Cirque du Soleil and Disney announce the addition of two new acts as 'Drawn to Life' nears its premiere at Walt Disney World

Nov 04, 2021 in "Cirque du Soleil"

Drawn to Life - Old Mill and Unicycle acts
Posted: Thursday November 4, 2021 4:53pm ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

'Drawn to Life' will premiere at Disney Springs on November 18 2021, and today the creative team shared more exciting details about the upcoming show coming to the Cirque theater on the West Side.


Coinciding with Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary, Cirque du Soleil's 50th production, Drawn to Life celebrates Disney's legacy in the art of animation, from the earliest pencil sketches to the spectacles of today. It marks the first- ever theatrical collaboration of three creative icons: Cirque du Soleil, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering.

Years in the making, the show resulted from extensive visits Cirque du Soleil teams made to Disney theme parks, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Research Library, Walt Disney Archives, and The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

Drawn to Life, written and directed by Michel Laprise with Fabrice Becker as Director of Creation, is a live acrobatic journey telling the story of Julie, a determined girl who discovers an unexpected gift left by her Disney Animator father: an unfinished animation. As she dives into the inner world of animation guided by a surprising pencil, Julie embarks on an inspiring quest filled with her childhood Disney memories. Developed in partnership with Michael Jung, Executive Theatrical Development, Walt Disney Imagineering along with Walt Disney Animation Studios, the story is driven by 10 unique acrobatic acts alongside animation from beloved Disney films. In addition, the show features all-new animation created by Disney artists led by Animation Director Eric Goldberg, best known for characters such as the Genie in the Disney Animation classic "Aladdin."

During the 19-month downtime at the height of the pandemic, Cirque du Soleil and Disney took the opportunity to evolve the show even further by adding two new acts to the original line-up that was just days away from its March 2020 debut. Hearing the creative team speak today gave a real sense of the passion everyone involved in this project brings to the stage. COVID caused a great deal of uncertainty about the future of live entertainment, and everyone involved in the show is so thankful to be back doing what they love, and they cannot wait to entertain a live audience once again. November 18 will be an emotional day for everyone involved.

The first of the two new acts is Garden of Lines, where five unicyclists representing the Blue Fairy of the classic Disney Animation film "Pinocchio" appear to float across the stage, performing synchronized stunts and unique tricks, including jump rope.

The second new addition is The Old Mill, recalling Walt Disney's groundbreaking 1937 animated short of the same name. A fast-moving double wheel structure represents the windmill of the film. Gravity-defying acrobats are in constant motion with the turning wheels, riding their rise and fall— and at times completely airborne.

Watch the video below to see the artists rehearsing for The Old Mill and Garden of Lines acts.

Read on for a complete run-down of all the acts in Drawn to Life, but if you want to be surprised, stop now as there are spoilers ahead. 

Drawn to Life will perform Tuesday through Saturday at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort beginning November 18 2021. For more information on show tickets, dates and pricing, visit cirquedusoleil.com/drawntolife.

Drawn to Life Story, Acts and Principal Charcters

STORY SYNOPSIS

Julie, a courageous and determined 12-year-old, discovers an unexpected gift left by her late animator father: a letter urging her to complete a drawing he left unfinished. From his cluttered desk, Julie is suddenly whisked through a vortex into a world of wonder where comforts of her childhood have come alive and beloved Disney Animation characters serve as her guides. Throughout her quest to complete the animation, Julie learns to erase any self-doubt, to imagine new possibilities and to animate the story of her future.

I. PROLOGUE · BASEMENT · THROUGH THE TABLE

A transformative joyride where imaginary becomes reality. Julie, the main character, was prolific at drawing. She and her father, a Disney animator, had a shared passion for animation. The Disney characters he drew became her siblings and cheered her up when she was down. After her father's death, Julie rediscovers his animation desk in the basement, cluttered with pencils, papers and other objects. Her most important find: a page of unfinished animation her father challenged her to complete. Suddenly, the scene illuminates as she transitions through the table into another dimension set upon a giant animation desk. Characters of her childhood and comforting objects stir to life. Julie is off on an amazing journey into the whimsical world of animation.

