Review: Disney's The Little Mermaid Cruise Show on the Disney Wish

After giving my lengthy overview of the Disney Wish cruise ship yesterday, I wanted to take some additional time to discuss their exclusive stage show entitled Disney's The Little Mermaid. This was one of the things I was most excited about seeing on the Disney Wish. It's brand new, and there is an embarrassingly small amount of content available for it on the internet. One reason for this is that they don't allow recording of any kind in the theater, so all of the pictures I share in this review will be official promo photos from Disney. Disney has done other stage interpretations of The Little Mermaid including a Broadway show and a short stage show at Disney's Hollywood Studios called Voyage of The Little Mermaid, but this was a completely new experience that was unlike anything I've seen before.

As audiences look for seats in the Walt Disney Theatre, the empty stage contains a giant treasure chest up front and center with projections of moving ripples on the floor around it to create the atmosphere of being underwater. Once the show begins, the entire cast comes out and performs an extended version of "Fathoms Below" in which they introduce all of the characters. Roughly half the main cast for this show is race-bent including Ariel, Eric, and Ursula. While that's pretty standard for a Broadway show, it seems like the decision to cast a black actress as Ariel was more intentional due to the appearance of her wig, which is black on the top and gradually fades into tight red curls. This is a different look from Halle Bailey's portrayal of the character in the recent trailer, but the inspiration is still there. A few items are removed from the treasure chest during the opening sequence, most notably the golden trident that Ariel wields proudly to conclude the number. This transitions into "Daughters of Triton," in which Ariel's sisters dance in brightly colored wigs that match their shells and tails, similar to their looks from The Little Mermaid Live! production that aired in 2019.

One of the things I liked the most about this show is how they managed the keep the presentation fresh after doing so many other live interpretations of the movie. The puppets they used for the animal sidekicks like Flounder, Sebastian, and Scuttle are very similar to the animated film and reminded me of the ones used in Voyage of The Little Mermaid. However, the merfolk and human costumes were unique and created a new aesthetic that I found more appealing than what they used in the Broadway show. Ariel and the other mermaids wore cute off-the-shoulder tops with draping fabrics that looked as pretty as they did practical. In her mermaid form, Ariel wore a long green skirt that had strips of fabric draping around it in tiers to create the appearance of large scales with a pleated layer of shimmery green organza underneath that she held up like a flamenco skirt to create the illusion of an elegant fin swishing next to her. The strips of fabric representing her scales were dramatically removed during key transformation sequences to create a more artful effect than lights or projections. Another new feature is how they represented water, which was done by actors holding out long sheets of white fabric across the stage and waving them gently while rippling silver and blue ocean waves were projected over them. The combination of the moving fabric and animated water projections created a stunning effect that I have never seen in another mermaid show.

The story, which was promoted as a "modern-day retelling," mostly followed the animated Disney movie with a few altered lines of dialogue to give it a more contemporary feel. All of the songs came straight from the animated film, but "Fathoms Below," "Daughters of Triton," and "Kiss the Girl" had some extended lyrics. Ariel participated in "Under the Sea" like Auli'i Cravahlo did in the live show from 2019. Triton, who was unfortunately played by a terrible actor, made a reference to losing Ariel's mother as his motivation to keep her away from humans, which may be a reference to the 2008 prequel, Ariel's Beginning, in which her mother, Athena, was crushed by a ship. My favorite new line is when Ariel talks about her motivation to rescue Eric and says "In his eyes, I saw my reflection, and there, it looked like I could do anything!" This was referenced again during the "Kiss the Girl" sequence, in which Ariel's reflection is projected onto the sheet representing the ocean and sings a few lines. While it did look a little cheesy, it was not something I will easily forgot. Another change in "Kiss the Girl" is that Eric asks Ariel her permission to kiss her before he attempts to do so at the end of the song. This was probably thrown in for all the haters who claim the song is misogynistic.

The ending of the show is the part that I think needs the most work. The next two paragraphs will contain spoilers, so you can stop reading here if you plan on taking a cruise on the Disney Wish in the near future and want to be surprised. After Ursula transforms into Vanessa and seduces Eric, the show turns into a big race to the finish line. Eric and Vanessa's wedding is barely touched upon before the shell gets broken, Ariel gets her voice back, Ursula steals the trident, and Ariel gets it back from her, saving the day. This was a huge sequence in the original film that was animated on a massive scale with super high stakes for Ariel, Eric, and all the merfolk of Atlantica. In this show, it's used as a quick lesson in girl power before moving on to the happy ending. As a blogger of all things princess, I am never against girl power, but I feel like the ending of this show did a sloppy job with it.

After Ursula takes her father's trident, Ariel has a beautiful new line that is something like "You thought taking my voice would make me weak? All you did was show me how strong I really am!" Then she starts singing, the trident levitates into her hand, and Ursula acts like she's been defeated. Why did her singing give her superpowers? It probably has something to do with the changes from the upcoming remake that are foreshadowed in the prequel novel, Against the Tide. However, neither the live-action movie nor the novel are out yet, so your average guest onboard the Disney Wish would be unlikely to know about this, and it isn't explained in the show. The Broadway version allowed Ariel to defeat Ursula by destroying her magic shell, which was clarified to be the source of Ursula's powers multiple times throughout the show. The trident, however, is not the source of Ursula's powers; it is the source of Triton's. Taking it back should not render Ursula any less powerful than she was before. Plus, it takes all agency away from Prince Eric, who does very little in this version of the story.

Overall, this is a visually stunning update on my favorite fairy tale with fantastic acting (except for Triton) and stunning new costumes. I liked that it had something new to offer for people who have already seen the movie and a handful of live interpretations of it. The water projections on the moving fabric was an elegant touch, and I loved the addition of Ariel seeing her reflection in Eric's eyes as a human to reinforce that she didn't do it all for a man. The only thing that could have been done better was the ending, which left very little room to breathe. There should have been more of an explanation regarding the powers of Ariel's voice, and Ursula and Eric should have been able to do more during the climax. It felt like the writers wanted to keep the mood consistently upbeat and they were afraid to let anything bad happen to the characters at all, even though that's the secret to writing a compelling story.


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