"ABC marketing hyped The Little Mermaid Live! as a showcase featuring the talents of ingenue Auli'i Cravalho (Moana) and icon Queen Latifah (Hairspray)," says Robyn Bahr. "But as far as I can tell, most of the airtime was spent broadcasting the dialogue sequences (a.k.a. story) from the original film and sprinkling in a few semi-live songs from the soundtrack and its 2007 Broadway musical adaptation. Thus, audiences were deprived of any dramatic performances from the cast, treated instead to what ostensibly amounted to a concert that relied heavily on background video and brief celebrity cameos. It was a deflating experience. ABC knew exactly how much you didn't care about the boring animated parts, because on-screen text kept popping up to remind you how much time was left until another live performance was set to air. In other words, these countdowns told you how many more minutes you could screw around on social media before something interesting happened again. If anything, juxtaposing drawn-out film sequences against a dynamic stage production only emphasized how boggy the plotting of the original film appears three decades later. he live performances, however, were so engaging it's a shame most of this show was spent replaying the animated film. This type of presentation may work well for audience members watching live at the Hollywood Bowl, but for viewers at home, this format comes across as a blatant admission that staging The Little Mermaid in full is just too technically challenging a feat. Live TV musicals can invigorate us (NBC's 2016 Hairspray Live!) or curse us (Fox's 2019 Rent: Live), but rarely do they make us wonder what they can do that our DVD players cannot."
Disney's horniest musical makes for messy TV: "Live viewing these days is generally reserved for live-tweet mockery, as cutting jokes get more likes than 'hey, that seemed to hard to do on live TV and was adequately performed,'" says Kevin Fallon. "But also, there is an impossible-to-reconcile tension between honoring the source material or most recognizable version of a property and also not simply replicating it in boring fashion. That’s especially true when it comes The Little Mermaid (and most entries in the Disney canon). How do you reinvent a classic Disney property—perhaps the most hallowed of all pop-culture nostalgia—while still reinventing it? Well, as The Little Mermaid Live! illustrated, you can do both."
At least The Little Mermaid Live! was entertaining: "At times, last night’s ABC telecast of The Little Mermaid Live! seemed as caught between two worlds as its heroine," says Noel Murray. Was it supposed to be a one-of-a-kind live television event? Or was this just another re-airing of an animated classic? Was it a nostalgic reminder of Walt Disney Studios’ long association with network television? Or was it a two-hour commercial for all things Disney? The most important question: Was it entertaining? The answer: mostly yes."
Who was this for, exactly?: "The movie is still the movie, fun and obviously out of date, which is a natural thing for a 30-year-old movie based on the absolute nicest interpretation of a 180-year-old story," says Darren Franich. "There is the promise of a new live-action Little Mermaid movie, starring Halle Bailey (cool!) and directed by Rob Marshall (blergh!). This event seemed neither here nor there, unwilling to fully commit to the massive scope required by this world-hopping material. There were songs from the Broadway show, but I assume Broadway fans tuned in expecting to see humans perform, and instead they got an enhanced movie viewing party."