II. THE INNER WORLD OF ANIMATION

Animation meets acrobatics as the physicality of the art form is captured dramatically by the Waku Waku. A group of rhythmic gymnasts execute flips, jumps and bounces with extreme precision and torque to represent movement through pages of drawings that make up mere seconds of animation. Using a stage-consuming air mat, they propel themselves into the air while executing energetic gymnastic and tumbling displays in continuous sequence.

III. AERIAL PENCIL

Celebrating the "pencil test," the moment when life first appears upon the animator's paper, these initial stirrings of inspiration become the essence of the art form. An acrobat guides an aerial pole, stylized as a giant pencil, across the stage to create their own animation before propelling dramatically into the air. Soaring across and above the stage while performing feats that mimic the first strokes of inspiration for an animator, the aerialist performs unbelievably controlled stunts, forming fluid and rigid lines as if their body itself is a moving animation. Aerial Pencil is lifted by the same inspiration that led Walt Disney's Nine Old Men to achieve greatness.

IV. FOREST AND STILTS

As Julie experiences fear and self-doubt, colossal pencils summoned by Mr. Pencil leap from their pot to lend Julie encouragement and guide her through a forest of familiar faces. The larger-than-life movements of the Stilt Walkers are skillfully made via the three-meter extensions of their body. Communicating with their partner—and at times entirely trusting themselves—each artist demonstrates immense strength and balance, presenting stilt walking in a captivating and culturally inspired way.

V. ANIMATING A BALL

If you can animate a ball, you can animate the world. The mysterious juggler appears wearing a cape covered in outstretched hands when suddenly, the jacket is mystically carried skyward. Liberated, the juggler performs tricks with unbelievable skill and ease, as if they possess all the hands of their long-gone cape. Juggling behind their back with increasing height, speed, objects and difficulty, the task of animating a simple ball becomes a step in Julie's journey to complete her father's animation. The act echoes the twelve principles of animation outlined in the book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life by iconic Disney animators and Disney Legends Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.

VI. DREAM OF COLORS

Julie's dreams become a palette of colors as Mr. and Mrs. Paintbrush are awakened by the live drawings of an artist who sits painting at her own animation table. High above the stage, two artists silhouetted in a suspended giant wheel execute a number based on mutual trust. The catcher turns into a human trapeze and flings their partner into the air to perform increasingly complex flips and somersaults. Their bodies as paintbrushes create dramatic watercolor streaks across the canvas 25 feet in the air. The kaleidoscope of colors pays homage to the genius of Disney Animation artist Mary Blair. Tribute is also paid to the Women of Ink and Paint, unsung heroes whose brushstrokes gave life to early animation celluloids.

VII. GARDEN OF LINES

Playing with friends stirs the inner child in an homage to cherished tales that inspire an animator. Lines are the first penciled strokes of the animator's craft. Awake from her dream, Julie is swept into a wonderland of familiar shadows, shapes and outlines. Disney characters in oblique forms surround her. Julie's whimsical mood fixates on a mischievous marionette from a time-honored Italian fairytale. Five playful unicyclists representing the Blue Fairy of the classic Disney Animation film "Pinocchio" appear to effortlessly float across the stage, performing synchronized stunts and individual tricks with pinpoint precision.

VIII. THE OLD MILL

Owls dreamed up by Julie's imagination weather a storm using teamwork and courage to carry them through the powerful wind and rain that threaten their windmill home. The Old Mill, recalling Walt Disney's groundbreaking 1937 animated short of the same name, inspires this amazing act and is seen in projections throughout. The windmill of the film is represented in a spectacular, churning, fast-moving double wheel structure. Gravity-defying acrobats are in constant motion with the turning wheels, riding their rise and fall—at times airborne—with astonishing balance and agility. The act links seamlessly to the mill and the teamwork of the owls to see the crisis through.

IX. HAND TO HAND LOVE

Julie envisions her parents as an iconic fairytale couple, dancing like a prince and princess across the ballroom floor. In a world-premiere magical Hand to Hand act, two artists connect through tender yet intense movements that defy both strength and gravity. Using magie nouvelle, a movement that redefines magic in the same way that contemporary circus transformed the ancient art form, the couple inspires awe with their hand-and-body balancing act. The harmonious physical duet showcases graceful precision and trust between the man and woman.

