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Queen Latifah, Shaggy to navigate live-action and animation in ABC's The Little Mermaid musical

Illustration for article titled Queen Latifah, Shaggy to navigate live-action and animation in ABC's The Little Mermaid musical

The Little Mermaid is getting the big screen treatment from Rob Marshall and Lin-Manuel Miranda, but as that project finds its legs another recreation of Disney’s animated hit is in the works at ABC. The latest in network TV’s love affair with live musical performances, the event will honor the original’s 30th anniversary with a blend of live action, animation, and puppetry. Considering this is set to air live, we’ll cross our fingers that somebody remembers to plug in the DVD player.


Moana’s Auli’I Cravalho will play Ariel, while Queen Latifah and Shaggy will co-star as Ursula and Sebastian, respectively. Can Shaggy get his pal, Sting, to play Prince Eric? Jesus, we wish. He’ll probably play Grimsby. The performers will sing amongst sets and costumes will be made for the event, though they’ll be “interwoven into the broadcast of the original feature film” in ways that should make Rocky Horror fans jealous. Music and lyrics from both the original film and the Broadway adaptation will be on display.

“It’s unlike anything that any other network has done before in terms of a live musical,” ABC Entertainment president Katey Burke said at the Television Critics Association conference on Monday. “It really is a seamless interweaving of live-action musical and performances and the animated film itself.” In a later panel, director Hamish Hamilton clarified these plans, explaining how The Little Mermaid Live will cut between a broadcast of the 1989 Little Mermaid and Cravalho, Queen Latifah, Shaggy and their castmates performing the musical numbers live. Hamilton estimated that there will be “10 to 11” sequences like this throughout the special, with “two or three” of the songs coming from the 2008 stage adaptation.

The project was delayed after first being announced in 2017, and Deadline notes that the success of Jimmy Kimmel’s live staging of two Norman Lear sitcoms may have been a factor in reviving the musical. Considering the network tapped Kimmel and Lear for two more revivals lends some weight to that theory.

When asked about how the live musical will be distinct from the film, Burke said, “[There’s] really not a worry about one overshadowing the other. The timing is so different—ours premieres in the fall, and the movie will be in theaters long after that.” She continued, “It’s a testament to the strength of Disney IP that these classic stories can continue to have iterations that are so different from each other. Ours in particular is really built for television.”

Gotta love that IP.

Additional reporting by Erik Adams.


Managing editor, The A.V. Club

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.