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Under the Sea: ABC presents 'The Little Mermaid Live!' as film turns 30

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Author: 
Sachi Kameishi / TV Media
Auli'i Cravalho is the star of "The Little Mermaid Live!"

Auli'i Cravalho is the star of "The Little Mermaid Live!"

There are few things as timeless as the Disney fairytale, and on Tuesday, Nov. 5, ABC brings one of Disney's most beloved classics to life. "The Little Mermaid Live!" starring Auli'i Cravalho ("Moana," 2016) will move viewers with its stunning visuals and incredible vocal performances.

From the opening credits of any animated Disney treasure to the inevitable heart-swelling happily ever after, children and parents alike are mesmerized by captivating storytelling, gorgeous animation and infectious music. Since the release of "Snow White" in 1937 -- Disney's first feature film -- the ideal vehicle for the company's brand has been the quintessential Disney princess. From the tough Chinese warrior Mulan to French book-fiend Belle, the princess leads are created to appeal to anyone.

Few characters encompass the perfect balance of boldness and kindness that exemplifies the Disney heroine as well (or as melodically) as Ariel, the red-haired, star-crossed mermaid who longs for her true love, a land-dwelling prince. ABC seems to agree, given that it's the first property it has chosen to adapt to this live format.

The past few years have seen an explosion of live musical events across television networks, and it's surprising that it took ABC -- whose parent company is Disney -- this long to get on board. But it has chosen its first subject wisely -- not only is "The Little Mermaid" almost universally loved and acclaimed, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the film.

So how could a live adaptation of the beloved animated classic possibly live up to the hype? Well, the cast of this event should go a long way to reassuring fans that the story and music are both in good hands. Leading the underwater extravaganza as wide-eyed, adventurous Ariel is 18-year-old Auli'i Cravalho, who, after voicing the lead character in "Moana" (2016), is a Disney princess in her own right. The young actress knows how lucky she is to play these two iconic roles back to back. While walking the red carpet at the Variety Power of Young Hollywood Gala, Cravalho said, "I'm so incredibly honored to be able to play one Disney princess that went beyond the reef and now to play another that goes under the sea. ... My mind is blown!"

Cravalho's silvery vocals will be accompanied by a troupe of phenomenal talent that includes DJ, producer and actor Shaggy as Sebastian the crab, Graham Phillips ("The Good Wife") as the dashing Prince Eric, John Stamos ("Full House") as Chef Louis, and the powerful, legendary Queen Latifah ("Star") as the iconic evil sea witch, Ursula.

The casting announcements sent fans into a frenzy, especially since Latifah's involvement in the remake of the movie had been demanded by hopeful fans online for ages. About her role in the two-hour event and the magic involved in putting the project together, Latifah had this to say: "It's just been something that we've been working on for a while. It was perfect timing that it came together."

Shaggy is set to costar in "The Little Mermaid Live!"

Shaggy is set to costar in "The Little Mermaid Live!"

With a cast like this, paying homage to a story that has lived in the hearts of multiple generations for the past 30 years, you can't expect "The Little Mermaid Live!" to be a regular event. According to ABC president Karey Burke, this is a show that will "seamlessly interweave" live musical numbers with clips from the 1989 animated film, and even puppetry will play a role in the presentation. Of course, it's all set to the iconic music from both the original animated film and the Tony Award-nominated Broadway stage adaptation. "It's unlike anything that any other network has done before in terms of a live musical," Burke said.

The show is being produced by Done Dusted, and Richard Kraft, who was behind the Hollywood Bowl productions of both "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast,”  will play a role in the production of this musical. Done Dusted's Hamish Hamilton is the live event's director, and he summed up his vision for the show as follows: "We're not creating any new songs or any new characters or any new environments. We are celebrating the animated feature, but we are also celebrating the bigger world of 'The Little Mermaid.'"

What ABC is offering viewers really goes further and deeper than just a modern rendition of the original film. With the number of live-action remakes that Disney has already released, and the many more that are set to come out, it's rare to find a version of an old tale that doesn't aim to completely redefine or overtake what the original offered.

As Hamilton stated, there are no enormous additions or anything that overwhelms the genuine heart of Ariel's story. It's a tribute to the classic, a combination of formats that brings out the best of the Disney fairytale, all of which you can view from the comfort of your living room. Be sure to tune in to this celebration of "The Little Mermaid Live!" when it airs Tuesday, Nov. 5, on ABC.