X. SQUASH & STRETCH

Fun, explosive movements honor the playfulness of the animator who often recalls their inner child when creating. For hard-working animators, Friday night mischief meant getting up from their drawing boards and launching an old-fashioned rubber band fight. Inspired by objects that shot from stretched rubber bands, acrobats spring from a teeterboard to dizzying heights. The gaggle of gymnasts rocket straight up off their boards or somersault dramatically over to the opposite end, celebrating the unbridled pleasure of animation.

XI. SWING TO SWING

Encouraged by feminine energy and spirit, Julie finds the strength to complete her animation before flying into the arms of her father and saying goodbye. The celebratory finale is rightfully an all-female Swing to Swing act—a first in Cirque du Soleil's history. Russian acrobats take flight between two arcing swings swaying, pendulum-like, in a breathtaking show of grace and precision. In their stunning, fly-through-the-air movements, the women celebrate beauty, strength, grace, courage, and ultimately: female empowerment. Their motions are supported by projections of iconic female characters of Disney Animation. Her father's animation complete, Julie's future is unstoppable now.

PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS OF DRAWN TO LIFE

JULIE & PETIT OREILLER – Drawn to Life tells the story of Julie. The courageous and determined twelve- year old shared a passion for Disney Animation with her artist father, who has recently passed. Julie values animated Disney characters and their life lessons as central to her well-being and clings to them as tightly as her favorite pillow, Petit Oreiller. Her transition into wonderment—as characters and tools of the animator's craft come to life—becomes life-changing.

MR. PENCIL & MAINAMIE – Mr. Pencil has a point: heart matters. Julie's father entrusted her to the care of a lucky pencil that sketched great moments in his life. Mr. Pencil comes alive, takes Julie under his wing and becomes her trusted and fun-loving friend who guides her through her quest. A welcoming Mainamie, the comforting white gloved hand, further reassures Julie and gives her strength on her adventure.

MISS HÉSITATION & THE DOUBTOVSKIS – A bulbous ball of crumpled paper comprised of Julie's crinkled, rejected drawings, Miss Hésitation feeds Julie's self-doubt, the inner voice holding her back. Her pint- sized helpers, the Doubtovskis, skit about with waste paper baskets, feeding off the balled-up mistakes of people and animators–the crumpled, castoff objects of hesitation that can lead to fear of failure. Miss Hésitation is not what she seems. Under her villainous veneer is a soul of compassion, warmth - and one confession: Miss Hésitation is only a villain in training who may not be so evil after all.

THE ANIMATORS – Four animators—Cirque du Soleil's bow to Walt Disney's Nine Old Men, icons of Disney Animation—befriend Julie on her journey. They guide her through the principles of animation, teaching her how to complete her father's unfinished drawing. The sole female animator pays tribute to Disney Legend Mary Blair who created concept art for Disney Animation classics such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Cinderella. Seen throughout the show, each animator brings humor and physical comedy into Julie's world.

COMFORTING SHEETS & HORSE TABLE – Five sheets of animation paper feel compassion and empathy, knowing just what Julie needs and what brightens her life. Together they come alive with projections of the characters and moments from Disney Animation that she was raised with, bringing her peace and joy and helping her dream. Iconic Disney Animator Eric Goldberg hand-drew never-before-seen animations of beloved Disney Animation characters to be projected upon the Comforting Sheets. In the world of Julie's anthropomorphic dreams, an animator's desk comes alive with the bucking energy of a horse to be lassoed, yet it is also a best friend beckoning the animator to put pencil to paper. The horse table perfectly exemplifies a show about life and movement.

And one final tidbit from the creative team. For fans of La Nouba, we are told that although Drawn to Life is entirely new, and none of the original acts return, there is one piece of La Nouba left in the show as a nod to the past - but nobody is saying exactly what that is.

Discuss on the Forums

Follow WDWMAGIC on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for more Walt Disney World news and updates

View all comments →

mf197223 days ago

comparing drawn to life & la nouba, drawn isn’t a bad show. we obviously expected something different & felt entertained, but la nouba is the superior show. i’d say it had a better wow factor to it.

