Everything You Need to Know About The Little Mermaid Live! on ABC
Guess what's about to be part of your world? The Little Mermaid Live! On Tuesday, November 5, at 8pm ET, ABC will air its much anticipated animation-live performance hybrid of The Little Mermaid, the 1989 classic film that introduced a young audience to the songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and launched the Disney Renaissance.
This Story of the Week will detail everything we know about the television event, and explain how it is different from a certain other Little Mermaid project you may have read about.
What is The Little Mermaid Live!?
It's exactly what it sounds like: A live television presentation of The Little Mermaid, performed under the banner of The Wonderful World of Disney (Disney is the parent company of ABC). The network announced plans in 2017 to air the two-hour special in October of that year, but later postponed the project indefinitely. But this summer, the show was suddenly back on, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the original film.
That movie tells the story of Ariel, the mermaid daughter of King Triton, who trades away her voice to a cruel sea witch for an opportunity to meet her beloved Prince Eric on dry land and receive the kiss of true love. The film features hit songs like "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," and "Kiss the Girl." This new version will blend scenes from the animated feature with live performance, similar to the approach taken in the 2016 Hollywood Bowl concert. In fact, one major cast member from that production will reprise his role for the small screen.
Who's in it?
The carryover from the Hollywood Bowl is John Stamos. He's playing Chef Louis, the singing French chef who tries to murder Ariel's sidekick, Sebastian the crab. Sebastian will be played by recording artist Shaggy, who you may remember from the year 2000, when he put out the songs "It Wasn't Me" and "Angel" (I'm told he's done other things since then).
Leading the cast as Ariel is Auli'i Cravalho, whom Disney fans might know as the voice of Moana. Graham Phillips (13) will play Prince Eric, and Queen Latifah will play Ursula, the sea witch (I must admit, I'm legitimately excited about her rendition of "Poor Unfortunate Souls"). Glee alum Amber Riley will serve as a sort of master of ceremonies.
Will this be better than Rent: Live?
I sure hope so. Rent Live! garnered pitiful ratings, causing me in February to question if the live TV musical genre even had a future. Disney has decided to take up the mantle with a more family-friendly title, which might just make all the difference.
But comparing the two projects isn't exactly apples to apples: Rent Live! was a live staging of a well-known musical (or, at least, it was supposed to be live). We've seen that formula in recent years with The Sound of Music and Peter Pan, usually with diminishing returns. The Little Mermaid Live! will be something entirely new: A presentation of the animated film, but with live performances before a studio audience that pop up during key musical moments. It could be a harmonious blend of old and new that gets every member of the family to sing along. Or, it could be the television equivalent of putting avocado and Skittles on a pizza: lots of individually delicious ingredients that come together in one hot mess of bad taste.
Is Disney working on another version of The Little Mermaid on top of this one?
They sure are, and this had led to some confusion among our readers. To clarify: Next year, months after The Little Mermaid Live! is over, Disney is set to begin shooting a completely separate live-action remake of The Little Mermaid in the style of the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast and the 2019 remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King. Made for theatrical release, this will be a big-budget project with CGI and a cast of big names.
So far, Grown-ish actor Halle Bailey is confirmed to play Ariel, with Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) as the voice of Scuttle and Jacob Tremblay (Pete the Cat) as the voice of Flounder.
Much of the additional casting is still rumored, but Javier Bardem (Pirates of the Caribbean) is in talks to play King Triton, Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) is in talks to play Sebastian, and Melissa McCarthy (The Boss) is in talks to play Ursula (which would make another version of "Poor Unfortunate Souls'' that I really want to see).
One Direction singer Harry Styles had been rumored for the role of Eric, but this week he confirmed in an interview with Capital FM that he backed away from the project after taking a meeting with director Rob Marshall, suggesting that the lengthy filming schedule was the reason.
The new movie will feature all of the songs from the original, with a few new ones penned by original composer Alan Menken in collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda. After picking up multiple Drama Desk Awards for Hamilton in 2015, Miranda told me, "I'm in the musical theater because Alan Menken and Howard Ashman swept me off my feet with The Little Mermaid when I was 9 years old." Could The Little Mermaid spawn a new generation of musical theater fanatics 30 years later? Next Tuesday, we may find out.