At occasions, final evening’s ABC telecast of “The Little Mermaid Live!” appeared as caught between two worlds as its heroine.
Was it presupposed to be a one-of-a-kind reside tv occasion? Or was this simply one other re-airing of an animated basic? Was it a nostalgic reminder of Walt Disney Studios’ lengthy affiliation with community tv? Or was it a two-hour industrial for all issues Disney?
The most necessary query: Was it entertaining? The reply: Mostly sure. As the Disney executives discovered 30 years in the past, a handful of catchy Howard Ashman and Alan Menken songs almost at all times covers up any shortcomings.
“The Little Mermaid Live!” wasn’t a simple live-action adaptation of the 1989 animated movie, nor was it a TV model of Disney’s 2007 Broadway musical. Instead, the producers borrowed an concept from the current Hollywood Bowl live performance displays of “The Little Mermaid,” by alternating between the unique movie’s footage and a few new reside performances of its large musical numbers.
Even abridged and lower into chunks, the film stays a delight. Back in 1989, Walt Disney’s animation division had been within the artistic doldrums for many years till “The Little Mermaid,” with its Hans Christian Anderson-inspired story of a mermaid named Ariel who sacrifices her voice to a sea witch, introduced households again to multiplexes in droves.
The visible model and animation in “The Little Mermaid” appears crude right now, a minimum of in comparison with what the studio would produce within the 1990s with “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” But the straightforward love story, the colourful characters and Ashman and Menken’s toe-tapping music nonetheless make the movie straightforward to look at, and rewatch.
Jodi Benson, the voice of Disney’s authentic Ariel, launched “The Little Mermaid Live!,” earlier than giving strategy to the brand new model’s live-action lead: Auli’i Cravalho, best-known for voicing the title character within the 2016 Disney hit “Moana.” Queen Latifah performed the witch, Ursula, whereas Graham Phillips took on the position of Prince Eric.
The reggae performer Shaggy performed Ariel’s anxious adviser, Sebastian, a comical crab who had two of the evening’s showstoppers: the rousing, Caribbean-spiced “Under the Sea,” and the seductive love ballad “Kiss the Girl.”
The actor John Stamos reprised an element he’d beforehand performed on the Hollywood Bowl: the fish-eating fiend Chef Louis, who gleefully belted out the darkly comedian quantity “Les Poissons.” (Anyone who can see the phrases “Les Poissons” with out instantly saying “hee hee hee haw haw haw” in an outrageous French accent has clearly by no means seen the 1989 “The Little Mermaid.”)
All of those performers dealt with the fabric effectively. The stunt-casting of celebrities has generally been a drag on reside TV musicals however this forged may sing, and none had been requested to behave, for the reason that animated characters dealt with a lot of the dialogue.
Queen Latifah was particularly spectacular, sounding appropriately deep-voiced and sultry on Ursula’s large tune, “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” The lesser-known Phillips was additionally a shock standout, bringing depth and resonance to “Her Voice,” a tune from Broadway’s “Little Mermaid.”
The particular’s staging was extra hit-and-miss. The Broadway musical’s elaborately costumed dancers had been principally changed with puppets, which gave the performances visible influence however generally made the manufacturing seem like a low-budget native kiddie TV present.
Unlike a few of the different reside TV musicals, the studio viewers was solely intermittently an element, and infrequently for the higher. The crowd principally stayed silent when the film was taking part in, then whooped so loudly at Queen Latifah and John Stamos that it was generally laborious to listen to Ashman’s witty lyrics.
In normal, the transitions from animation to live-action appeared clean, though the items nonetheless felt disconnected. The general impact was like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the place the pure movement of marching bands, floats and balloons is periodically interrupted by stripped-down, out-of-context excerpts from Broadway exhibits.
Overall, “The Little Mermaid Live!” in all probability wouldn’t have been one of the simplest ways for a newcomer to expertise the unique film. But the particular’s stop-and-start strategy could have sparked some heat emotions amongst TV viewers sufficiently old to recollect the weekly “The Wonderful World of Disney” broadcasts, which frequently offered treasures from the studio’s vault in truncated variations, damaged up by commercials. (Granted, quite a lot of the advertisements in final evening’s present had been for Disney Plus, the corporate’s upcoming streaming service that couldn’t have existed 30 years in the past.)
And from time to time — if not very often sufficient — the reside materials in “The Little Mermaid Live!” did end in some actual Disney magic. When Cravalho as Ariel sang the basic Disney “I wish” ballad “Part of Your World,” after which floated above the viewers as if swimming by the air, the second was genuinely thrilling — not in contrast to the way it felt to sit down in a theater in 1989, and see an American popular culture establishment spark again to life.