If reviews for ABC's half-acted, half-animated event "The Little Mermaid Live!" prove anything, it's that "the seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake."
Though the special -- starring Queen Latifah as Ursula, John Stamos as Chef Louis, Shaggy as Sebastian and Auli'i Cravalho of "Moana" as Ariel -- certainly made a splash Tuesday night, critics were divided on the network's execution of the hybrid format. The experiment, which some hailed as seamless nostalgia fare, toggled between live performances and footage from Disney's animated film.
Others dismissed it as a lazy disappointment.
The Times offered a more favorable take on the two-hour broadcast, thanks mainly to Latifah's "knockout" performance as the singing sea witch, fabulously clad in "marionette tentacles" and a body-hugging black latex gown. According to reviewer Ashley Lee, the Oscar nominee stole the show with her powerful voice and "ability to engage both the live audience at Disney's 'dive-in theater' -- a sound stage in Burbank -- and those watching at home."
Variety also enjoyed the production, which it deemed a "charming" and "lovingly made reminder of 'The Little Mermaid's' greatness that cleverly didn't seek to outshine its source material," proving to audiences that Disney animated classics can still hold water without full live-action makeovers. Deadline softly sang the musical's praises as well, calling it an "inventive way to present an existing film in a new way that wasn't just a rebooted film."
From there, the feedback fish-tanked. The Hollywood Reporter was especially harsh, declaring Cravalho's leading performance "lifeless" and reducing the entire "deflating experience" to "a concert that relied heavily on background video and brief celebrity cameos."
USA Today agreed with The Times' assessment of Latifah's vocals but ultimately found the back-and-forth between cartoon and reality to be "awkward" and a "spectacular failure of a live TV event" on a night that "would have been better spent merely watching the original film."
Entertainment Weekly also joined in on the roast, arguing that viewers would have been "better off Googling 'Little Mermaid High School Production,' and then you won't have to suffer through so many awful Muppet advertisements for Facebook." Responses on Twitter were similarly negative, with many users slamming Shaggy's lack of claws as the fan-favorite crabby crustacean.
"I would have loved to be in on the costume negotiations for Shaggy's Sebastian," one user joked. "'Okay, I'll do it. But absolutely no claws.'"
Others were quick to point out that the network recruited the crowd as part of the set design, giving guests their own pairs of claws, yet seemed to leave its main crab floundering.
"Okay why does the whole audience have claws but Shaggy doesn't as Sebastian?" another person tweeted. "Lol I really want answers."
More criticism flooded in for the show's puppet version of Flounder -- instantly memed as a shabby take on his friendly animated counterpart -- and for one unfortunately sour note from Cravalho during a reprise of "Part of Your World."
The mounting internet backlash eventually prompted a defensive response from ABC executive Robert Mills, who clarified, "for those wondering," that "Shaggy wore crab claws in early rehearsals and it looked ridiculous."
He added in another tweet that he didn't care what anyone else thought about the "best ever" show.
"The Little Mermaid Live!" can be seen on ABC.com with a cable account.
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