When you think of classic Disney characters, the first thing that comes to mind is a perpetually positive mouse. Less obvious, but just as ubiquitous, is the teenager on the brink of an identity crisis.
"One of the core things about Disney movies is that they're about teenagers coming of age," Dan Fields, creative director of "Wishes", the new Disney Cruise Line musical, tells Shine. "It's a sentiment in so many of our movies: a young person reflecting on who they are, where they've been and who they will become."
But "Wishes" goes beyond the sentiment and into more concrete territory. Not a fairy princess or a mermaid, but three modern day teenagers celebrating graduation at Disneyland, make up this musical plot. It's still Disney, so of course they enter a magic world via a wishing well, that's chock full of familiar characters (Hercules, Pinocchio and Mulan to name a few). However, the villains the main characters face aren't evil witches, but their own self-doubts.
Kayla, valedictorian of her class, is harping on her speech, unsure of what she'll say and whether she'll blow it when she's in front of her whole school. Her best friend Nicole meanwhile has her own crisis: she got into a dance school far away from her friends and she doesn't know if she'll be able to make it on her own. Brandon, the male character, inhabits the more traditional Disney fantasy usually relegated to female roles. He's in love with Kayla but he doesn't know how to tell her. (Lucky for him a calypso-centric lobster has his back.)
The show, written expressly for the brand new Fantasy ship with its 1,340 seat theater, takes famed songs and characters from Disney movies and repurposes them with a new story line, much like the cruise line's other entertainment offerings ("Villains Tonight", Disney's "Believe").
The big difference here is that this show was written about and for teenagers, not little kids. "There's a lot of ships geared for younger kids about parents but not a lot for teens. This is the first musical that's identifying with the cruise line's teen demo," writer Kirsten Childs tells Shine.
But looking at the lyrics of songs like Jungle Book's "I Wanna Be Like You" or Mulan's "Reflection"-both of which are featured in "Wishes"- it's clear Disney's heros and teenagers have long shared the same DNA.
With the success of the "Twilight" series and "Glee", as well as Disney's own venture into teen fantasy with "High School Musical" and last year's "Prom", the connection is now becoming more transparent. Teenagers are the new princesses.
In writing "Wishes," Childs didn't just watch a ton Disney of movies, she looked to her own focus group of teenagers to shape her characters. "I'm part of an organization in New York City that takes teenagers to Broadway shows and discusses it with them after," she says. "They definitely gave me a lot of inspiration for this show. They all have such an innocence in the way they view the world and I wanted to honor that. They also seem so desperate to be heard. A lot of people talk to teenagers but not a lot of people listen "
By listening, she heard that not all girls want to grow up to marry a prince. They struggle as much with their career identity as they do with romantic goals. This may explain why "Wishes'" main character, Kayla, is a surfing valedictorian and not a princess stuck in a castle. Kayla may still be a figment of Disney fantasy, but she's definitely of the 21st century.
"With 'Wishes' we were looking to find what a happy ending means for teenagers," says Childs. It may be something we're seeing more of, not just on Disney Cruise lines but throughout the Disney brand. But first "Wishes" has to set sail, when the Fantasy takes it's maiden voyage around the Caribbean on March 31. Depending on how the audience takes to the plot, the musical may have a life beyond the sea.
But back to the question at hand: what is a happy ending for teenagers? If "Wishes" is any indication, it isn't a fairy tale wedding. It's finishing high school.
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