As it turns out, ABC’s live and animated production of The Little Mermaid was a lot less live and a lot more animated than we had all come to expect. On the one hand, that’s great if you’re a big fan of the original 1989 animated movie and just wanted to watch long stretches of classic Disney animation. On the other, the live performances were restricted entirely to the movie’s songs — plus a few additions from the not-as-successful Broadway show, mostly for Prince Eric’s sake — which, as everyone watching came to realize, are pretty few and far between.
As we adjusted to the fact that Triton was only going to be a hunky animated presence, realized that Alicia Florrick’s TV son has a pretty good voice, and all became ever more grateful to Queen Latifah for actually bringing the energy required for this performance, Vulture’s crack team of undersea critics broke down the best, worst, and most baffling moments from the show.
HIGH: There was a cute dog at the top of the show! Congrats to Prince Eric on his cute dog. That’s gotta count for something, right? —Jackson McHenry
HIGH: The fact that they used so much of that charming classic 2-D animation feels like a self-own, a subtweet of literally everything else Disney’s been doing for the past ten years. I respect it! —Rebecca Alter
LOW: I didn’t come here to watch the animated movie, folks. —Jen Chaney
LOW: I also didn’t come here to watch Disney+ commercials, folks. Although I really should have anticipated the bait and switch. —J.C.
LOW: I forgot Little Mermaid is front-loaded with these not-so-classic songs. —R.A.
HIGH: Okay, Ariel’s live aerial (get it?) swimming was pretty cool. —J.C.
LOW: So many Disney+ and Frozen II ads. Couldn’t we have some even slightly more subtle brand integration? —J.M.
LOW: Scuttle could’ve been a cute bird puppet! —R.A.
LOW: All the major character introductions were animated. How are you gonna cast Queen Latifah as Ursula and then not even let her walk onstage to be introduced as Ursula?! —Kathryn VanArendonk
LOW: The visible strings on the Ariel and Prince Eric swimming in the background onstage. —J.C.
HUH? Sebastian Shaggy was dressed as Michael Jackson for some reason. —J.C.
HIGH: The staging of “Under the Sea,” despite Shaggy’s weird costume, was colorful and fun to look at. Starfish with jazz hands! —J.C.
LOW: They could’ve promoted the live-action movie by having Jacob Tremblay come out on roller skates as Flounder. Wasted brand integration. Wasted opportunity. —R.A.
HUH? As Auli’i Cravalho started singing “Part of Your World,” an onscreen chyron informed us that “Part of Your World” will be live in two minutes! Does the beginning of the song not count? Was the chyron supposed to show up two minutes earlier? Why do I need to be informed when a song is going to start anyhow? —K.V.
LOW: Maybe something was wrong with the mic setup — because there were a whole lot of sound issues in the show — but Cravalho’s actual performance of “Part of Your World” was very, very, very flat. —J.M.
LOW: “I don’t like when the audience cheers. It’s too loud.” —R.A.’s mom, Joanne
HUH? Because the show cut back and forth between the movie and songs, but didn’t even include all of the movie, the story didn’t make much sense. Luckily there weren’t many members of the audience who don’t already know the story, but the pacing was nonsense and would be impossible to follow without already knowing what you were watching. —K.V.
LOW: The audience golf clapping at the end of the film segments. It’s like people who clap when the plane lands. There’s no need! —R.A.
HUH? Shaggy’s Sebastian costume was less “crab” and more just a lot of red clothes, which really doesn’t read so well surrounded by a lot of very literal fish outfits. —J.M.
LOW: If you only have occasional live segments, the commercial breaks should happen at the end of a live segment. Otherwise, the performers do a big number, everyone claps, and then the audience has to clap again three minutes later for the end of a movie segment. Let the applause be for the people on the stage! Don’t make everyone clap in the middle of movie scenes! —K.V.
HIGH: Queen Latifah! Empress Latifah! Goddess Latifah! Sea Witch in Charge Latifah! —R.A.
HIGH: It’s a somewhat baffling choice to just do the movie, but then also throw in a Prince Eric song from the stage show, but at least Graham Phillips (of being the annoying son on The Good Wife and also being in 13 the Musical) did a nice job with
his Fiyero in the Wicked movie audition “Her Voice.” Your ex Ariana Grande is proud of your falsetto! —J.M.
LOW: Given how rarely this production used actually live material, the chyrons warning you when a song is coming up started to make a lot more sense an hour into the show. —K.V.
HIGH: John Stamos’s Chef Louis number “Les Poissons.” It was completely deranged, a sound-design mess, and so full of chaos that near the end, giant clouds of flour filled the air and all the dancers had to cough through it. It was weird! Instead of just a single crab, Stamos’s Chef Louis chased an ever-increasing number of crabs around the stage, a surprisingly effective staging choice for the song’s descent into Louis’s crab-based madness. The whole audience had crab hands! —K.V.
WHOA: John Stamos ends said chaotic number by announcing “I knew I should’ve played Prince Albert … or Eric!” Uh … Freudian slip? —J.M.
HIGH: Shaggy played bandleader to a bunch of puppet-frogs and human-children and lurked in the deep background of the shot for half of “Kiss the Girl.” —R.A.
HIGH: Queen Latifah was introduced for her “Unfortunate Souls” reprise by way of an appearance in Vanessa’s animated mirror. This is the kind of live-action-to-human-performer integration that could’ve actually worked if they’d done more of it. —J.M.
LOW: When the cast came out for a curtain call at the end of the movie (because there was no live material in the concluding sequence, so it really was just a movie at the end), the cute dog came out, too. Everyone remembered that a cute dog had been there the whole time, but we only ever saw it once. —K.V.