It was sometime in the early ‘90s and my mommy and I were in Miami’s International Airport. I was an adventurous child with an infatuation with The Little Mermaid. There was a Disney store in this particular airport, and I figured they’d have Ariel and the homies, so I scurried my way into the store. In my excitement, I left my mother and, as she recalls, sent her into a panic. Moments later, while fully engrossed in a Little Mermaid book, I was approached by police officers and then scooped up by my mother, who had tears flowing down her face. I was confused because all I wanted to do was finish my book.
Fast forward to 2019, and ABC has decided to bless me and the rest of those with cable subscriptions with The Wonderful World of Disney Presents The Little Mermaid Live! I was as excited as if I had found an attractive, gainfully employed man who specialized in consistent communication. My calendar notification was set and I was ready to be a part of the aquatic world that shaped my childhood.
I made dinner, washed my body and snuggled up in my bed, ready to judge the night’s performance. In my head, I’m a connoisseur of all things Ariel, so I was well-prepared for the task at hand.
The tune of “Fathoms Below” started playing and I was transformed into childhood CorEy, who was clad in Little Mermaid pajamas. The stage was instantly turned into the scene I remembered (it also helped that they played the original film in the background for nostalgic purposes). Minutes into the opening scene, I noticed that a character from the film got hit with a dose of melanin. They made Prince Eric’s advisor black, and even with the color change, he still wasn’t with Eric and his shit. Speaking of Eric, I personally wouldn’t have given up my voice or abandoned my family for this particular character, but that’s neither here nor there.
After the sailors swashbuckled their way across our screens, we were transported to King Triton’s underwater kingdom. We were introduced to the daughters of Triton, with a remade rendition led by Amber Riley. Riley’s vocal cords are ordained by the big homie Jesus himself, so seeing her gave me a sense of calm because I knew she’d deliver the voice we deserved.
Now, angelfish, speaking of voices, Ariel’s, played by Auli’i Cravalho, didn’t move me. I feel like she did what she had to do, but alas, I wasn’t convinced that she really wanted to be “a part of that world.” When she had her moment on that wayward rock, I expected to receive chills, but unfortunately didn’t even catch a shudder. I was not amused.
With Ariel’s voice not being what I expected, I leaned heavily on Ursula, played by Queen Latifah, and Sebastian, played by Jamaican musical artist Shaggy.
Latifah had big shoes to fill because Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” isn’t for chumps. You’ve got to exude talent and a healthy dose of BAWDY language. Latifah descended from the ceiling draped in her black, tentacled splendor. She opened her mouth and the judging ensued. Luckily for Queen, she would have definitely been moved on to the next round of American Idol. Fortunately, Queen knew a little magic and possessed enough talent to give us an original reenactment that although wasn’t the original, stood out in its own right. Latifah, Shantae, you stay.
Now, for Shaggy, my Jamaican brethren: When Mr. Bombastic entered the scene, I was shocked because he was dressed like a typical Jamaican man heading to either the nightclub or the local grocery store to acquire some breadfruit. His journeys are unclear. They could’ve given Shaggy a claw or at least some semblance of a shell. He strutted across that stage in a red leather jacket equipped with motorcycle gloves and dared any of us to question his fashions. Sebastian is known for his singing prowess, but Shaggy, unfortunately, is not. God has called Shaggy to do many things in this life, and singing just isn’t one of those ministries. Fashion choices and questionable vocals aside, I’m just elated that we got an actual Jamaican to play a Caribbean character. It only took us until 2019, but progress is progress.
Overall, the best thing about The Little Mermaid Live! was Queen Latifah. Her mannerisms and vocal range took her performance to levels worthy of the legendary Sea Witch. The entire show wasn’t a waste of time, as it took me back to a place of happiness and joy. The reenactment was filled with just enough nostalgia and whimsy that it made up for its shortcomings. And even with all of this, I end this to say that The Little Mermaid in all its iterations is significantly greater than any and all of The Lion King films. Fight me.