The plot revolves around three high-school seniors, twins Brandon and Nicole and their best bud, Kayla. They've been tight since a chance encounter at age 6 at the entrance of Disneyland.
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"It really was originally set in Disney World. There were a number of reasons why we switched coasts and moved it to Disneyland," Michael Jung, vice president of creative development at Walt Disney Imagineering Entertainment, told me.
One of those reasons was the discontinuation of Grad Nites at Disney World, Jung says. The "Disney Wishes" characters are at that life crossroads that comes with being 18 years old, and they are seeking one more magical night in Anaheim.
"It's an homage to the experience of going to one of our parks," Jung says.
The show, built with Disneyphiles in mind, includes a montage of Disneyland-specific moments and references (Matterhorn, Alice's Tea Party) before the trio finds themselves at the park's wishing well. The trio throws a sentimental penny into the well, and opens some sort of wacky theme-park portal where the friends meet an ensemble of Disney characters.
It's a musical, so you go in knowing you have to suspend belief. And the characters are a bit disoriented at first. Brandon, a lifelong Disneylander, makes references to the underground tunnels at the park only to be corrected by his sister — the tunnels are only at Disney World. But before long they are interacting with Timon ("The Lion King"), King Louie ("Jungle Book"), Rapunzel and Flynn ("Tangled"), Lilo and Stitch, and even taking love advice from Hercules.
Ah, but our heroes are harboring individual secrets, like romantic crushes and college plans. The musical numbers give guidance, most notably when Sebastian ("The Little Mermaid") advises to go ahead and "Kiss the Girl." Eventually, the penny puts the gang back in Disneyland, and that's when a track from the Disney World "Wishes" kicks in.
The show has a "High School Musical" vibe to it, especially with production numbers for the new "Ride of Our Lives" song, the "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" scene, the "Breakthrough" finale from Disney Channel's "Lemonade Mouth" movie and even the up-tempo "When You Wish Upon a Star."
Noteworthy are the set portraying the Snuggly Duckling Tavern from "Tangled" and the rare appearance of an actor portraying Pinocchio. (In the parks, he's usually a costumed character with face hidden.) If you're terribly familiar with the parks, it may be refreshing that the actors are singing, not syncing.
And, there's a lesson, summed up nicely in Kayla's valedictory speech: "Just because I'm crossing the line into adulthood doesn't mean I have to stop having fun."
Don't forget to be kids, kids.