Can Disney’s Little Mermaid become a great model?

July 3, 2022, 01:01 · When I headed to Port Canaveral to board the Disney Wish for its media preview christening cruise, I had all but given up hope of seeing the two new live musical theater productions Disney had been promoting for his new cruise ship. Neither were included in the calendar of events provided to participating journalists, and neither appeared in the Disney Wish entertainment schedule in Disney Cruise Line’s Navigator app.

Then, “Disney Seas the Adventure” appeared as the second night’s entertainment. [Disney Wishes for Cruise Fans to ‘Seas the Adventure’] This gave me hope that the second production, “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” might appear for the last night of the cruise. As dinner approached that day with no word the show would be playing, I resigned myself to not seeing Disney’s new take on the story that revived The Walt Disney Company and its animation studio. in 1989.

But as the Disney reps kept saying while we were on board, wishes come true. Just hours before its first airing, The Little Mermaid appeared on the Navigation app, with the promise of a preview of some scenes from the upcoming production.

It wouldn’t be fair to rewatch a show that isn’t finished yet, but the peek Disney has provided on its new Little Mermaid production has made me jealous of the Maiden Voyage passengers who should see a finished production more later this month. While we haven’t watched enough to answer some of the questions I and others have had about the new direction Disney has promised for this production, I’ve seen enough to be convinced the show is between the good hands of its performers and creative leaders.

In the 1980s, whenever Disney released a new animated film, Walt Disney World regularly created a pre-show float for the Magic Kingdom Afternoon Parade to promote that new film. The day the float from “The Little Mermaid” first appeared in the park remains etched in my memory. The colorful decor, endearing characters, and – most importantly – the infectious music of “Under the Sea” immediately caught the attention of everyone within earshot – even jaded Magic Kingdom Parade Audience Control members (like me) who had seen many of these preshow floats come and go before.

It was something else, however. At first glance, from the first note, anyone could tell from that tank that this new movie would be something different.

When rave reviews appeared in newspapers and on television, along with the news that Disney had hired the composer and lyricist of the cult children’s theater film “Little Shop of Horrors” to create the songs for the show, buying a ticket to seeing “The Little Mermaid” has stormed to the top of every Disney fan’s to-do list. The film became a hit, even sparking talk of a Best Picture nomination – the elusive honor for an animated film that its successor, “Beauty and the Beast,” would capture in two years. The 20+ year journey through the desert air of time since Walt’s death was over. The Disney Renaissance had begun.

By reviving Disney Animation as a cultural force, “The Little Mermaid” has become Disney’s most important film since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” made Disney a feature film studio. All this to say… woe betide anyone at Disney who fucks up “The Little Mermaid.”

And even.

The flip side of making history is that you endure long enough to be judged by it. No one but the most esoteric Disney fan thinks of “Oliver & Company” or “The Rescuers Down Under” anymore. But “The Little Mermaid” continues to affect people. And now, not always in the way its Disney creators might have intended.

In their desire to create a quintessentially Disney happy ending for the story, the creators of “The Little Mermaid” twisted Hans Christen Andersen’s fairy tale to reward Ariel’s tragic decision to give up her voice. Sure, she suffers along the way, but ultimately it’s Prince Eric who fights for her rescue, reaffirming the trope of a helpless young woman in need of a strong man.

Yes, Disney has turned around and pushed that trope back for years now. (To be fair, DreamWorks’ “Shrek” deserved some credit for shaking up Disney’s take on fairy tales.) But Disney also remains fiercely protective of its legacy. When Disney makes a change in the future, it often imposes that change on its past. “Song of the South” is going in the trash, so Splash Mountain has to become Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Pandora – The world of Avatar put Disney in the position of defending indigenous people, so Jungle Cruise’s Trader Sam went from a cartoonish headhunter to an invisible entrepreneur. Snow White’s Spooky Adventure at Disneyland became Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, to emphasize that Snow White wished for the kiss she received while in a coma, giving her agency for what otherwise might be considered as a non-consensual act.

Eventually, the time would come for The Little Mermaid to change too. But as Disney Cruise Line entertainment executives said at a press event this week, the challenge in trying to say something new is not to damage what made so many people fall in love. from The Little Mermaid.

Disney’s Little Mermaid Wish opens with its cast pulling costume pieces and accessories from a giant treasure chest, suggesting this production is leaning into story theater. But the press preview of Disney Wish’s “The Little Mermaid” didn’t use a narrator to move its story, unlike the new “Tale of the Lion King” production at Disneyland, whose creators openly credited the story theater as a source of inspiration.

It’s just a reframing of the 1989 film, but not an alteration to its story. The Disney Wish production changes the lyric “Out in the sun, they hustle” to “they sweat,” but that’s the only substantial change anyone in my family has taken. However, we haven’t seen anything beyond “Under the Sea” in the script, so I have no idea how, or if, the production of Disney Wish will approach Ariel’s agency in its fall and its rise.

I hope they find a way to make Ariel a hero in her story. While the preview we saw included a few technical hiccups, it also displayed imaginative direction, strong choreography, impressive singing, and deft use of puppets that helped bring Triton’s underwater kingdom to life on stage. (The flounder plays bass and the puffer fish blows.) The actress playing Ursula particularly impressed, leaving me eager to witness the visual “magic” of Ursula to come, which the show’s director has since promised. the stage during an interlude at the preview.

I was looking forward to seeing this new Little Mermaid before I sailed Disney Wish, and the preview left me even more excited to see a full production of the show. “The Little Mermaid” is one of Disney’s crown jewels. But even the most precious piece of jewelry needs a little maintenance and polishing from time to time.

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