When a two-year-old has to be hauled out of a venue screaming “I want it again”, you would generally chalk that one up as a hit. Undoubtedly, the second half of Disney on Ice: Passport to Adventure was a smash: the two-year-old was transfixed, but so were the eight and nine-year-olds in princess dresses and Minnie Mouse ears who occupied the seats around us. This second half was almost an hour of monster tunes, and the crowd lapped it up. A truncated version of the Little Mermaid, complete with an improbable ice-skating Flounder the Fish and streams of bubbles falling from the ceiling, featured hits like Under the Sea, but it was what followed that the hordes had come for: Frozen. Four years after the film was released, the Elsa and Anna juggernaut shows no sign of slowing. Thousands of child fans inside the Manchester Arena waved their light-up wands and sang their diminutive hearts out, word-perfect, as their animated heroines came to life and twirled on the ice to Love is an Open Door and, of course, Let it Go.
It was the absence of this anthemic kitsch that was the chief failing of the first half. Here, on this loosely-themed tour of the Disney verse, we made a pit stop at the African plains for a strangely muted and minimalist excerpt from The Lion King, before alighting with Mickey, Minnie and friends in London for a re-enactment of Peter Pan. The skating was, as throughout the whole show, impressive, but the big problem was the lack of belting songs. The soundtrack to 1953’s Pan is old-school Disney, more whimsical and gentle than the blockbuster tunes of recent years. And notwithstanding the wow factor of Peter and the Darling children whizzing about on flying ropes above the ice, gentle just doesn’t work so well for an arena concert watched by armies of hyped-up primary school kids.
There was also just too much talking. The pace of the extended Peter Pan segment was too slow, with chunky stretches featuring skaters drifting about while recorded dialogue – not all of it clearly audible – played through speakers.
For a generation of children who are not all familiar with the classic movie, there was not enough to keep the attention – even with the gliding pirate ship and inflatable crocodile. The two-year-old focussed on her raisins. My four-year-old asked when Frozen would be coming on. The crowd noise around us was not that of singing, but of fidgety children chatting and begging their parents for extortionately-priced merchandise.
Ultimately, you could probably have extracted the whole Pan section without too many complaints. Passport to Adventure, at two hours, is long for its target age group, and despite my toddler’s protestations, we’d all had enough by the show’s finale.
With its pyrotechnics, big songs and ensemble skating spectacles, it was the second half that ticked the boxes and saw the crowd – one overwhelmed two-year-old excepted – leave happy.