Last week we wrapped up our tour of the Frozen fun in the parks with a look at the Frozen Sing-Along in Hollywood Studios. Well, you might say this week’s show is the distant ancestor of the newer Frozen show. Like Frozen, this week’s show was designed to be a temporary offering in the park, but somehow managed to keep going year after year.
Those years are starting to add up and today we will discuss how The Voyage of the Little Mermaid may be ready to put out to sea. Before we set sail on that journey, let’s get started with our…
Know Before You Go Essential Facts
- The Show is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- There is no height requirement
- Fastpass + is available
- The fright factor is 1 out of 5
- Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV
- Assistive Listening, Audio Description, and Reflective Captioning are available
- The show is 17 minutes long
- The show opened on January 7, 1992.
Those are the facts, now who’s ready to go under the sea?
Voyage of the Little Mermaid is a classic Disney show that makes the audience part of Ariel’s world through puppets, live performers, special effects, and clips from the film. The movie’s most popular musical numbers are put on display in some creative ways, and the small theater and special effects make for an immersive experience. The end result is a show that has entertained audiences for 25 years. The lifespan of this show has gone more than 20 years beyond its creators’ intentions. Today, we are going to tell you what the show was originally designed to be, how it has survived this long, and whether or not it is still a good addition to your next Disney vacation.
When Disney’s MGM Studios opened in 1989, it looked and felt very different from the park of today. The idea behind this theme park was to be a working studio that allowed guests a peek behind the scenes. MGM Studios was focused on celebrating the history of cinema, uncovering the tricks of the trade, and discovering movies that would soon hit theaters. The Studio Backlot Tour and The Great Movie Ride were the only two opening day rides. While The Great Movie Ride was terrific for celebrating the movies of yesteryear, The Studio Backlot Tour was the real star of the park. Originally, the ride took almost 2 hours and included multiple special effects shows, a tram tour, and a walking tour. Over the years, elements were removed from the tour and it was cut down to a 35 minute running time before being closed entirely in 2014. Why all the changes were made to a once beloved experience would require a podcast of its own. What’s important for our discussion today is the small theater at the end of the original tour.
At the end of the walking tour guests were lead into this theater where they watched trailers for upcoming movies. That same theater would eventually become the home of Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
But before that happened, there was another show that called that theater home. About one year after the park opened, Disney removed the theater from the tour and instead installed a stage show called Here Come the Muppets. The show featured walk around versions of the most popular Muppets, including Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and many more. This was meant to be a temporary show that introduced the Muppets into the park. The long term plan was for the Muppets to play a much bigger role at Disney’s MGM Studios. Unfortunately, Jim Henson passed away a couple of weeks before Here Come the Muppets debuted at the park. The relationship between Disney and Jim Henson Productions fell apart without Jim alive to guide the newly formed alliance. As a result, the long term plans for Muppets at Disney’s MGM Studios were scrapped. The stage show was always planned to run for a limited time, with the thought that the rest of Muppet Land would open after the show had played for a couple of years. As the overall plan for the Muppets fell by the wayside, the stage show was pulled earlier than expected. Sixteen months after taking over the theater from the Studio Backlot Tour, Here Come the Muppets was closed for good. Unfortunately, we will never know what the Muppets could have meant to this park, or what the park could have done for the popularity of the Muppets.
With the Muppets out, Imagineers turned to another set of characters that were proving to be extremely popular in the Disney sphere. The Little Mermaid hit theaters at the end of 1989 and it captured the imagination of a whole new generation. The film was so well received it revitalized the Disney Feature Animation division. The Little Mermaid is credited as beginning the Disney Renaissance of feature animation. With a strong cast of characters and catchy tunes, it seemed like a great fit to replace Here Come the Muppets. Like its predecessor, this show was designed to run for a couple of years, and then the plan was to replace it with something newer. Well, The Little Mermaid really was the Frozen of its time and audiences kept filling up the theater show after show, day after day. If there is one thing that keeps a ride or show around it is traffic. Disney doesn’t like to take away things that are still filling seats and turning over a large number of people throughout the day. With Voyage of the Little Mermaid filling up its theater, there hasn’t been a reason to replace the show up to this point. That could all be changing in the foreseeable future, but before we get into that, let’s talk about what to expect from the show.
When you enter the theater, you will feel like you have gone under the sea. The stage appears to be surrounded by giant underwater rocks. These large organic formations continue out into the surrounding walls of the theater, with a high dark ceiling extending above. This all helps the room to feel more like a large cavern rather than a theater. The stage ahead has a large screen which begins to play a series of images from the beginning of the film to set the stage. After the title of the show is projected in laser format on the screen, the entire room goes dark.
A second later the completely black stage comes to life with puppets so bright they almost appear to be glowing. A bright red Sebastian and yellow Flounder are center stage when the familiar music of Under the Sea begins playing above. Sebastian sings while Flounder swims through the darkness. Soon they are joined by a host of different sea life, all in puppet form. The stage is alive with the colorful movement of fish, snails, crustaceans and more! This is my favorite act in the show. You will never see any of the puppeteers, but you know they are there. Just trying to envision how they are all sharing the stage and bringing the puppets to life without running into each other is very impressive. For young kids, this number will seem truly magical as the puppets move through the darkness in sync with the music.
After the big opening number, the puppets exit the stage and suddenly Ariel can be seen sitting atop a large rock. Her father, King Triton, can be heard scolding her for going up to the surface again. This of course leads Ariel to sing her signature song, Part of Your World. This second act is very different from the first, as Ariel is a live performer and not a puppet. She sings live, it’s not a recording, and as she sings, a montage of clips from the movie is playing on the screen behind her. This helps to significantly move the story along, showing Ariel saving Prince Eric and longing to be part of his world. By the close of the song, the story has advanced enough to bring in the villain of this underwater adventure, Ursula!
