'The Little Mermaid: Live!' was a perplexing spectacle of absurdity
Existence is a miracle. Millions upon billions of scientific wonders had to come together so that you could be reading this sentence, and so that I could be writing it. These same mysterious and magical forces that give us life also led to the production of The Little Mermaid: Live!, a bit of prime time programming that delivered the weirdest, most fever dream style television that we’ve seen in years, and I’m absolutely obsessed with it.
There are plenty of things to hone in on. Shaggy’s total lack of costume as Sebastian while surrounded by costumed and puppet seas creatures, John Stamos taking on the role of the loony and chop happy french chef, the seemingly sadistic lack of mobility afforded to Queen Latifah’s Ursula and Auli’i Cravalho’s Ariel, the flippant response from ABC executives in response to bad reviews, that truly haunting Flounder puppet. All of it is really compelling stuff.
But let’s start with Shaggy.
For starters, he’s not in costume. Like, sure, he’s wearing all red, and many lobster, including Sebastian, are red. So he gets one point. But otherwise? He’s not wearing claws. He’s not wearing makeup. There are no attempts to make him look more like a lobster and less like a man. There are absolutely no indicators that “Shaggy is Under The Sea.” Perhaps at the boardwalk, near the sea, on a brisk spring night.
If this was a pared-down version of The Little Mermaid, I’d say sure, yes go ahead, I completely accept Shaggy just singing songs from the Little Mermaid. That’s delightful. But considering the contraptions that other cast members in the show had to wear, Shaggy’s lack of costume is perplexing. As for why this happened, I choose to believe Shaggy said something along the lines of “I’ll sing those songs but I will not wear that costume” and some executive was like “eh, fine.”
Unfortunately, the folks in actual costumes weren’t any less strange.
John Stamos reprised the role of the murderous French chef, and his performance of “Les Poissons” was nothing short of absurd. When Stamos says “he he he hon hon hon” I shrunk in my chair so low I nearly fell out of it. And what follows is even more unsettling. Trying, I suppose, to recreate the magic of animation, Stamos takes a mallet to some fake dead fish, their little beady eyes still managing to be filled with the suffering of life, and begins whacking away wildly.
This is where Shaggy’s lack of costume comes back into play. Famously, it is Sebastian who runs around the Chef’s kitchen, trying to avoid capture. This time, it is some random crab, not a lobster. And instead of being scaled to the size of the haunted fake fish Stamos was just pounding away at, these crabs are human-sized. The resulting chase scene felt like watching a child’s nightmare come to life.
Backtracking, let us focus on the petit mermaid herself. Cravalho’s vocal performance was flawless, let’s be clear. She is a truly talented singer and her renditions of all of Ariel’s iconic songs were pure excellence. But when it came to how she moved about the stage set, it was painful to watch. In an attempt to recreate swimming, Cravalho was hoisted up in the air, where she tried to wobble her body in an attempt to mimic the dolphin kick. What actually occurred was a jilted, stuck motion that made it seem like Cravalho was trying to wiggle out of her costume without her arms. Then, when finally planted down on the stage, Cravalho’s tail was wrapped around her so tightly she couldn’t take a single step. Ariel was either being awkwardly flung the air or completely stationary.
But that wasn’t the only person ABC decided to render almost totally immobile. Queen Latifah, who gave by far the most entertaining performance of the night, was wrapped into her Ursula costume. Instead of being able to glide across the stage, she took staggered, strained steps. It was very distracting. If Shaggy didn’t even have to wear fake claws, why were the other stars strapped in and robbed of the opportunity to dance?
Well, all of my questions certainly won’t be answered by ABC executive Robert Mills, who is head of special programming and oversaw the live production. When addressing the audience’s response to the special, he quote tweeted a positive review from a random Tweeter named Edward Sanchez, writing “I don’t care what anyone else thinks, my man Edward Sanchez said it’s the best ever and that’s good enough for me!!"
It’s actually very brave to produce something as spectacularly odd as The Little Mermaid: Live! and then dig your heels in to support it. But, Mr. Mills, there is one thing that simply cannot be forgiven: That rendering of Flounder.
Like seriously… why not make him full-sized? Why not make him happy? At the very least, don’t make this beloved fish of our youth look like he was just informed that his section of the ocean would soon be dealing with the cataclysmic fallout from climate change.
Everyone was upset by this fish!
We might all be able to laugh about the costuming (and lack thereof) and John Stamos attempting a french accent, and even the various costumed sea creatures, but this rendition of Flounder is truly unforgivable.