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‘Immersive Disney Animation’ offers a stimulating celebration for the devoted

Twin Cities Pioneer Press logo Twin Cities Pioneer Press 3/23/2023 Ross Raihala, Pioneer Press

After touring a preview of the new “Immersive Disney Animation” exhibit Wednesday, it struck me that it’s a slam dunk – for certain audiences, anyway.

A collaboration between Walt Disney Animation Studios and Lighthouse Immersive – the company behind “Immersive Van Gogh” and “The Art of Banksy” – “Immersive Disney Animation” opened Thursday at Lighthouse ArtSpace in Minneapolis. The main attraction is a 45-minute film montage assembled from Disney’s extensive animated catalog and projected in a 360-degree immersive environment.

The first part of the show is a somewhat straightforward exhibit focused on both the old-school, hand-drawn animation that put Disney on the map and the computer technology that has taken over the craft. Indeed, the first thing visitors encounter is an animator’s desk with both an analogue character sketch and two computer monitors.

The exhibit goes on to explain various aspects of the animation process – from storyboards to special effects – that will likely delight adult Disney aficionados, but leave younger ones squirming. For the latter, there is a station where kids can take their own stab at drawing characters, Disney or otherwise.

The main attraction is the film. Where “Immersive Van Gogh” simply offered artworks on a loop, “Immersive Disney Animation” is meant to watch from start to finish. The room itself is stunning, at least at first, with massive projections of scenes and songs from “The Lion King” and the like splashed across all four walls, from floor to ceiling.

Visitors can sit at benches, on the floor, or move throughout the room on foot. There’s no real static center, as images move and morph and offer differing vantage points at various corners of the space. One of the most impressive things to me was the interactive floor, with projected electronic leaves and stars that scattered as you walked through them. It’s an impressive effect, for sure, and many of the kids at the preview enjoyed it as much, if not more, than I did.

Then again, I found myself looking at the floor because my eyes needed a break from the main action. It’s immersive to the point that it started to cause optical fatigue for me. Taking breaks to gaze at my feet helped soften the strain on my eyes.

As for the film itself, one might expect it to be a greatest hits packed with Disney’s biggest, most-loved songs. While you will hear the likes of “Circle of Life” and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” there are also lesser-known numbers in the mix. The pace feels odd and meandering at times, too.

While it does include moments and flashes of Disney’s classic early days, much of the screen time is devoted to more modern fare, from “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” right up to “Zootopia” and “Encanto.” Those not well-versed in the most recent Disney films will likely find they’re overrepresented and, frankly, kind of garish when bumped up next to the simple elegance of “Dumbo” and “Peter Pan.”

Of course, patrons exit through a gift shop that’s filled with stuffed toys and memorabilia targeted at overstimulated kids with stars in their eyes. Parents on a budget might want to enter a pre-show pact with their children limiting them to a single purchase, or perhaps just attempt to whisk them through the area before they have a chance to know what hit them.

The “Immersive Disney Animation” press release says tickets start at $39.99, but the website ( offers a variety of price points that go as low as $27.99 each when purchased in blocks of four. Prices are highest on weekends.

There are also premium plus and VIP tickets that can run as high as $99.99. Each level comes with a print and an interactive wristband that flashes and changes color during the exhibition. Given that there’s so much going on as it is, the wristbands don’t add much to the experience. The VIP option includes a few more trinkets and perks as well as free return visits.

Is it worth seeing “Immersive Disney Animation” once, let alone multiple times? It’s a yes for those seriously invested in all things Disney animation. But more casual followers, or those only familiar with certain eras, might be better served by spending the evening streaming their own favorite film in full, from the comfort of their own home.

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