Walt Disney World has announced that a “reimagined” Finding Nemo – The Musical will debut at Animal Kingdom in 2022. In this post, we’ll cover the details, rumors that preceded this news, and what else you might expect from live entertainment for the rest of this year and in 2022.
Prior to this, an email went out yesterday to performers in Finding Nemo – The Musical indicating that the show would not return, but that something new was in the works. That followed literally months of rumors that the stage show was “permanently closed,” with those reports gaining more traction this week.
To my knowledge, these rumors have been floating around since at least December of last year. We haven’t reported anything on Finding Nemo – The Musical here, aside from updating our 2021-2022 Walt Disney World Attraction Closure Calendar last week with a “Likely 2022” reopening date for the show. That’s because we haven’t heard anything firsthand from credible sources with regard to this specific show’s future until now…
Walt Disney World’s official announcement is incredibly light on details, and it seems likely that it was made prematurely as the company’s hand was forced by a proliferation of rumors. In any case, here’s what Disney revealed:
“Although our Disney Live Entertainment team is still in the early stages of development for the show, the musical retelling of this underwater tale of family, friendship and kindness will feature new story material, as well as fan favorite songs such as ‘In the Big Blue World’ and ‘Go with the Flow.'”
Again, we have not heard anything directly about the fate of Finding Nemo – The Musical and thus cannot speak to the credibility of various rumors that have been swirling over the last several months and, more recently, this week. It does seem like some of these could be confirmed or debunked fairly easily, as Theater in the Wild has been in use for various physical distancing and training purposes since the park reopened.
For me, there are some red flags around anything that has not already returned at Walt Disney World (or had its comeback officially announced). These are fears and concerns based upon my assumptions and not actual rumors, though.
Back when we posted What’s Returning & Not Yet Back at Walt Disney World in 2021-2022, one topic discussed was entertainment timelines. There, we mentioned that one big obstacle for some shows is the Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents performers.
The Actors’ Equity Association has created onerous standards for the resumption of many productions all around the country. The “standoff” between Disney and that union has been an ongoing and contentious issue throughout reopening, with posts last fall (here and here) discussing what was happening at the time.
My outsider’s perspective in following this saga (and receiving press releases from the Actors’ Equity Association) is that their primary concern is not with negotiating a prompt return to work for Cast Members. It seems like the union is more preoccupied with setting a precedent that will apply to Broadway and other “serious” entertainment venues.
I’d stop short of saying the union is doing Cast Members a disservice, but only because that’s not really my place. However, many Cast Members–including those in the Actors’ Equity Association–hold precisely this view. (See the comments to the “Welcome Home” Facebook video posted by the union, among other social media posts.)
Walt Disney World may have decided it’s not worth the hassle to bring back certain shows until the Actors’ Equity Association aligns its reopening plan with current CDC and OSHA guidance. These ‘rules’ apply both backstage and while performing, which creates issues with a lot of Equity-centric productions at Walt Disney World.
The union’s requirements are also why some shows that have returned are being presented in modified form–sometimes with fairly awkward changes and physical distancing that doesn’t really suit the stage shows. (Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage is a good example.)
This is not to paint Walt Disney World as the “victim” here or being without recourse. To the contrary, there are undoubtedly ways that Disney could bring back every single one of those performers either in modified productions or to other venues for temporary entertainment offerings that work within AEA’s safety plans for reopening.
Disney is a creative company at its core, and they could’ve done exactly that–gotten creative–upon realizing that some existing shows were not going to be workable. They’ve had literally months to figure this out since crowds started growing back in the spring. There’s no (good) excuse for Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom still having so little to do despite charging full price.
The point is that there’s plenty of blame to go around. Even if the terms laid out by the Actors’ Equity Association were overly onerous, Walt Disney World has had plenty of time to adapt and figure something out. The failure to do so suggests this is more about cost-savings at this point than anything else. Disney’s hands are not totally tied. (That focus on cost-cutting also has me worried when it comes to the “reimagined” Finding Nemo – The Musical, even though I know absolutely nothing about what it’ll entail.)
Ultimately, our view at this point is that anything entertainment-heavy that isn’t back already probably won’t return until 2022, if ever. Our expectation is that Festival of Fantasy Parade will be the first thing to return early in the year. That’s not a “rumor,” but rather, something we’re surmising from the fact that Magic Kingdom will have parade performers from Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, and it’ll probably make sense to move them to Festival of Fantasy after that ends.
It’s possible other stage shows will return in early 2022, but don’t hold your breath on that. October through December are going to be incredibly busy, and if it was not deemed “essential” to have shows back by then to help absorb crowds–which almost certainly would’ve been announced by now–it’s unlikely Disney would bring it back a couple months later during the off-season. (Performers and atmospheric entertainment acts are a different story.) Having more ready in time for spring break 2022 is more logical, even if disappointing. Again, zero inside information here–just going with what seems plausible in light of what has and has not happened to date.
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What do you think about Walt Disney World’s announcement of a “reimagined” Finding Nemo – The Musical in 2022? Disappointed that more entertainment hasn’t returned already despite the crowds and prices? Hopeful that Walt Disney World still has some “surprises” up its sleeve and more is back by October 2021, or do you agree that 2022 is more likely? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this year, or are you waiting until more is normal? Do you agree or disagree with our predictions? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!