Disney Junior – Leaving the “Playhouse” Behind?

| March 31, 2011 | 2 Replies

I’ll admit it.  I went to see the new Disney Junior Live on Stage show at Disney’s California Adventure with a bias on my shoulders.   Let me explain.

Even though I love most of Disney’s pre-school shows and have kids that fit their target demographic, I need to disclose that I grew to become a “hater” of the final reincarnation of the Playhouse Disney show that used to reside in the Playhouse Disney Theater here (as well as in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World).   Yep.  I said it.  I miss the original.  I miss BEAR and Tutter.  I miss Stanley’s gorilla picking the bugs from his head.  I even miss the ambiguously-named human host, Jamie!  I always slept during the Pooh song, so I don’t miss that.

Despite this fact, I kept my mind and heart open as I took my youngest daughter to see the show.  We’ll talk about this more, after we talk about the current show for those of you who are waiting to hear about it!

They finally finished this show venue’s 2 month remodel, and it’s open now as the new Disney Theater, featuring Disney Junior Live on Stage.  After a week of soft openings, and two days of official opening, we decided it was time to go and check it out.

Let’s start with showing the newly renovated home of Disney Junior Live on Stage.  With the change to becoming the Disney Theater, the building has been modified to reflect more of its art deco design.   They are little details, but they do make a difference.

The schedule poster has been updated to reflect this new style.

The queue has been touched up with new bracketing on the shade structures,

with that same design scheme carried into the pre-show video screen consoles.

The pre-show video has been updated with clips from all of the latest Disney Junior shows and, as you can tell from the photo, they are closed captioned for the hearing impaired.

As you come through the queue, you notice the updated entrance with around a thousand little light bulbs that were installed into the marquee overhang.  I wasn’t there at nighttime, but I’m sure they are absolutely gorgeous!

Those new doors are a stylish piece of work, too.

When you enter the theater, you are seated in designated areas on the floor Fear not if you are physically unable to take one of these floor seats, there are benches all along the walls of the room.   There are cast members at the front of the room there to entertain the audience while the room is being filled.  They lead the kids in a variety of exercises, from doing the wave to creative clapping, to cheering “Mickey! Mouse! Clubhouse!”  Some have more crowd pleasing ability than others, but it serves the purpose of warming up the kids to the experience and letting them get out a bit of energy.

I feel a great need to point out (for those of you who have never seen it) the actors in this show are toddler-sized, puppet versions of your favorite Disney Junior characters.    It’s a little odd, if your expectation is that you are coming in to see Mickey and the gang as they are usually seen in the parks.  That being said, as the show starts, we meet our human host – Casey, as well as Mickey himself.

Then, they bring out the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and set up the main story of the show:

The Clubhouse friends are trying to have a surprise party for Minnie Mouse’s birthday.   Daisy can’t figure out how to hang a sign, Goofy isn’t sure how to bake a cake, and Donald isn’t sure how to write a birthday song.  Casey tells them that maybe they’ll get ideas if they hear stories from three other Disney character groups.  If you have kids, you’ll know these names, if not, play along….

The first story is from Handy Manny.   These guys are Manny’s bilingual talking tools and they help him repair all kinds of stuff.

This is Pat – the hammer.  He thinks he can fix Mayor Rosa’s bubble machine all by himself.  Yeah, that idea doesn’t work out too well.  Pat gets upset and hides.  The kids in the audience are asked to help find him.

In the end, they all work together and Pat is shown that he really is needed to be a part of that team in order to save the day.

I love the fun characters in this story, as well as how they use a mix of English and Spanish to teach kids to break cultural barriers.  I’m still not sure how it actually helps Donald realize that he needs to write a song about everyone in the Clubhouse for Minnie’s birthday present.  The kids don’t seem to care though.

Next up are the Little Einsteins.  Yep, those big-headed kids who are a bit too young to be playing unsupervised with their friend, Rocket – a living rocket ship with all sorts of high-tech gadgets that takes them into dangerous adventures.

