Maybe wisdom involves learning from mistakes, getting it right the second time.
If so, the Disney people have made a genius move: “Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration” is terrific … which makes it approximately a zillion-percent better than “Little Mermaid Live.”
You can catch “Beauty” from 8-10 p.m. Dec. 15 on ABC or any time starting Dec. 16 on Disney+. You’ll see two gifted stars – H.E.R. (shown here) and Josh Groban – and some clever staging and direction … a surprise compared to to the first try.
Back in 2017, ABC announced it was doing a special that showed the “Little Mermaid” cartoon, but inserted live performances of the songs. It scuttled the idea for budget reasons … but revived it two years later, partially to promote the upcoming Disney+.
The result drew groans from many viewers. I realize that trolls can surface anywhere, but the user comments on imdb.com, for instance, were overwhelming. Many criticized the casting (except Queen Latifah), most criticized the sound, with “muddy voice mics” and “worst job of sound engineering.”
They also found it cheap and flat. Phrases included “garbled mess,” “embarrassing and hideous,” “train wreck,” “utterly terrible.” One person pleaded: “Please don’t do anything like this again.”
Fortunately, Disney did do it again … and got it right.
This one is taped, avoiding any of the sound glitches from a live producton. It’s cast deftly: H.E.R. and Groban are perfect in the title roles and Joshua Henry makes a potent victim. Martin Short, David Alan Grier and Shania Twain are fine as … well, as home furnishings.
This production chooses just the right moments to go from cartoon to real actors and back. And many of those real-people scenes are beautifully done. One gem had red-clad dancers transforming into a rose; another was at the start, where actors bustle out of the Disney animation building and through the studio lot, on toward the make-believe.
We even see a few glimpses of the original “Beauty and the Beast” people. Sitting at a drawing board is James Baxter, the movie’s lead character animator of Belle … Playing the bookseller is Paige O’Hara, who voiced and sang Belle’s role in the film … And at the piano in several scenes is Alan Menken, who won Academy Awards for the score and (with the late lyricist Howard Ashman) for the title song.
Some of this is pointed out by Rita Moreno, who hosts and provides the lone flaw – too much hype.
Then again, we’re used to that from the Disney folks. This time, they have something worth hyping.