A Preschoolers' Deep-Sea Voyage with Octonauts Live!
Fans of the Disney Junior television show Octonauts can now look beyond the small screen to find Captain Barnacles and his crew of deep-sea explorers. Debuting across the country, Octonauts Live! brings the TV show’s characters to the stage, encouraging kids and their parents to follow the Octonauts' motto: Explore! Rescue! Protect!
My wife and I brought our two sons—three years old and nineteen months—to see the show at Microsoft Theater in LA; we had a little familiarity with Octonauts but were by no means superfans, which turned out to be no problem at all. Octonauts Live! opens with the host, J.B., introducing the audience members as cadets who will go on a mission with Captain Barnacles and the Octonauts crew. J.B. then leads an audience-engaged voyage through the ocean. With two large screens on either side of the stage, J.B. encourages cadets to grab an imaginary steering wheel and guide a boat through sea caves to arrive at Captain Barnacles’ ship.
My three-year-old son really enjoyed steering the ship from his seat. The average age for the children in the audience appeared to be about 3-5 years old, and for the younger crowd, these moments of audience participation helped to keep their attention.
Once "on board" the ship, Captain Barnacles along with every other Octonauts character joins J.B. on stage. Having a passion for the television show clearly adds to the excitement of watching Octonauts Live!; children seated around us erupted whenever a new character arrived. Each costume looks remarkably like the animated versions of Captain Barnacle’s crew, and, more importantly, the characters did not scare my one year old at all.
As the mission progresses, the plot includes some strong educational moments. At one point, the characters liken the levels of the ocean to a layer cake. The sequence then travels through the three layers of this “cake”—the sunlight zone, the twilight zone, and the midnight zone. The layer-cake concept struck me as a great way to relate oceanography to my kids.
After diving through the murkiness of the twilight zone, the show takes a fifteen-minute intermission. The first act runs about forty minutes.
Tweak Bunny and Captain Barnacles meet their newest cadet at Octonauts Live!
After the break, Octonauts Live! cuts the lights to show neon sea creatures swimming against a black curtain. While the effect is cool, a child in front of us was upset by the first creature out—a "red vampire squid.” For kids who get spooked by darkness, the early part of the second act may be a good time to stay in the theater lobby. Also, much of the second act’s action revolves around an underwater volcano, with frequent rumbling noises that shake the theater. My boys were okay during the volcano scenes, but the loud rumbling might upset some children.
Scenes with lots of dialogue are broken up by the cast breaking into related songs. My nineteen-month-old son loved the musical interludes, bouncing on his mom's lap and waving his arms to the music.
The show concludes with the Octonauts crew exploring the ocean, rescuing sea life from potential danger, and protecting everyone along the way. Once the ship reaches safety, Captain Barnacles promotes us all from cadets to actual Octonauts! My sons cheered wildly as they waved goodbye to their new underwater friends.
The second act runs about half an hour, bringing the total show time to one hour and fifteen minutes, including the fifteen-minute intermission.
Though Octonauts Live! is not a show with emotionally moving sequences or particularly memorable music, the production promotes curiosity and knowledge while providing a fun visual experience for kids and adults. On our drive home, my three year old asked why volcanoes erupt. We’d never discussed volcanoes before seeing Octonauts Live!, and now my son is curious about how the planet really works.
Captain Barnacles would be proud.
All photos by the author