Back in 2020 – the last media event I attended before everything shut down, we were given about a 20 minute preview of Cirque du Soleil’s newest show at Disney Springs – Drawn to Life. The media event was for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway’s debut, but it also combined other upcoming events around Walt Disney World. The first link above is to my instagram story for what we saw of Drawn to Life back in March of 2020. Last night, thanks to a cast member-exclusive invite-only dress rehearsal, I was able to see the full Drawn to Life show from Cirque du Soleil. I was completely blown away and knew I had to write a Drawn to Life review here, because EVERYONE needs to see this show.
Cirque du Soleil Drawn to Life Review
Cirque du Soleil Theatre
A little background, as you may know and may have seen, the Cirque du Soleil theatre was built to house the original show here, La Nouba. A fan and family favorite, La Nouba ran from December 23, 1998 until December 31, 2017. At the time, fans were unsure if a new show would premiere, but Cirque du Soleil did announce that a new show would replace La Nouba in the future.
Drawn to Life is Born
In November of 2018, casting calls for Drawn to Life were posted. Two years later, at the above mentioned March 2020 event, everyone was very excited to welcome the new show. Then, the world turned upside-down. We all wondered if the pandemic would mean the end of Drawn to Life and even Cirque du Soleil in general. Luckily, they made it through and now Drawn to Life will debut on November 18, 2021. The first 3 nights are already sold out, which is a great sign for the success of the show.
Drawn to Life Storyline
Something that La Nouba was missing was a Disney connection. La Nouba was amazing, the Cirque performers are the best of the best, and the costumes, makeup, and staging are beyond compare. But, there was no Disney in the show. Honestly, I liked that, as a fan of live theatre and performance, I loved that La Nouba opened that world to people that may not have ever seen it otherwise. I was a little worried that the Disney addition would make it too commercial-looking or comparable to a Disney On Ice performance (not that there’s anything wrong with Disney on Ice, but Cirque du Soleil is known for its incredible creativity and pushing of boundaries). My fears were quashed when I saw the preview in March of 2020. My mind was then completely blown last night when I saw the full show.
My one sentence Drawn to Life review: the show is a love letter to the art and artistry of Disney animation. This is what I thought throughout the show, and then when I went on the website today to look for images to use here, I realized, they had used almost the exact wording in their description of the show. It truly lives up to that statement. Here is how the Drawn to Life storyline is described on the site:
Drawn to Life invites you into an astounding world where the art of Walt Disney Animation is experienced like never before. Gather your whole family for an unforgettable leap into this amazing new show—a live acrobatic journey where the stage is transformed into a giant animation table. The art of classic Disney animation is reinterpreted through Cirque du Soleil’s innovative design, acrobatic performances, dazzling choreography, and eclectic costuming alongside all-new Disney animation and an original score inspired by timeless Disney music. The show is absolutely alive with all the high-flying, mind-blowing exuberance that Cirque du Soleil is famous for.
This love letter to the art of Disney Animation celebrates life in all of its motions and emotions. The show tells the story of a determined girl [named Julie] who discovers one last gift left by her animator father: a sequence of unfinished drawings. Guided by a magical pencil and a quirky troupe of imaginative muses, she embarks on an inspiring quest filled with her childhood Disney memories. We’ll follow her as she leaps into a whimsical world of animation and discovers new possibilities that animate the story of her future. Drawn to Life presented by Cirque du Soleil and Disney.
What the description and the short preview we saw in March didn’t prepare me for was the emotional journey that starts pretty much immediately when the show begins. It really pulls you in and you are invested in Julie’s adventures. The story weaves itself expertly between the cirque performances so nothing seems out of place or interfering with the flow. Every character highlights and celebrates some portion of the animation process, including mistakes. Speaking of characters, there are several sets of performances where my jaw was hanging open (thankfully masks are required so no one could see that), others where I audibly gasped, and still others where my mask hid the tears streaming down my cheeks. It is a journey.