TrainsOfDisney23 days ago

The cradle act is actually very impressive and way more difficult than the floor act, but I agree it doesn’t come across as more impressive. To me, that’s simply not an act and shouldn’t be given that slot in the show with such major production elements. Certainly the original concept was to have an actual act there… right?

MisterPenguin23 days ago

Yes. I like it better the second time I saw it last month. Seems they relied more heavily on the artistic dance supported by the wire than pretending they're doing strength moves -- which they ain't, because of the wire. I found this and the swings to be pretty weak. The lady flung into the air doesn't do any aerial flips or twists that are more impressive than what the floor exercise act does. If you have a gimmick to be thrown into the air, you should be doing more difficult skills than what the other acrobats are doing unaided. E.g. the rubber band men on the teeter totters do more difficult skills than the floor acrobats. The show needs a trampoline act to replace those two IMO weak acts.

TrainsOfDisney24 days ago

Has the husband / wife dancing always been a magic trick with just the 2 people? The lighting and music suggests that should have been a much bigger act as well. I also wish they would have done the cradle low enough they didn’t need a safety and brought it out into the ring. That’s a super impressive act that gets lost in the staging.

SaucyBoy24 days ago

Good thoughts that echo mine to an extent. Totally agree about the Russian Swing act being lackluster, those acts are meant to be adrenaline pumping and this one falls flat. But once you've seen Varekai's, O's, and Luzia's versions, it's hard to top. I think Drawn to Life has so much to offer and I hope Cirque and Disney give it time to truly bloom. It's a very different style of Cirque that I don't think a lot of the diehards were ready to accept yet it's still a bit too "out there" for the normal audience.

TrainsOfDisney24 days ago

Just saw the show for the first time. Overall it’s very enjoyable but I felt there were quite a lot of solo acts vs. previous Cirque shows like La Nouba. I was expecting more aerial acts as well, the solo Pencil / Pole is the only aerial act in the show really unless you count the cradle. I LOVED the wheel of death with Old Mill - that was a perfect blend of true classic Disney animation and really amazing circus. Teeterboard was also a stand out. They must have gotten the cheapest Russian swing act they could find… it was really really lacking and definitely wasn’t strong enough to close the show. It’s a beautiful show - I’d definitely see it again especially as casts rotate.

SaucyBoyOct 06, 2022

This is a much better schedule.

wdwmagicOct 06, 2022

Drawn to Life Presented by Cirque du Soleil and Disney announces new performance schedule for 2023 including new matinee show times https://www.wdwmagic.com/attractions/cirque-du-soleil/news/06oct2022-drawn-to-life-presented-by-cirque-du-soleil-and-disney-announces-new-performance-schedule-for-2023-including-new-matinee-show-times.htm

WDWmazprtySep 23, 2022

I really loved seeing La Nouba back in 2000...All the Cirque shows are incredible and I think La Nouba will always be my favorite. I'm excited to see how this new one will be.

IMDREWAug 18, 2022

I went about a month ago and I didn't get the windmill act. Apart from that we only had 3 out of the usually 5 guys doing the jumps and movement on the big piece of paper. A few of the cast members wore masks in the show. I do know Cirque always makes its shows as a plug and play, its not easy finding backup performers for certain acts, as you can imagine.

WondersOfLifeAug 10, 2022

That's what I figured. It did not diminish the quality of the show, if you were not aware. :-)

DznyGrlSDAug 10, 2022

I was there opening night then back again a few days later. What you described seeing recently is the full cast. I would assume they had a Covid outbreak

WondersOfLifeAug 10, 2022

Question... Was there a hybrid show like BATB was during the pandemic with a smaller cast??? Or did I just see a show where 1/3 of the cast got COVID or something?? Because I watched it again today... And instead of 2 owls (only one of the two windmills was used) there was like 6 of them!! Also, the act with the huge bunch of ladies at the end wasn't performed at all when I saw it in June.. AND we only had 4 rubber band people in June, but this time there was like 8! Maybe we just caught them on a bad day where "the show must go on!" What's really funny is I thought that "condensed" show was great in and of itself. So today was a pleasant surprise!

SaucyBoyAug 06, 2022

People are allowed to not like something. While I enjoyed it, there’s a lot of room for improvement that I hope happens if it doesn’t shutter within the next two years.