Among ABC’s announcements during its upfront presentation this week for the 2017-2018 broadcast season was a big surprise: This fall, The Wonderful World of Disney: The Little Mermaid Live! will bring the 1989 Disney classic to television in a new way.
Before jumping to the logical conclusion that this is a Broadway-style live musical in the vein of NBC’s The Sound of Music or Fox’s Grease, it’s actually not. What exactly it is, though, remains somewhat of a mystery thanks to vague phrasing. Premiering October 3 on ABC, the two-hour special will air “live musical performances combined with cutting-edge technology to create a spectacular merging of Disney’s classic animated film with live television,” according to Oh My Disney. Celebrity performers will sing the film’s iconic songs. Specific talent has yet to be announced.
Essentially, this sounds like the entire film will be screened, and during the songs, the live segments will be interjected (with some sort of hybrid technology involving animation), then to be followed by returning to the animated film.
Last fall, a concert also entitled Little Mermaid Live was held at the Hollywood Bowl and included performances by Sara Bareilles, Rebel Wilson, Jodi Benson, and John Stamos. It wasn’t broadcast anywhere. It is unknown if any of those performers are involved in this new project.
It’s important to note that this is completely separate from Disney’s theatrical live-action remake of The Little Mermaid currently in the works with new music from Lin Manuel-Miranda and Alan Menken. This in itself is separate from the indie live-action version hitting theaters later this year, starring William Moseley and Poppy Drayton. (That’s not to mention Universal’s canceled version, which was to star Chloë Grace Moretz. And just so we don’t leave out any extraneous other related production, a version of Disney’s Broadway musical of The Little Mermaid is currently touring the United States.)
The Wonderful World of Disney is an ABC tradition dating back to 1954 hosted by Walt Disney himself. Back then, the program was known as Disneyland in preparation for the park’s grand opening. The series soon became a mainstay for Sunday evenings in American homes. It has long ceased from weekly broadcasts. When it occasionally returns, it usually involves screenings of classic Disney films accompanied by backstage peeks from Disney stars and luminaries.
The Wonderful World of Disney most recently aired on Thanksgiving 2016 for its Magical Holiday Celebration hosted by Derek and Julianne Hough. Prior to that, it aired in February 2016 during a special titled Disneyland 60 (also hosted by Derek Hough and which blessed us with an incredible opener from Pentatonix) and in December 2015 for a screening of Mary Poppins hosted by Dick Van Dyke. (That same weekend, ABC aired two other Disney primetime specials. Back then, we asked the question, “What does all this mean for the future of Disney on television?” Perhaps The Little Mermaid Live! is the product of what audiences liked best about each of those broadcasts.)