Monday, June 11, 2018

Moana: A Homecoming Celebration at Hong Kong Disneyland

While this isn't specifically a Disney blog, Disney is our life. And I don't just mean we're really big fans (though we are, especially me). I mean for over half my life, Disney has paid our bills and given us this wild, wandering life around the world, which in turn provides the fodder for this blog and several other projects. 

From my earliest childhood, all I wanted to do was travel the world. A wildly imaginative and precocious kid, my poor frustrated parents would frequently throw their hands up in the air and say, "What are we going to do with you, Heather?" My answer was always some variation of sending me to Germany, or other faraway location (fun fact: the first country I traveled to outside America was indeed Germany). I didn't know actually living around the world was a possibility, or else that would have been my childhood desire I'm sure. But here we are, having lived in five different countries (two of them more than once) as a direct or indirect result of a career with the Walt Disney Company. So yes, I'm a big fan, in a really unique niche of fans who might say they owe a lot of their fulfillment and quality of life to the Mouse. 

Right now we're back in Hong Kong where my husband is part of the team bringing new and exciting changes to Hong Kong Disneyland. We'll be here for several years (I keep saying four-to-forever years) and it's such a thrill to see the magic unfolding each time I visit. There's a lot in the pipeline over the next five years for this gem of a Disney Park, and the first brand new attraction in their multi-year expansion plan opened just two weeks ago. 

'Moana: A Homecoming Celebration' may only be a twenty minute live show, but it's a captivating and high energy experience for audiences of all ages. It takes place in the brand new Adventureland venue, Jungle Junction. It's a colorful outdoor stage, tucked into the green foliage of Hong Kong's natural landscape, reminiscent of island luaus, complete with the requisite island humidity and hot sunshine as a bonus feature!

The outdoor theater has three rows of benches, the front row reserved for the youngest guests who get to participate in some drumming, the second row for the little guests' guardians, and then the third row goes first come, first served. There's plenty of space to stand however, with decent views of the action. All my photos in this post were taken while standing behind the benches. 

The cast is small, just Moana, two live drummers in full islander regalia, plus six Voyagers who play a huge number of roles including Te Ka and Te Fiti, demigod Maui, chicken Hei Hei, Tamatoa the shiny crab, and all the Kakamora coconut pirates. Throughout the show, dozens of creative props and puppets add depth (and cuteness) to the story of Moana's adventures and her triumphant return to her village of Motunui.

In a theme park where guests speak a wide variety of languages, it's a challenge for a new show to get the story across in a meaningful way without redundantly repeating the same lines over and over in a trio of languages or dialects. While several of the entertainment venues at Hong Kong Disneyland utilize subtitles or characters within the show who only speak Mandarin or Cantonese, 'Moana: A Homecoming Celebration' moves the story along thanks to amazing choreography and talented dancers who use their bodies to create the sea, a wild fight on the high seas, and even the lava demon Te Ka. If there wasn't a single word in any language, we'd still effectively understand what was happening thanks to the beauty of very accessible visual storytelling. This, of course, is a big part of why I love Disney... the ability to create such an inclusive environment for its guests, with story at the heart of everything it does. 


I can't get enough of the rich color palette, the costumes full of movement, clever lighting design which adds so much even on a bright and sunny day, and the amazing texture of every part of the theater itself, which all add up to create a magical experience so much more than the sum of its parts. 

The rest of Hong Kong Disneyland is also joining in with the island vibe, publishing weekly Times Guides featuring Moana, new stickers available from various Cast Members, and even some new Polynesian-style meals, snacks, and beverages at the River View Cafe (Banana Beignets FTW!) in Adventureland.

There's so much more to come in the next five years at Hong Kong Disneyland, but if this sweet start is any indication, I can't wait to experience all the rest to come! Next up will be an all new attraction featuring Ant-Man and the Wasp, fighting off an army of Hydra swarm bots. I confess I'm just along for the ride with the Marvel Universe, hitched to the wagon driven by my husband and two teenage sons who are huge fans (unless we're talking Dr. Strange, and then I have no problem at all expressing the 3,642 reasons why he's my favorite Avenger). Even so, it will make a nice addition to the already Marvel-themed Iron Man Experience and Iron Man Tech Showcase in Tomorrowland.  

For now, you can catch me returning over and over again to Adventureland and Jungle Junction to visit the Voyagers and Moana to be charmed all over again. Let me know when you're going, we can meet up and pop over for some tropical drinks at the Disney Explorers Lodge to cool off later!

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