ABC says its ‘Little Mermaid Live!’ won’t overshadow upcoming film

Hawaiian actress Auli'i Cravalho at the 2017 Oscars
Hawaiian actress Auli’i Cravalho will play Ariel on ABC’s “The Little Mermaid Live!” this November.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times, left. Walt Disney Pictures, right. )

“The Little Mermaid Live!” is jumping back in the pool at ABC this November with a new actress playing the role of the beloved singing mermaid.

“Moana” breakout star Auli’i Cravalho has been called under the sea to play Ariel in the live musical event, further diversifying Disney’s casting choices for the beloved role. The Hawaiian singer will be joined by Queen Latifah, who’ll play the villainous sea witch Ursula, and reggae star Shaggy as Ariel’s crabby sidekick Sebastian, ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke announced Monday during the Television Critics Assn.’s summer press tour.

The “musical reinterpretation,” which was first announced in 2017 but then tabled shortly thereafter, will air on Nov. 5 under ABC’s revived “The Wonderful World of Disney” banner to mark the 30th anniversary of the animated feature film. It’s also ABC’s first — and very belated — entry in the resurgent genre of live-musical TV programming after years of musical events airing on rival networks. So it’s no surprise that it’s diving in with a Disney classic.


The news comes just weeks after Walt Disney Studios announced its casting of R&B star Halle Bailey as Ariel for the studio’s forthcoming live-action reboot and after years of live-show performances of the Hans Christian Andersen-inspired tale. “Glee” star Lea Michele voiced Ariel, who aspires to be part of the human world, in the Hollywood Bowl’s film-concert last summer.

But ABC isn’t really worried about sinking Disney’s splashy rollout for the live-action film because the ABC show is geared for television audiences.

“I’m not really worried about overshadowing the other,” Burke said at Monday’s TCA panel. “The timing is so different. Ours premieres in the fall. The movie will hit theaters long after that.

“It’s also a testament to the strength of the Disney IP that these classic stories can continue to have iterations that are so different,” she added. “Ours is really built for television. It’s unlike anything any other network has done before in terms of a live musical. It really is a combination of a seamless interweaving of the live-action musical and the animated film itself.”

ABC bills the show as a special tribute to the original animated film, with live musical performances interwoven into the broadcast.

The far-reaching #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have hit the Walt Disney Co. yet again, resulting in the reported deletion of a 20-year-old casting-couch scene in “Toy Story 2.”

July 3, 2019

That format will feature “beautifully intricate sets and costumes, with music from the original animated film and the Tony Award-winning Broadway stage version,” according to a press release. The music was composed by eight-time Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, and will showcase Howard Ashman’s iconic film lyrics. The work of Glenn Slater, the lyricist for the Broadway adaptation, also will be used for the show, ABC said.

Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.