Here's Everything We Know About Disney's Secret Cirque du Soleil Show

The new show premieres spring 2020 at Disney World and we have a first look at the magical details.

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December 10, 2019
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Photo By: Disney/Cirque du Soleil

Photo By: Donovan Tremblay

Photo By: Donovan Tremblay

Photo By: Donovan Tremblay,Donovan Tremblay,Donovan Tremblay

Photo By: Donovan Tremblay

Photo By: Matt Stroshane

Photo By: Matt Stroshane

Photo By: Steven Diaz

New Magical Entertainment  

In the past couple of years, Disney Springs — an outdoor shopping and entertainment destination all its own within Disney World — has exploded from a place to shop for souvenirs at Walt Disney World to a must-visit, all-day destination with attractions, food and entertainment that rival offerings you’ll find inside the resort’s theme parks. However, in all of that development and expansion, the large circus tent-like theater in the Disney Springs skyline has been vacant after the Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba closed in 2017. But that’s all about to change as the theater is getting a brand-new show. In April 2020, Drawn to Life will premiere, but unlike its predecessor, this show is co-produced in a three-way partnership between Cirque du Soleil, Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Yep, a Disney Cirque show is happening. But it won’t be just another themed show with music like the Beatles-powered LOVE in Vegas. This is something different and much more magical. Read on for all the details plus Walt Disney World must-dos while you’re in town for the show.

Buy Now: Expedia, From $125/day

The Art of Animation 

There is magic in movement, whether that’s a grand leap of an acrobat or a quick stroke of an animator’s pencil. And that study in motion is the commonality and glue between Disney and Cirque du Soleil, despite their very different aesthetics. The show creators really did their homework. “We did a lot of research and we discovered the wonders of early Disney animation,” says Cirque du Soleil Creative Director Fabrice Becker. The Cirque team took a deep dive into the famous Disney vault and came out inspired by Disney’s pioneering "Nine Old Men" animators in addition to the art of animation itself. Writer and show director Michel Laprise says the show has a deep respect for the craftsmanship of animation. “We went to the origin, where life appears on a drawing. And it’s so strong.” Even the show’s villain, Miss Hesitation, is a nod to an animator’s artistic process. She’s not a monster or an evil queen but just a crumpled-up piece of paper. It represents the self doubt artists have throughout the creative process. Emily Carragher, who plays the character, knows that this truth is universal and something guests will connect with even if they don’t draw. “Everyone is going to recognize it and say, ‘Oh I’ve felt that before’” she says.

The Story 

Cirque du Soleil shows typically feel like a fever dream rather than an actual story. But with Disney there’s always a story. “‘Compared to other Cirque du Soleil shows, the storytelling is a bit more detailed in this show,” says Becker, with a true narrative that will be easy for all ages to follow. The main character is a little girl named Julie and her father Tom has just passed away. Tom was a Disney animator and Julie stumbles into his office to discover a secret: an unfinished piece of animation that she must finish. “It’s really important to us that this show is perfect for families,” says Michael Jung, Executive Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering. And that means kids, too. Jung says that the show will be more accessible for kids both in story and literal participation, “even inviting children up on stage at the beginning.”

The Design 

The stage and the set design will help illustrate a major moment in the show’s plot. Julie will jump from her father’s drawing desk and dive into the page and the world of animation. When she does, the audience will feel as though they’ve shrunk down to the size of a small sketch. “The office of her father is the entire proscenium of the theater,” says Stephane Roy, the show’s set designer. Roy even riffed off of the animation style of multiplane design with seven moving pages. So the backdrops will change out like an artist’s page. Pixar fans will recognize the iconic lamp from “Luxo Jr.” on Tom’s desk, but the set piece isn’t stagnant. It’s a character, too, and will interact with Julie and shine on the audience. Cirque costumes may have a specific style, but the colors for this show are distinctly Disney. Costume designer Philippe Guillotel was inspired by legendary Disney artist Mary Blair and her prominent use of blue, pink and green in the animated classic Sleeping Beauty.

Cirque Talent 

There is so much physical wonder and athleticism in this show. Illustrating the creativity of making art, Cirque artists perform as literal tools of the trade, from paint brushes to pencils. Visitors to the show-in-progress watched aerialist Saulo Sarmiento work on an aerial pole dance that represents an artist’s pencil. Sarmiento’s character is the spirit of legendary Disney animator Ollie Johnson and the choreography in his act reflects the relationship between an artist and his tool.

Disney Magic 

Cirque du Soleil has produced themed shows with famous people, but the characters have always been Cirque. This show is unique in that the characters are Disney, too. “You’ll see Disney animation come to life in a whole new way,” says Jung. “We’re bringing close to 100 Disney characters to life. Not as acrobats, of course, but through animation.” Jung adds that the show will feature “lots of hand drawn animation that’s never been seen before.” Disney animators such as Eric Goldberg — most famous for creating Genie in Disney’s Aladdin — are working on custom animation just for the show. The animated characters are going to be interacting with the live artists with old school theater technology and innovative Disney magic. We do know, however, that the characters won’t break traditional Cirque style and talk. “Not unlike Cirque, all the animation is in pantomime,” Goldberg says. “And that’s really the Litmus test for animation. If it’s communicating, you don’t necessarily need the dialogue. So with all of the characters that will be in the show, you’ll be able to tell what they’re thinking and feeling by virtue of the way that they move and behave. And Disney has had a long history of that all the way back to Dopey in Snow White, through the carpet in Aladdin, through mini Maui in Moana. They’re all pantomime characters.”

Where to Shop at Disney Springs

While you’re at Disney Springs, you have to swing by a store or two. MAC is the official makeup brand of Cirque and the Disney Springs MAC store has been known to do special pop-up events for movie premieres. And you can always schedule a makeup session with one of the MAC artists. World of Disney is also a must-see. It’s the largest Disney store at Disney World and, just like the new Cirque show, this store was inspired by Disney artists. Even the cash registers were designed to look like an illustrator's workspace.

Where to Stay at Disney World 

Disney World has dozens of themed hotels on property, but, if you’re in town for the show, stay at Disney’s Art of Animation. This resort celebrates Disney’s history of animation and brings popular films to life in fun ways. It’s one of the more budget-friendly resorts on property and you really get the most bang for your buck with themed family suites and a food court with options to please even the pickiest eaters. Better still, this resort is now accessible via the brand-new Skyliner gondola system which services Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Book Now: Expedia, From $197/night

Where to Grab Dinner Before the Show 

Neither Disney or Cirque would confirm, but attentive observers noticed two backdrops at rehearsals in Montreal that looked just like the ballroom and the forest from Beauty and the Beast. Also observed: a piece of paneling that looked just like the column and floor-to-ceiling windows from that film's iconic dance scene. So if you want to immerse yourself even more in the Beauty and the Beast story, make a reservation at the Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom for the perfect pre-show meal. It’s truly like walking into the movie, from the grand ballroom to the mysterious West Wing. And you can “try the grey stuff.” Disney’s new bus service allows direct transportation from the Magic Kingdom to Disney Springs after 4 p.m., but if you’re eating lunch before a matinee you can order a Lyft or splurge on a “Minnie Van” to quickly zip over to the theater.

Buy Now: Expedia, From $125/day

Where to Go for a Post-Show Drink

If you’re in town without the children, check out The Edison at Disney Springs for a pre-show cocktail or post-show nightcap. One of the newest 21+ editions at Disney Springs, this bar is designed to look like a 1920s electric company. And if you didn’t get enough athleticism at the Cirque show, there are cabaret acts at Edison including contortionists and aerialists.

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