The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or Pacific Trash Vortex, that massive collection of man’s plastic cast-offs and other slowly degrading materials that is floating in the mid-Pacific, is a clear indicator that mankind needs to do more to keep the oceans and the rest of Earth’s environment clean. Working to clean up the environment and stop creating more pollution is something that everyone can do, no matter what age.
That is the message of a new 3D musical production by the 12-year old Image in Motion Theater Company (影舞集), which has produced its first children-oriented production, the Chinese-language Franz & Friends Voyage Undersea (海底歷險記).
Franz & Friends Voyage Undersea, which opens at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (國父紀念館) tomorrow night for three shows, is a wonderfully imaginative mix of 3D motion capture, video animation, music, dance and live actors — and a lot of audience participation. It tells the story of four friends — Jack, Siao Kai (小凱), Tang Tang (糖糖) and Dong Dong (冬冬) — who meet up with Franz, who is from outer space, and his amazing candy car. The five characters are played by actors wearing custom-made full-body animated suits. They interact on a stage with the visual imagery to give the feeling of a third dimension in the theater.
Franz takes his four new friends on a magical journey beneath the ocean waves, where they meet all sorts of sea creatures and learn about the damage pollution is doing to the seas.
Franz’s little car, which is actually a kind of motorized encyclopedia that can recognize all kinds of sea life, is a character in its own right. The car is very vain — it runs on praises and complements, which means when it runs out of power, the audience has to shout out words of encouragement to get it started again.
Franz and friends meet all sorts of sea creatures, including the emperor of the sea, who turns out to be a Wizard of Oz type. While having fun exploring the ocean, they end up crashing the emperor’s birthday party, not knowing that sea creatures have become anti-human because humans are trashing their home. The five get caught and are put into a jellyfish jail cell (the tentacles are the cell’s bars). Despite this small setback, the five are eventually released from their cell in time to help the emperor’s best friend, a giant sea turtle, who was too sick to attend the birthday party because it had eaten too much garbage.
The friends end up helping (and getting the kids in the audience to help) the turtle with his garbage mess, leading to happiness all round.
Serina Chen (陳琪), the producer of Image in Motion, and co-founder along with her sister Chen Yao (陳瑤), admitted to some trepidation about the show, seeing that it is the first production they have down that was aimed specifically at the family theater market. However, last weekend’s shows in Greater Kaohsiung went off well, she said.
Image in Motion is known for its elaborate, visual pyrotechnical dance (and song) productions, such as Window of the City which it did for the Shanghai Expo in 2010. The company was formed to bring 3D animation and movie special effects into conventional theater and they have done an amazing job with shows like Not a Love Story (非愛情故事) and @Dream — Not a Love Story II, showing that a stage set can be a living element within a production.
The company’s production is usually not as message-heavy as Franz & Friends, but the company has made sure that imagination and fun come first. Franz & Friends is a treat for the senses, no matter what age you are.