On Tuesday of this week, ABC aired the latest episode of Disney’s The Wonderful World of Color, The Little Mermaid Live! The title implies that this will follow suit in the tradition of other live television musicals, a recent but seemingly declining fad which began in 2013 with NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! However, this production is quite different than the musicals that have been on television in the recent past. Rather than a direct live version of a stage musical, this production alternates between live musical numbers and scenes from the original animated film. This is the first time Disney has put anything like this on television before. There is not vehemently wrong with this method per se, but it doesn’t quite land the way it was intended. This tries to showcase the animated film and also impress the audience with new musical performances; it is hard to do both successfully. It was, however, nice to see the special introduced by Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in the film.
One of the things that this has going for it is the fact that animation and live theatre are similar mediums. This production takes advantage of this by alternating between the two with new colorful scenery, eye-catching choreography and a great amount of talent from the performers. I can’t help but imagine though that those who were able to see this life really had the full experience, something that television just can’t replicate. This is why movie musicals are so hit or miss; the magic and palpability of live theatre is something that is often lost on a screen.
The best thing about this production is the musical performances. Although the animated bits are nice and offer us a reminder of why this film is a classic, it is the musical performances that make this worthwhile. With a cast led by Moana actress Auli’i Cravalho as Ariel, all of the memorable characters that we love are here and performed well. With new interpretations of the legendary songs by master composer Alan Menken, we see top talent shine. It was also a great choice to include two of the songs from the stage adaptation such as the beautiful “Her Voice”, sung by Prince Eric, played here by Graham Phillips and the duet “If Only”, sung by Ariel and Eric. Other standouts include Queen Latifah, with a memorable rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, featuring an updated bridge in the song.
As both an animation and musical theatre buff, I am in the exact intended demographic for this production and though I wasn’t blown away, I was not as disappointed as many other viewers and reviews have indicated. I am pleased that there was a soundtrack released so I can enjoy these great renditions of classic songs without rewatching this somewhat lackluster production.