live action the little mermaid

ABC announced to the Television Critics Association that it would air The Wonderful World of Disney Presents: The Little Mermaid Live on November 5. This isn’t exactly a live musical like Grease: Live or the ill-fated Rent: Live. There is a Broadway musical of The Little Mermaid, but this is not a production of that. 

Director and executive producer Hamish Hamilton explained how he’s going to present The Little Mermaid as part of The Wonderful World of Disney. Auli’i Cravalho will play Ariel, Shaggy will play Sebastian, and Queen Latifah will play Ursula. Here’s what we learned.

The Animated Feature Will Be Part of It

The Little Mermaid Live will include an airing of the 1989 classic The Little Mermaid. Fans will be invited to the Disney lot to see the film projected and folks at home will begin watching the film.

“We’re celebrating this incredible animated feature, and we’re gonna do it on the Disney lot,” Hamilton said. “We’re going to do it live to air in front of a live audience in a room that we’ve created.”

Hamilton showed concept art for potential theaters simulating an undersea world, although he said they were only temp. The final design has not been confirmed.

The Songs Will Transition Into Live-Action Performance

When the film reaches a musical number, Hamilton will transition out of the film and into his stage, where the actors will perform the songs.

“So this is the theater, 360 degrees we hope, immersive, full of active and wonderful fans,” Hamilton said. “First song in the feature is ‘Fathoms Below.’ That’s the beginning of one of the scenes that we are going to recreate live in the room behind the proscenium that’s lifted. So at the point there where the ship came full frame, perhaps we will blow the curtain apart and we’ll reveal our cast behind, and they will perform an extended version of the original song.”

It’s not fair to judge from an early concept idea, but interrupting the movie could be jarring. However, if you really want to watch The Little Mermaid uninterrupted, there are DVDs and Blu-rays. Perhaps a bigger worry is breaking the connection with the human performers to go back to the animation.

Key Scenes From the Film Will Be Recreated On Stage

Hamilton suggested featuring sailors and fish on the stage. Producers were quick to assure the TCA that no live fish would be taken out of the water for the production. Think more like the way the Broadway show with its simulated sea life.

“So how we are actually getting between the feature and our world, so just imagine that that’s a live fish and a live sailor on our stage,” Hamilton said. “We are going to recreate Ariel’s cave around her in the room and reveal it in a clever and wonderful way.”

One of the most iconic shots in The Little Mermaid is Ariel on the rock with the wave splashing behind her. Hamilton wants to do that live too.

“So there will be visual signatures all the way through that will reinforce the original feature.” Hamilton said. “We may or may not have beautiful jellyfish hanging from the ceiling. We may or may not have beautiful schools of fish running through the scene [via] puppeteers.”

The Original Little Mermaid Voices Won’t Be Replaced

Since the animated movie will run through all the dialogue scenes, the original voices will be presented. Cravalho, Shaggy and Latifah will only sing the songs live, and those will be unique to the broadcast.

“So the animated feature, when it is the animated feature section, will play in its entirety,” Hamilton said. “We are not asking these guys to re-voice the original feature, no.”

However, those transitions between film and live-action will require a whole new score to be composed.

“What I would say is the entire movie is being scored again so there’s a continuity of musical flow,” Hamilton said.

If you’ve ever seen a movie in concert with a live orchestral score, you know they often add score to give ticket holders their money’s worth. A movie may only have 30 minutes of score, so performing it live necessitates beefing up the musical component. Even a musical like The Little Mermaid will follow suit.

The Costumes Are Still Up in the Air

Since The Little Mermaid has been a Broadway show, there is precedent for mermaid and crab costumes on stage. Hamilton wasn’t ready to talk about the costumes yet. His comments suggest they may be even simpler than the Broadway ones.

“I would rather not give that away,” Hamilton said. “What I would say is that we’re not going to take too much of a departure from the original. We’re not people aren’t going to be out there in space costumes. If you interpret that as you will.”

Only One Coast Will See It Live

Some live shows perform twice, once for east coast and again for west coast. ABC is only putting The Little Mermaid on once, so it sounds like west coast will get the taped version of the live broadcast.

“Hopefully, we are only going to do it once,” Hamilton said. “We’ll do it once, and I think there are 10, maybe 11 live musical moments or numbers within. It’s still fluctuating a little bit, but I think it’s 10 or 11.”

Some of the Broadway Songs Will Be Incorporated

To expand The Little Mermaid for Broadway, additional songs were composed. Hamilton plans to throw some of them into the live show. It’ll be interesting to see how he incorporates them into the film where they never existed.

“There are two or three songs from the Broadway musical,” Hamilton said. “We are not creating any new songs or any new characters or any new environments. We are celebrating the animated feature, but we are also celebrating the great world of The Little Mermaid.”

So that really is a hybrid. The animated film in its entirety, live-action musical numbers, a few from the Broadway show… It’s going to be some kind of like The Little Mermaid 1.5.

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