The third act begins with Flotsam and Jetsam slithering out from the rock located behind Ariel. These puppets are eclipsed in creepiness only by their boss who enters stage right. Ursula is quite imposing as she stands 10 feet tall and 12 feet wide in puppet form. With glowing eyes she begins spinning her treacherous tale of lies to lure Ariel into giving up her voice. Poor Unfortunate Souls plays as the puppet Ursula moves her mouth to the words. At the end of the song Ariel gives up her voice to Ursula by singing. The curtain drops on both Ariel and Ursula and another montage of movie clips is shown to cover Ariel’s time as a human all the way to the demise of Ursula at sea.
When the curtain rises again, Ariel is back in mermaid form atop her rock. A washed up Eric is passed out at the base of the rock, having nearly drowned in the attempt to stop Ursula. Sebastian comes back on stage and talks with King Triton who is shown on the screen. The King, realizing his daughter’s love for Eric and her deep desire to be human, tilts his trident into the water. The magic from his triton moves in Ariel’s direction and suddenly she is encompassed by a cloud of fog. Ariel magically floats into the air and then the fog clears to reveal her fins are gone and she has legs again. At the same time Eric comes to and turns around to discover Ariel. With her voice restored, he realizes she was the one all along and the two embrace. Eric’s dog, Max runs onto the stage and leaps up to join in the excitement. Eric and Ariel kiss as the curtain closes for the final time.
The blend of a live Ariel, extravagant puppets, and special effects are what has helped the show have such a long run. That said, I have to admit I think the show is nearing its end. With the addition of Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land coming soon, this part of the park is bound to see major changes. Star Wars Launch Bay is right next door to Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and it only makes sense that this Star Wars offering will be incorporated into Star Wars land on the other side of the park once open. With that building potentially becoming empty, this area will be ripe for a complete overhaul. The current rumor is that this entire area will be converted to an extension of Pixar Place. Toy Story Land is phase one of a plan to bring more Pixar into the park. The Animation Courtyard where Voyage of the Little Mermaid is located is rumored to be phase two of this Pixar expansion. If and when that happens remains to be seen, but no matter what I think, the changes coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios indicate Voyage of the Little Mermaid won’t run much longer.
That is perfectly fine with me. I do think the show was cutting edge 25 years ago, which has helped it remain relevant for this long. However, by today’s standards, the show seems quite dated. When you compare the Under the Sea number in this show with the same song found in the ride over at the Magic Kingdom, it is clear which one is the winner. The newer ride at the Magic Kingdom takes what worked well in the show and expands it to another level. I would say watching the show at Hollywood Studios is like seeing a 2D drawing, while the same song in the ride at Magic Kingdom is like watching a 3D movie. The environment is so much grander and richer in the ride.
Likewise, the Ariel found in the show seems older in more ways than one, when compared to Ariel over at the Magic Kingdom. In Hollywood Studios, the live performer is usually a little older in order to have the singing chops necessary for the live performance. When you meet Ariel at Ariel’s Grotto in the Magic Kingdom she seems more age appropriate for the character in the movie. Ariel at the Magic Kingdom is also much more dynamic in her movement and presence, a requirement for interacting face to face with guests. Ariel in the show seems very static, her fins appearing to weigh her down a good deal more. This static quality is also seen in the Ursula puppet. While she is impressive in scale, she is very limited in movement. Her head turns and her arms have limited mobility. However, her tentacles stick straight up in the air and don’t really move from this position the entire time she is on stage. Compare this with the range of motion found on any of the new Audio Animatronic figures in the parks and you have another example of where the technology was 25 years ago compared to today.
Overall, I would liken the show to watching a t.v. in non HD. The quality of the t.v. show may be great, but when you have grown accustomed to the clarity of high definition, watching anything else feels disappointing. Voyage of the Little Mermaid is the non HD version of Disney shows. It just feels old and a little fuzzy when compared to newer offerings like the Frozen Sing-Along. For that reason, I rank it last of the shows at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I like the Frozen Sing-Along, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Disney Jr. – Live on Stage!, and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular all more than Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
For any Little Mermaid fans out there, this show may still be worth your time. After all, the show wouldn’t have survived this long if it was bad. Younger kids will enjoy the upbeat music, colorful puppets, and short 17 minute running time. If you have time to add it to your schedule go for it, but don’t waste a Fastpass+ on this show. While it still fills up the theater for most performances, it is rare to find a long wait these days. Check your times guide or My Disney Experience App when you are in this area to pick a good time to go.
If you happen to be a big Little Mermaid fan and want to show off your love for Ariel, we have a fun Ariel-inspired shirt over at Ride Guide Goods. Be sure to check out our Etsy shop for this and a host of other great custom tees. My wife is the designer so I’m a little biased, but I think they are the best Disney designs this side of Cinderella’s Castle!
Before we go today I want to thank each of you for listening to the podcast. Our Ride Guide community continues to grow each month and that is thanks to you! This past week we got some feedback from Michaela, who asked what my Top 5 Queues at Walt Disney World would be. Well, that is a great question and a great idea for a Top 5! I have put that on the list and we will be sure to bring you a Top 5 Ride Queues list here very soon. Thanks for sending that in Michaela! If you have a suggestion for the podcast, or would just like to send us your thoughts be sure and like our Facebook page at facebook.com/wdwridgeguide. You can comment on an episode there or send me a message. I love hearing from you and I will respond just as quickly as I can.
That is all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for tuning in and taking a voyage with the Little Mermaid today! I hope you will come back next week as we continue building our ride library. Until then, wherever you are, I hope you are having a fabulous week! Thanks for stopping by and remember to make each day a ride worth taking!
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