Ariel, the title character of Disney’s classic animated film The Little Mermaid, famously sings about wanting to become “Part of Your World” in relation to the prince she loves and the surface-dwelling existence she thinks is preferable to her life undersea. While Ariel’s efforts to achieve that new life for herself lead to conflict and drama, the masterfully produced movie didn’t have much difficulty instantly becoming a lasting part of our world after it hit theaters 30 years ago, in November 1989. Thanks in large part to infectiously catchy Alan Menken/Howard Ashman tunes like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” the film kicked off the Disney Renaissance in traditional animation.
The beloved tale will be retold in Disney’s upcoming Little Mermaid CGI/live-action feature-film remake, but this month’s ABC live musical special The Little Mermaid Live! — airing as a tribute to the original film’s 30th anniversary — is unrelated to that. In fact, after listening to the production’s director and executive producer Hamish Hamilton explain it at a press conference, it seems The Little Mermaid Live! isn’t quite like anything that has been attempted on live television before.
Having directed every Super Bowl halftime show since 2010, Hamilton is no stranger to producing live events on a huge stage, but even with that technical experience he seems to have found a fascinating new challenge with this production.
“It’s an interesting hybrid,” Hamilton said. “It’s a celebration. We’re celebrating this incredible animated feature, and we’re going to do it on the Disney lot … live-to-air in front of a live audience.
“We will have a giant projection surface, and on that projection surface we will play the [original] feature. When we get to one of Alan and Howard’s wonderful songs, essentially we will transition beautifully and smoothly into a world of live performance.”
Whether Hamilton is successful in the technical aspects of bringing to life an underwater world live onstage during these musical numbers will remain to be seen. One thing we do know already, though, is that the production’s star-studded cast will certainly do justice to the legendary songs.
Auli’i Cravalho, who had a breakout role voicing the main character in Disney’s Moana, headlines the special as Ariel. Reggae/rap star Shaggy, with not only his singing talent but also his Jamaican background, is a fitting choice to bring Caribbean flair to the voice of Sebastian the crab. And we are absolutely looking forward to Queen Latifah, who plays sea witch Ursula, belting out that villain’s show-stopping number “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
“I’m excited about the whole thing,” Shaggy said. “I have three daughters, and I had to sit down and watch this movie, the original movie, over and over and over and over and over again. And I feel like Sebastian is me because after a while, you are watching it and your girls are there, and because they are reciting every line to it, you’ve got to join in at some point because that’s the only way you’re getting points as a dad.”
Turns out, this isn’t Shaggy’s first encounter with performing a classic Little Mermaid song, either.
“Years ago [in 1996], actually, I recorded ‘Under the Sea,’” he explained, “and I kind of did, like, almost a rap version. It’s funny how things come full circle, that now I’ve been granted this amazing opportunity, and I think even for the whole Caribbean, just having this Caribbean feel and this Caribbean rep over here. Doing it is pretty exciting, and I’ve just got to embody it.”
Cravalho expressed similar excitement about embodying a classic character, coming across with the same confidence as the Little Mermaid herself despite the uncertainties of a live performance coupled with the expectations some fans might have for Ariel.
“I had the absolute honor of meeting Jodi Benson [the voice of Ariel in the 1989 feature],” Cravalho offered, “who brought this wonderful character to life. … I think that I share the curiosity, and I share the joy that Ariel has. And I think there is just so much room to play with that while, of course, still paying homage to the original character.
“I won’t have to worry too, too much about what I bring to the character because I bring myself, and I feel like that’s enough.”
The Wonderful World Of Disney Presents The Little Mermaid Live!
Tuesday, Nov. 5, 7pm