Sit close to rinkside at the start of Walt Disney’s World On Ice: Aladdin and you’re liable to have a four-legged skating camel hop into your lap. And that’s just the start of the tactile theatricality on display in this truly lavish, Vegas-style adaptation of Disney’s animated blockbuster: Performers harass latecomers (but nicely), palace guards rough up kids in the stands (but gently), and a powerful sound system makes you feel the Cave of Wonders deep in your gut. In fact, this Aladdin is so eager to meet you it makes the action broad as a desert — the better to seem intimate, even though it’s touring cavernous sports arenas nationwide. No matter how far back you sit, the stadium venue seems to suit the white-elephant nuttiness of an all-on-skates enactment that basically just reproduces the movie line for line.
For kids in the audience, that familiarity seems to be the whole point: They talk, sing, and even mime along with the action in genuine communal bliss. The Macy’s parade pageantry has the wholesome sheen of a Disney theme-park revue but also comes with lines of bosomy, virtually topless chorus girls (most likely a touch thrown in by producer Kenneth Feld, who also puts on the Ringling Bros. and Siegfried & Roy extravaganzas) and bravado figure skating (Princess Jasmine and Aladdin both execute lots of way-cool flying leaps when they’re not busy flying on a carpet suspended from the ceiling). For sheer spectacle, Aladdin handily outdoes past ice-show productions of Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and Beauty and the Beast.
Though former Olympians and exhibition champs are performing, the voices are piped-in recordings of the actors who did the movie, including Robin Williams as the free-associating Genie (his bull’s-eye celebrity impersonations are intact, even though the suited-up skater who mugs to them can’t shape-shift to match the sound), Brad Kane and Lea Salonga as the singing voices of teens-in-heat Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, and the letter-perfect Jonathan Freeman as the evil Jafar. Provided you avoid the expensive front-row seats, the lip-synch illusion works fine. More disappointing is the lack of live animals (Jasmine’s pet tiger, Rajah, is a stiff automaton, and Abu the monkey is a puppet). But by the time the whole arena claps along to ”Prince Ali” in the show’s second half, the skaters’ fine comic prancing easily overpowers the odd tacky moments, the most tasteless being when a palace guard mimes being struck in the genitals.
Tackier still is a second, unbilled attraction attached to the ice show: a mini-mall selling Aladdin mementos that travels along with the troupe. Sure, every circus and theme park has this stuff, but they don’t all have hawkers who so aggressively push very dear trinkets ($8 programs, $14 T-shirts, $8 Genie flashlights, and $28 ”plush” stuffed animals). However much you end up forking over — prices may vary by city, but parents I talked to at a New Jersey performance had typically shelled out twice the admission price in food and souvenirs — you’re still likely to drive home humming Aladdin‘s Alan Menken-Howard Ashman-Tim Rice music and feeling this was indeed super family entertainment. Just be prepared for one siren song not in the movie: the contented squeals of kids who got an Aladdin ice-show keepsake, and the whining and bawling of those who didn’t. B+