Adventures of a Lost Boy in Disneyland (Part 11): the Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

Sorry about the lack of posts over the weekend and on Monday, there was a death in the family an that took up all of my time that weekend.

Moving onto happy things now, last week I covered some of the cosmetic changes going on in California Adventure, this week it’s finally time to start talking about some of the attraction changes. I’m starting with one that is one of the most entertaining: The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

As you walk towards the building, the first thing you will notice is the massive size of the show building and it’s general opulence, the building is meant to be reminiscent of aquariums from the early 20th century, and they definitely captured that concept. The entire building is covered in nothing but a sandy tan, blues, aquas, and bronze paint and fixtures and features numerous sweeping and arching forms that not only sell the idea of water, but manage to fit in with the rest of Paradise Pier through similar architectural forms and the use of a massive amount of lights at night. It manages to look incredibly regal, but also fit in with the boardwalk theme.

If you look at the roof over the area where the main entrance to the building is, you will see the statue of King Triton that used to reside in Ariel’s Grotto in Disneyland until the Disney faeries forced the mermaids out of their home. One can also view various bas reliefs of mermaids on the arch that holds Triton and even some conch shell/trident weather vanes on various points on the building representing Ursula and Triton and their troubled relationship in the past. Throughout the queue, you can see touches of various aspects of marine life such as bubble designs in support arches with bronze clamshells connecting both ends, the main entrance to the building features a massive window that has beams running across it simulating waves, inside there are chandeliers made to look like bronze seaweed and paintings, murals, and even tile work representing different forms of aquatic life. Of course, the main eye catcher in the inside section of the queue is the massive mural of the characters from the film on the wall of the load area.

When I was going through the queue, I was geeking out and only wondered how the attraction itself would be able to hold up against how beautiful the queue was, and it makes me exceptionally happy to report that the attraction did not let me down in the slightest.

The attraction starts with your clam shell omnimover entering the ship-wreck of Prince Eric’s ship only to find Scuttle sitting amongst the ruins trying to tell Ariel’s story, but not quite knowing where to start. This is actually brilliant from a constantly moving ride perspective, as the Imagineers managed to create an endless loop that doesn’t just say the same thing over and over and over again, but actually manages to get the main information told no matter which section it is. The late Buddy Hacket was not able to reprise his role as Scuttle, but Chris Edgerly (who also voices Timothy Q. Mouse on Dumbo the Flying Elephant and voiced Peter Potamus on Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law) does a fantastic impression of the late comedian. After passing Scuttle, our clamshells submerge and we encounter Ariel, first as a projection, and then in her grotto singing “Part of Your World”.

The Ariel audio-animatronic is absolutely amazing. It moves fluidly and realistically and the Imagineers even managed to animate her hair to make sure to sell the idea that we are under the sea. What is even more astounding is that the Ariel figure is only about 2 or 3 feet away from you. Some taller guests could probably reach out and touch her if they were so inclined and wouldn’t mind being ejected from the park. If you look throughout the scene, you’ll see items that actually populated the area in the film, and you can also see Sebastian popping out of various areas with a condescending look on his face. Jodi Benson actually came back and re-recorded all of her audio for Ariel for the attraction and that woman still has it. She can make herself sound almost exactly like she did almost 25 years ago and because of that the inclusion of Benson really adds some serious credibility to the attraction. Our clamshells then move right into the biggest scene of the attraction, “Under the Sea”. There must be at least a hundred animatronics in this scene, there is just so much going on that it would be impossible to see everything the first time through, and Sebastian is conducting all of it from a raised platform in the centre of the whole party. If there was a character in the “Under the Sea” scene in the movie, then they are in it in the attraction, so even my favourite clam drum playing lobster is present. There is even another Ariel audio-animatronic, but this one is rather weird as she looks like she has a beehive hair-do, I fully understand that this is something direct from the film, but it looks very bizarre when translated to a 3-dimensional attraction.

Unfortunately, the party is ruined with the arrival of Flotsam and Jetsam and the entering of Ursula’s lair, but this isn’t a problem as the Ursula animatronic is easily the most impressive one in the attraction. The Sea Witch stands at around 8 feet tall and is able to squash and stretch exactly like she did in the movie, the programers of her even managed to fully replicate her unique facial expressions and ticks such as the very particular way she smiles. There is even a massive amount of variation throughout her loop that has her arms doing various different movements and her hands making different gestures. This honestly is the best part of the attraction, which makes it so disappointing that it is as short as it is. I unfortunately got stuck on the attraction right as we were transitioning between the “Poor-Unfortunate Souls” scene and the upcoming “Kiss the Girl” one. I really just wish that I could have stopped in front of the Ursula figure so I could watch her movements more.

The attraction just movies downhill from here, but don’t get me wrong it never gets bad, it’s just impossible to follow up the 8-foot-tall Ursula. The “Kiss the Girl” segment is surprisingly static, but I very much enjoyed the fact that Sebastian is using a reed as a microphone, that the fish are creating fountains by spitting water out of their mouths, and that the kiss-y faced frogs and duck drummers are present. Ariel and Eric keep almost kissing, but Eric always pulls away and the Ariel figure actually manages to show visible rejection on her face, which is rather astounding as it was not present when they were about to kiss. After this scene, Ariel gets her voice back and we see a massive Ursula in the background, but no Eric/Ursula fight or even any sight of Ursula being defeated, it just moves right into the marriage scene. This part really isn’t anything special, but it marks the first time we have seen King Triton in the entire attraction and there is another appearance by Scuttle, which is always entertaining.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is a master-work. It managed to knock Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular out of it’s rank as best attraction at California Adventure, which is really saying something. The version coming to the Magic Kingdom is going to be essentially the same attraction, but with a completely different external and internal queue, and this is going to really be something for us East Coasters to look forward to when it opens in late 2012 as part of the New Fantasyland.

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