Disney Junior in the House!

Tunip! Photo: Kristen Rutherford

This September, my daughter turned 4, and for her birthday cake, she had a very specific request: She wanted an Octonauts cake. In fact, she was way more granular about it—what she wanted was, “A cake that has Tunip on the top part, and on the bottom part I want it to look like the ocean, and when you cut it open it should also look like the ocean.”  Thank goodness she designed her own cake like this, because, frankly, I was scared she was going to ask me to make the Octopod. Which, I “think” I could do—but it was going to require a lot of engineering, tons of butter, and several trips to Home Depot.

Photo: Kristen Rutherford

Why the Octonauts? Because that show is SO GOOD. Seriously: I predict that in 20 years there will be an influx of marine biologists, all because of their underwater adventures. And the books by Vicki Wong and Michael C. Murphy of Meomi Design are even better. You can watch the Octonauts on Disney Jr. but it’s not a Disney production—it’s a British import. (Some of the accents were re-dubbed for American ears—personally, I prefer the British version where Dashi is Australian!)

The big preschool American properties on Disney Junior right now are: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Sofia The First, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Doc McStuffins.  And lately, Disney Junior has been paying a lot of attention to the four of them, and rolling out tons of fun and interesting live events surrounding them. And in an odd twist of events, my family has participated in a bunch of Disney Junior events in a short period of time.

It’s like I baked that Octonauts cake and suddenly the floodgates opened.

We live in Los Angeles, so Disneyland is right down the road. We have annual passes and head down there when the weather is nice and the park isn’t crowded. We go around my daughter’s birthday once the LAUSD kids are back in school, and top on our “this-is-our-routine-list” is the Disney Junior show over in California Adventure. The performance is a round up of the Disney Junior properties within the framework of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Mickey and the gang are preparing a surprise party for Minnie, and to get inspiration and help, Toodles suggests they check in with Doc, Sofia and Jake for ideas.  Yes, you get to call Toodles. Yes, surprises rain down Disney-style from the ceiling. Most importantly: Yes, you can sing those catchy Disney songs at the top of your lungs and nobody will judge you. (That last part may just be me, but I see other parents doing it—I see you.)

Photo: Kristen Rutherford

Coincidentally, around that same time the Disney Junior Pirate & Princess Adventure Live show came to Los Angeles, so we figured since we love the Disneyland version, we’d check out what they had planned for the big stage.  The show was playing at the Dolby Theatre, formerly the Kodak Theatre; that’s where they present the Oscars. It’s a huge, beautiful space that holds over 3,000 people. The show opened with a fifteen minute live show starring Doc McStuffins—and I was thrilled to see that the Doc was being played by an actual actress—not someone dressed up in the costume and sporting one of those giant character head things. Whenever I see someone in one of those get-ups on a stage dancing around, (as we often do when they do pre-shows at the El Capitan—the Los Angeles Disney movie theatre), I spend the whole time worrying that they’re going to plummet off the stage and meet an untimely death. Just me? Ok then.

Photo Courtesy Disney

Once the Doc finished her little mini-episode/performance, the show kicked in. Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are the emcees, the show kicks off with a live episode of Sofia the First, a short break for intermission, and then a live episode of Jake and The Neverland Pirates. First things first—this is a live performance, in that there are real people on stage acting out the parts—but the whole thing is entirely lip-synced to sound true to the voices of the show. Don’t go expecting a full-on Broadway version of Sofia and Jake, the way you would if you went to see The Lion King, Beauty and The Beast, or even the abbreviated but amazing Aladdin at Disneyland. This lip-synced performance isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you ask me—I’m 100% in favor of getting kids to see live theater as early as you possibly can. Doesn’t matter if it’s Broadway, dinner theater, local ballet troupes, operas, school plays—whatever it takes to get them interested in theater is ultimately a good thing. I loved seeing tons of families there with babies, all ready to experience an event together. I don’t know if this will be true at your local theater, but the Dolby was fine with kids dancing in the aisles too.

Photo: Courtesy Disney
Photo: Courtesy Disney Junior

The show quality, costumes, and set design were top-notch, and the parts well cast, with excellent dancers. I asked my daughter what she thought of the show (she’s four) and she loved it—but she wondered why children didn’t play the kids’ roles. Whenever we see live shows of any kind, we place a lot of importance on the ways we can show the performers our respect for the hours and hours of hard work they put into a show. We dress up, we arrive on time, we pay attention, and we clap hard or give a standing ovation to show our appreciation. So we explained that the huge amounts of rehearsal time, performance hours, and the fact that the show tours around the country would be hard on a kid as far as schoolwork and family goes.

Photo: Courtesy Disney
Photo: Courtesy Disney Junior

The Sofia portion of the show was fine—a good solid episode with a lot of great special effects and surprises for the audience—but the pirate portion was much more exciting and engaging. If you want to see the show, you can check the schedule on Ticketmaster and grab some tickets. That same week, wouldn’t you know it, the Doc Mobile was in our town! The Doc Mobile is a beautiful silver Airstream trailer, decked out in a theme titled, “So Much You Can Do… To Take Care of You!” Children were encouraged to bring a toy that they could perform a check-up on, and the focus was on health and wellness. My daughter had her annual check-up that same week, and I asked her pediatrician if people came into her rooms now singing “Time for your check-up!” She said yes, and that in fact, Doc McStuffins had made her job a lot easier, that kids knew what to expect and weren’t afraid.

Photo: Courtesy Disney Junior
Photo: Courtesy Disney Junior

The day the Doc Mobile arrived, it was a blisteringly hot morning in Los Angeles, and the line for the mobile was HUGE. I was impressed with how the Disney Junior PR team handled the crowd—they had people walking up and down the line with tubs of sun block and bottled water, and they immediately assessed the situation and started handing out wristbands with a time frame for people to return to the event. Just like a Fast-Pass at Disneyland! We made our way through the nutrition charts, and the dance party that taught kids about exercise, and walked through the trailer, and it was fun—but the thing that made this event rise above being just another promotional tie-in to a kids’ show was the presence of actual doctors from the Artemis Medical Society. This group is made up of almost 3,000 women physicians of color from around the world, and was formed after the release of Doc McStuffins. They saw themselves reflected in this young, animated, would-be doctor, and they aim to serve as even more inspiration for young girls who may want to follow in their footsteps. How cool is that?

Photo Courtesy Disney Junior

And okay, the event featured a “big headed” Doc McStuffins—a character that made her debut at the D23 Expo—but you know what? I’ll suffer through my worry of her toppling off any stage. It’s an easy exchange for a show that promotes good health, fear-free doctor visits, and does so much to empower and inspire our little girls.

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