Following hit shows based on everything from Shakespeare plays to the music of The Beatles, what source material inspired the latest production from the famed Cirque du Soleil? That would be James Cameron's Avatar. Cirque's Toruk: The First Flight in currently embarked on a national tour that will play through the fall and I had the chance to see one of the performances a few weeks ago at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While watching the show, I had a lot of thoughts but one that kept reoccurring was the idea that what I was watching would be perfect in Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Before I get into just why I think that is, let me give you a quick overview and review of Toruk itself. First, as you'd expect from a show based on Avatar, the cast is comprised of Na'vi. In fact, aside from the light amount of narration, the show's dialogue is spoken entirely in the Na'vi language. This would be more a problem if the show had more of a plot.
The basic story of Toruk centers around young warriors sent on a quest to save their village and the Tree of Souls it holds dear. To do so, these coming-of-age Na'vi boys must collect five items with which they can control the deadly Toruk (a large bird/dragon scary thing) and protect the tree from lava... or something. Yes, like the film itself, Toruk is more about spectacle than story.
Having never seen a Cirque show before, I feel like I still haven't. While there were some acrobatics, including the famous aerial rope acts that seem to be a staple of these shows, I have to admit I was underwhelmed. At some parts I had to laugh at how the Na'vi around the exterior would randomly do flips and cartwheels just to do something.
If you're paying $50-150 like the crowd at my show was, this could be problematic (sidenote: the show got a standing ovation from the entire arena except for my row, so maybe I'm in the minority with my review). However, if included as a feature within a Disney park, this show suddenly gets elevated. That's why I couldn't help but feel Toruk could easily be condensed to, say, 45 minutes and one act in order to find a home in Walt Disney World's upcoming Pandora: The World of Avatar area.
Perhaps the only thing holding that idea back would be the Cirque name. It could be hard for vacationers to decern why they'd pay to see La Nouba in Disney Springs when there was a free Cirque show in Animal Kingdom. Admittedly that could be an issue, but, at the same time, the presence of La Nouba highlights the existing relationship between Disney and Cirque du Soliel that would be needed in order to make Toruk's journey to the park a reality. Additionally, since the opening of Pandora is still a ways off, there wouldn't be a need to Cirque to worry about cannibalizing ticket sales for their current tour.
Another element of Toruk that made me think of Disney was the use of an app that essentially turned the audiences smartphones in Glow with the Show devices. Throughout the performance, push notifications would alert you when it was time to display the next effect. This included displaying the eyes of a vicious beast, using your phone's flash to recreate the lightning of a storm, and displaying different colors that synchronized based on location and timed to create a beautiful pallet. Seriously — it was Glow with the freaking Show! (If you look closely at the photo below, you can see some of the blue cell phone lights of the crowd.)
Unless you're a huge fan or Avatar, I might skip Toruk when it comes to your town. However, as a Disney stage show, I think it could be a slam dunk. Hopefully the creatives teams from Cirque du Soleil and Disney Imagineering can come together and make what may be a lackluster arena show into a magical and memorable theme park attraction.