One does not need to think back very long to recall that one of the upcoming live-action adaptation projects by Disney of their classic animated film canon is none other than “The Little Mermaid,” the 1989 movie that heralded the celebrated Disney Renaissance period. Development and casting for this has been rather hit-and-miss, with fans approving of Harry Styles as Prince Eric but feeling leery of African-American R&B singer Halle Bailey as red-haired fair-skinned Ariel. As if trying to establish that vocal talent trumps character design, there is a stage musical version also being produced for ABC, and its titular mermaid is no “Caucasian” either.
USA Today has it that ABC Entertainment is indeed working on a “Little Mermaid” stage musical showing later this year on “ABC Monday.” While the TV network in question is part of the Disney umbrella, this project is a whole different animal from the big-screen live-action production that would not start filming until next year. With regards to the casting however, it comes across as an effort to perhaps “normalize” the notion of an African-American playing Ariel. Why else then would ABC cast Auli’l Cravalho, Queen Latifah and also Shaggy in the principal character roles?
The casting for ABC’s televised “Little Mermaid” stage musical was shared by ABC Entertainment head Karey Burke during the recent Television Critics’ Association press tour. Right off the bat there is a native Hawaiian in the title role, though Cravalho is probably better known lately as the speaking and singing voice of the lead in Disney’s 2016 animation “Moana.” Her co-stars though are eye-popping choices, with rapper Queen Latifah as Ursula the Sea Witch and “Mister Bombastic” artist Shaggy as Sebastian the Crab. Only Cravalho and Latifah have counterparts on the percolating Disney live-action adaptation, the latter being Melissa McCarthy.
In actuality, a stage musical of “The Little Mermaid” on ABC was originally planned for the network back in 2017. It was cancelled due to the projected high costs of production, to the tune of $25 million particularly in set designs. It was possible that ABC also considered what, at the time, was some lackluster ratings for televised musicals by one of its broadcast rivals, NBC. With the original Disney animated “Little Mermaid” film soon to turn three decades old, ABC has decided to take the plunge all the way, but on a more manageable budget that will cover large puppet characters and extended versions of the memorable Disney soundtrack.
Auli’l Cravalho noted similarities in personality between her and Ariel as key to her being cast, while Shaggy was a fan of his character Sebastian, even performing his “Under the Sea” song in the 1990s for a Disney compilation album. ABC’s “The Little Mermaid” will air on November, the same month as the 1989 premiere.
Image courtesy of Deadline