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Until May 29, Lighthouse Immersive Studios is hosting the exhibition “Disney Animation: Immersive Experience” in downtown Boston at the Lighthouse Artspace at the Saunders Castle, beckoning Disney lovers to surround themselves with Disney hits and nostalgia.
The central attraction of the exhibition is a large room with floor-to-ceiling projection screens, and upon stepping inside, it is easy to feel transported to a different time, with the opening screens evoking a museum space full of various Disney artifacts projected on the screens ranging from the Genie’s lamp in “Aladdin” to Arthur’s sword in “The Sword in the Stone.” The narration opens with Mickey — dressed in his “Fantasia” garb — inviting the audience to “make a wish.” The exhibition is also adorned with benches for visitors to sit on as they watch the animation unfold. Others can choose to rest or even lie on the floor to watch the magic happen.
Unsurprisingly, Disney has a large repertoire of songs to choose from, making it difficult to perfectly curate a setlist that fits the approximately one hour run-time of the exhibition. Given this, Lighthouse Immersive Studios clearly made an attempt to balance both classic Disney songs with those that might fly under the radar, ranging from crowd favorites like “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin” to more obscure choices like “You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!” from “Peter Pan.” However, it was inevitable that some cult classics would be omitted. For instance, “Reflection” from “Mulan,” and even “Let it Go” from “Frozen” were conspicuously absent.
The exhibition also featured a healthy mix of both classic Disney movies from its Renaissance period and more recent blockbusters. The viral “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from “Encanto” had an extended feature, with scenes from the movie playing out on the screens, largely unchanged from the original film sequence. The iconic “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King” received similar treatment, though the exhibition made better use of its multiple screens to show the same scene from different perspectives, portraying the animals below the cliff on one screen and a close up of Rafiki lifting Simba on another. The show felt the most effective when the multiple screens were thoroughly utilized.
Though the exhibition was advertised as being interactive and immersive, the potential for audience participation felt squandered. For instance, a bubble machine was situated at the center of the room: During “Show Yourself”, bubbles drifted down before dissolving into smoke midair, and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from “The Little Mermaid” featured the same effect as montages of Disney villains played. Though this interactive element was exciting, the songs could have been better chosen to fully capitalize on the functionality of the bubble machine: “Under The Sea,'' also from “The Little Mermaid,” felt like a much more natural and obvious choice, or even “Shiny” from “Moana.”
Beyond the bubble machine, there were certain songs where further props or interactive elements felt lacking. Midway through the show, “I See The Light” from “Tangled” played on the screens, accompanied with scenes of Rapunzel transfixed by the floating lanterns during the enchanting scene. It felt like a sorely missed opportunity to either provide the audience with their own lanterns or include some sort of prop — perhaps confetti or lights — to add further three-dimensionality to the experience.
Nevertheless, the show was both well-paced and effectively planned, creating a narrative arc that added emotional intensity. Beyond the nostalgia of listening to Disney’s greatest hits, there was a clear choice in the sequencing of songs; in particular, the conflict in a traditional Disney movie was substituted with an extended scene from “Moana” of the heroine giving up on her journey to restore the Heart of Te Fiti before deciding to keep going. Though an unexpected choice given the wealth of powerful second act anthems that Disney has — such as “The Next Right Thing” from “Frozen II” or “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King” — it worked surprisingly well in providing an emotional core to the exhibition. Such a choice prevented the show from being merely a montage of Disney nostalgia, but rather, a celebration of the triumph and determination of these Disney characters.
Ultimately, the immersive experience promises to be a fun and relaxing night out, comparable to an upgraded version of a drive-in movie. Though the interactive and immersive experience of the show did not realize its fullest potential, any Disney-lover looking for a way to relive the magic of these childhood movies will certainly not be disappointed by the experience.
The “Disney Animation: Immersive Experience” runs in The Castle through May 29.
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