Review: The Little Mermaid Live!

I can't believe this day finally came! My favorite movie was broadcast on television in front of a studio audience with live-action performers and Broadway-style sets and costumes. The Little Mermaid Live! special was a long time coming. It was supposed to happen in 2017, but it got postponed, leaving only my memories of seeing it performed at the Hollywood Bowl without the fancy costumes or sets. Now that the television production finally happened for real, I am pleased to say that they did it right. The transitions between the animated film and the live-action performances were on point, the songs were entertaining, and the spectacle was pure Disney magic. Of course, nothing is completely perfect, not even The Little Mermaid Live!

The special was introduced by the one and only Jodi Benson, who hosted the movie's 30th-anniversary panel at the D23 Expo earlier this year. It seems like every time there's a Little Mermaid event, Jodi is there to celebrate her love of the character that she helped to create. The animated film played on a screen in front of a live audience and transitioned to the performers every time there was a song. Casual fans may not have noticed that several of Scuttle and Sebastian's lines got cut from the film, but I found it mildly irritating This style of presentation for The Little Mermaid is not entirely new. The Disney Parks show "Voyage of The Little Mermaid," which began back in 1992, also switched between scenes from the animated film and song performances with live actors. While many aspects of The Little Mermaid Live! were stronger than Voyage thanks to the longer runtime and bigger stage, The Little Mermaid Live! probably should have borrowed some of Voyage's puppets since its Flounder looked like something out of a nightmare. Another part of The Little Mermaid Live! that reminded me of a Disney Parks production was when Auli'i Cravalho flew over the audience on cables during her rendition of "Part of Your World." A show I saw during my trip to Tokyo DisneySea used this exact same technique, and it was every bit as magical there as it was tonight.

Disney made good use of the extra time they had by postponing this production to pick and choose the best elements of their older live versions of The Little Mermaid to incorporate into this one. They used two of the strongest songs from the Broadway production, "Her Voice" and "If Only," but had much nicer costumes than the spring-loaded butt tails and heelies from that version, proving that they can learn from their mistakes. The Sebastian costume was somewhat harder to salvage since there's no tasteful way to make a grown man look like a crab, so they did the best they could. What I found the most unique about the mermaid costumes in this show is that they had what appeared to be swirling hair covering their chests instead of seashells, similar to the aesthetic of the Filipino mermaid series Dyesebel. I loved everything about these mermaids from their flowing chiffon tails to their diverse body types to the way they floated around the stage on cables. It was a vast improvement over some of the questionable Broadway designs.

Overall, I thought the performances were great considering that they were done in one take. Auli'i proved that she has what it takes to go from the daughter of the village chief to a mermaid princess. I was incredibly moved by the intensity of her singing in "If Only." Instead of belting out the melody, she sang it as the emotional ballad it was meant to be and perfectly conveyed Ariel's conflicted emotions about being with Eric while not being able to tell him who she really is. Queen Latifah gave a powerful rendition of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" in a transforming tentacle costume. Auli'i's participation in Shaggy's "Under the Sea" number added a sense of fun and playfulness to it as she floated around the stage on a big swing. Graham Phillips was charming as Prince Eric as well. I was a bit disappointed by the absence of "She's in Love," a song that Flounder performed with Ariel's sisters in both the Broadway play and the version I saw at the Hollywood Bowl, especially when the sisters didn't even perform their own song from the movie, "Daughters of Triton," which was instead performed by an Emcee character played by Amber Riley. I would have loved to hear Ariel's six sisters harmonize with each other like they did in the original film, but I suppose Disney could only hire so many singers for this production.

It took a few years longer than it was supposed to, but The Little Mermaid Live! finally came to fruition as an outstanding spectacle. Yes, there were a few flubs, such as Queen Latifah saying "Don't forget to underestimate the importance of body language" instead of "Don't underestimate the importance of body language" and John Stamos referencing a "Prince Albert," whoever that is, but these minor issues proved that we were seeing the production exactly as it was performed with no edits. I loved how the mermaids were brought to life with bubbles, cables, and flowing chiffon tails instead of the silly roller skates they used back in 2007 for the Broadway show. It was a fun night that allowed me to dive into the world of my favorite movie and forget about my problems for a few hours. I would love to see Disney release more specials like this one in the future.


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