In recent times, hardcore Disney fans have been complaining of a lack of major celebration by Walt Disney World for the 50th anniversary and a focus more on current movie characters, merchandise, and food rather than the storied nostalgia of the company. Drawn to Life has put all of that history and nostalgia, combined it with Disney storytelling and heart, and incredible artistic performances to create a must-see event that every Disney fan will appreciate. It is the most “Disney” show I have seen in recent years, and it’s not even technically a Disney show. The creators have concentrated down the essence of the history and the process of creating the magic that we all know and love as “Disney.”
Drawn to Life Technical Feats
The theater was originally designed for La Nouba, but the stage area has now been completely redone to fit Drawn to Life. The stage design and technical effects for Drawn to Life are mind-blowing. You will probably spend a good portion of the show wondering “how did they DO that??” but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how, it just looks spectacular. We were seated four rows back on the right of the stage and there were many (most) times I could not see how things were being accomplished. I can only imagine how it looks from slightly further back. The entire tech crew is to be commended for the magic they have created here.
All above photos by photographer Matt Beard and courtesy of Disney. Since you can’t take photos or video of the show, and I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises for you, you’ll have to take my word that it is worth a viewing and a must-see show. I don’t think I can give a Drawn to Life review without mentioning the costumes and makeup; a major part of the show which should not be ignored.
Each character is made to look like some part of the animation process, either the faces animators make to replicate in their designs, or an implement itself like a pencil or paintbrush. The costume are bright and memorable, making each group or individual performance stand out.
Drawn to Life Acts
Here is a little more about the creation of the show and two recently announced acts that are featured in Drawn to Life:
Drawn to Life, written and directed by Michel Laprise with Fabrice Becker as Director of Creation. Developed in partnership with Michael Jung, Executive Theatrical Development, Walt Disney Imagineering along with Walt Disney Animation Studios, the story is driven by 10 unique acrobatic acts alongside animation from beloved Disney films. In addition, the show features all-new animation created by Disney artists led by Animation Director Eric Goldberg, best known for characters such as the Genie in the Disney Animation classic “Aladdin.”
- In the “Garden of Lines” unicycle act, Julie is swept into a wonderland of familiar shadows, shapes and outlines in an homage to cherished tales that inspire an animator. Julie’s whimsical mood fixates on a mischievous marionette from a time-honored Italian fairytale. Five playful unicyclists representing the Blue Fairy of the classic Disney Animation film “Pinocchio” appear to effortlessly float across the stage, performing synchronized stunts and individual tricks with pinpoint precision.
- “The Old Mill” double wheel act is inspired by Walt Disney’s groundbreaking 1937 animated short of the same name, which is seen in projections throughout. In a display of tenacity, perseverance and rise-and-fall motion, owls dreamed up by Julie’s imagination weather a storm using teamwork and courage to carry them through the powerful wind and rain that threaten their windmill home. The windmill of the film is represented in a spectacular, churning, fast-moving double wheel structure. Gravity-defying acrobats are in constant motion with the turning wheels—at times airborne—with astonishing balance and agility.
Drawn to Life is the 50th production created by Cirque du Soleil and its premiere coincides with the Walt Disney World Resort 50th anniversary celebration. With an international cast of 62 artists, Drawn to Life will perform Tuesday through Saturday at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort.
I will note that “The Old Mill” double wheel act is one of the moments where I audibly gasped and my jaw hung open for most of the performance. The unicycles were mesmerizing and even though there were no technical effects there, I still wondered “how did they DO that??”
Final Drawn to Life Review Thoughts
Almost 24 hours later, I’m still thinking about how incredible Drawn to Life is. I highly recommend it and I can’t wait to bring my entire family back so they can experience the wonder and magic themselves. Congratulations to everyone involved in Drawn to Life for an amazing success. I can’t wait for word to get out about this amazing Cirque du Soleil experience.
If you want a sneak peek at some of the designs used in the show or just to get some nice merchandise, the Cirque du Soleil Store at Disney Springs West Side is now open.
For more information on show tickets, dates and pricing, visit cirquedusoleil.com/drawntolife.
If you see the show, I’d love to hear what your thoughts were!
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