styles including rod, Bunraku (a Japanese style of puppetry in which the puppeter’s body becomes a part of the puppet) and shadow. Some characters such as Marlin, Nemo and Dory are represented by a live performer while Crush takes four puppeteers and one singer to operate. There is no lip-synching in the show. The songs are performed live.

Performed on a stage flanked by big bubbles, the musical numbers come to life with underwater effects created with innovative lighting, dynamic props, and animated projections in the first major spectacular produced for Walt Disney World by Disney Creative Entertainment.

Tony Award-winning director Peter Brosius directed the show. Brosius is well known for his work as the artistic director for Children’s Theater Company in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area. Tony-nominated choreographer John Carrafa created the dances.

Creative Director Michael Jung said, “I think this show is special for many reasons. It’s the first time in the history of the Walt Disney Company that we’ve taken an animated feature that didn’t have music and created a completely original musical score for it.

“It’s also a unique show for the portfolio we have here at the Walt Disney World Resort, in that it features such elaborate sets, special effects, puppets and unique performers. Sometimes you hear the term ‘triple threat’ because an actor can sing, act and dance. All of our performers do that and in fact, they’re quadruple threats because they need to puppet as well.

“I love the opening number, Big Blue World. I just think it’s a magical exploration of the story. Then there’s Go With the Flow which is performed by Crush and all the sea turtles in the East Australian current that’s a really jubilant ode to The Beach Boys.”

In 2009, the musical won the THEA (Themed Entertainment Association) Award, considered one of the greatest honors in the world of attractions, for Best Live Show.

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Thanks, Jim! and come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

 

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