While I’m not a big fan (at all) of this particular television franchise, I applaud that they are trying to teach preschoolers by exposing them to the language of music education and art appreciation – both of which I am a big fan of.  Their Disney Junior story uses music terms to help Rocket win a race.  Which, he does.  Of course.  But only after the kids are asked to pat, clap, and wiggle their bodies uncontrollably!  Apparently, this makes Rocket fly “super fast”.  Who knew?  Scary, almost.

From the audience response, the kids like the wiggling part the best.   What they were supposed to learn was that having a friend cheer you on can help you achieve a goal.   Goofy takes that literally, and says he’ll get a friend to cheer him on and that is how he will make his cake.

Now, for those of you who are thinking “This is the same show I saw when I saw Playhouse Disney last year!”….. you are correct.   I had hopes that it was going to be rewritten, but from everything I heard news-wise, folks were saying it was still the same Playhouse Disney show segments, only with Disney Junior’s wildly (and scarily) popular new show, “Jake and the Never Land Pirates“, replacing the now defunct “My Friends Tigger and Pooh“.   So, now we get to the point in the show, where this change is evident.

The Jake and the Never Land Pirates segment opens with a serenade by Bones and Sharky, who represent the Never Land Pirate Band,

as Casey opens their story-set.  There was a wild response from the audience to this story intro.  Even my own child, who doesn’t watch them was very excited.

Here we meet our pirate heroes – Jake, Izzy, Cubby, and their parrot/mentor Skully.

Their treasure chest, full of all of the doubloons that they have earned from solving their adventures, has been stolen by Captain Hook and Mr. Smee

and they are determined to get it back.  Casey asks the audience to help them use their telescopes to spot where Captain Hook has hidden the chest.

Once they find them, they sneak up on Hook and Smee…

Casey then asks us to work with the team to chase Hook away by pretending to be his nemesis – Tick Tock, the crocodile.

By moving our “jaws” and saying “Tick Tock”, we manage to scare Captain Hook and Mr. Smee, rescuing the treasure!

Of course Bones and Sharky come back out and play a celebration tune and with this story, we have now taught Daisy that there are always folks to help you do something that you may not be able to do yourself.  Daisy then remembers that the Helping Hands, that are part of the clubhouse, can help her hang the birthday banner.

So let’s talk about my reactions to this.  Like I said – I went into this prepared to not enjoy it.

Remember how I said I didn’t like the now-closed Playhouse Disney show?  Well, I think it’s important for you to understand why, before I talk about my opinions of the new show.   Even though I tried to explain it earlier, for those of you unfamiliar with how the show is written, it uses storytelling as a way to teach problem solving.  The main characters need to do something, but don’t know how to accomplish it.   The characters from popular Disney Channel shows then appear before you in “live” puppet-form, performing a mini-episode of their show.   The main characters then learn to solve their problem using the “moral of the story” from what they just saw.  In the original show, this was a the strong element that kept us all coming back for years – even though those shows were no longer on the air.

I realize I am a grown-up, but this is where I have my issues. Having Rocket win a race by people cheering is supposed to help Goofy bake a cake by cheering him on?  Having everyone work together to solve a problem is supposed to inspire Donald to write a song that is sung by everyone at the end?  I thought his concern was what to write the song about, not how to have everyone sing it.  These are obvious details that become tedious for adults.  In fact, I thought it was just me until I asked several teacher friends.  Guess what I found out – none of them cared for that aspect of the show.

But frankly, this isn’t about me and what I think.  It’s about our kids and, you know what?  My 4 year old had a fabulous time.  She interacted along – though not at first – and said her favorite part was when they chased Captain Hook by playing Tick Tock.  I won’t give away all of the surprises that she enjoyed in the show, but of course, I definitely think her favorite part is running to collect the celebratory streamers at the very end.  In fact, I think there are still some in my purse!

Photos by N. Johnson.

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Category: Disney World, Disneyland, Editorials

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Disneyland Podcaster for the DIS Unplugged