Review Roundup: THE LITTLE MERMAID LIVE! - What Did the Critics Think?
Last night, November 5 , The Wonderful World of Disney presented The Little Mermaid Live! The production honored the 30th anniversary of the beloved animated classic with a never-before-seen hybrid format that will take viewers on a magical adventure under the sea as live musical performances by a star-studded cast are interwoven into the broadcast of the original feature film.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Kaitlin Milligan, BroadwayWorld: The performance of the night goes to Queen Latifah for her portrayal as Ursula the sea witch. Not only does Latifah have the vocal prowess for the role, she also has the stage presence to pull off such a flamboyant character. She was even able to play off one of her tentacles falling off during Poor Unfortunate Souls, using it as a sort of feather boa. Latifah had the perfect amount of power and life to the role, and she truly stole the show.
Noel Murray, The New York Times: All of these performers handled the material well. The stunt casting of celebrities has sometimes been a drag on live TV musicals, but this cast could sing, and the animated characters handled most of the dialogue. Queen Latifah was especially impressive, sounding appropriately deep-voiced and sultry on Ursula's big song, "Poor Unfortunate Souls." The lesser-known Phillips was also a surprise standout, bringing depth and resonance to "Her Voice," a song from Broadway's "Little Mermaid."
Dino-Ray Ramos, Deadline: Although enjoyable, The Little Mermaid Live! wasn't a spectacular feat of television, but it could very well be a solid [one]. The seamless mix of live performances intercut with the classic film was an inventive way to present an existing film in a new way that wasn't just a rebooted film.
Robyn Bahr, The Hollywood Reporter: Cast standouts included Amber Riley (Glee) belting as a mermaid raconteuse in the opening sequence and reggae singer Shaggy having the time of his life as crab/narc Sebastian (in spite of a costume that invoked "Baggy latex catsuit for the relaxed BDSM-er"). While it was a bit difficult to hear John Stamos' lyrics as murderous Chef Louis, his bonkers-giddy comedic timing during "Les Poissons" more than made up for not being able to understand his vocalization. (Was I the only one who imagined wide-eyed Lori Loughlins scurrying around in those giant crab suits?) The best moment of the evening, however, was Latifah's performance of Ursula the Sea-Witch's legendary klezmer burlesque "Poor Unfortunate Souls." Latifah - Oscar-nominated for Chicago, where she played another brassy, avaricious sex pot - nailed her notes as well as Ursula's inky growl.
Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly: Cravalho shared a few onstage sequences with Graham Phillips' dutifully bland Prince Eric. Otherwise, the performers felt segmented into glossy cameos. Shaggy had some fun as Sebastian, especially during "Kiss the Girl." But here's one rule of musicals: If you're playing the crab, you have to play the crab. The musician cheated with a red jumpsuit that looked leftover from a POWER RANGERS disco. The whole show felt like it was cheating, really, avoiding the potential for Peter Pan-ish hate-watching by refusing to chance anything worth hating.
Daniel D'Addario, Variety: The handmade, quirk-heavy tone of the production carried the day so heavily that at least one big star seemed out of place: Heavily anticipated and promoted within the broadcast, Queen Latifah, as Ursula, seemed to fall behind the beat and to generally lack the risky abandon of her part - one that ought to be practically vibrating with menace - and of the piece. (John Stamos, brought in for a cameo, seemed to view his part with outright why-bother disdain; Shaggy, by contrast, may not have embodied Sebastian perfectly, but was committed to his bit.) And, as Ariel, Auliʻi Cravalho brought a moving earnestness throughout, one that provided a compelling match to the animated material. With that as a uniting thread, the shift back and forth between painstaking and lovely animation and lower-fi live production aiming more for "cute" than "beautiful" jarred a bit less.
Ben Travers and Steven Greene, Indie Wire: What was live was good, what wasn't became diminished by expectations and comparisons - that's not an ideal blend, and I'll take an ambitious failure over half-a-musical any day. (Plus, if they changed the dialogue scenes, they could've reworked the story so Ariel didn't give up her life and family to marry some dude.) "The Little Mermaid Live" will likely be remembered for what wasn't there more than what was, and that's been the death toll for live musicals so far. (Remember "Rent"? No? That's because it wasn't exactly as-advertised either.) By the time Ariel and her Prince are ready to celebrate their wedding, all the electric energy generated by a live audience watching a live performance dissipated as the old movie's ending played out uninterrupted. The grandeur is real, but it didn't feel earned.
Andy Swift, TV Line: The two-hour event kicked off with a special introduction from Jodi Benson, the original voice of Ariel, before launching into an extended version of everyone's favorite expositional sea shanty "Fathoms Below." We then relocated to the Kingdom of Atlantica, where the emcee - a new character designed for this production, played by Glee's Amber Riley - introduced Ariel's sisters for a performance of "Daughters of Triton," though we can all agree she stole the spotlight from those basic fishes.
Kelly Lawler, USA Today: Starring Auli'i Cravalho (Moana") as Ariel (sometimes), Queen Latifah as Ursula, Shaggy as Sebastian the crab and John Stamos as Chef Louis, the singers did their level best with their limited stage time. Latifah belted out classic villain anthem "Poor Unfortunate Souls" as if her life depended on it, with the commitment and verve that could have carried a fully live version of the show. But at the end of Latifah's superb final notes, the screen cut to an animated octo-woman voiced by someone else, and the magic Latifah delivered was zapped just like those poor souls.