Walt Disney World visitors will get to see this new ride as part of the Fantasyland expansion that opens in late 2012 or early 2013. But for now, Ariel's Adventure is a California Adventure exclusive.
Disney Parks Chairman Tom Staggs welcomed Jodi Benson, the original voice of the Ariel, to the stage during this afternoon's opening ceremony. Benson sang "Part of Your World" before introducing Sherie Rene Scott, the Broadway voice of Ursula, who performed "Poor Unfortunate Souls." Additional singers emerged for a medley of other Little Mermaid tunes before the ride opened to an explosion of streamers.
Jodi Benson, Tom Staggs and Sherie Rene Scott, center, open The Little Mermaid ride.
The Little Mermaid revived Disney's animation division when it debuted to critical and public acclaim in 1989. Buoyed by Alan Mencken's Academy Award-winning score, The Little Mermaid reminded the public that Disney could still make a delightful animated film.
Well, then, Ariel's Undersea Adventure reminds us today that Disney can still build one heck of a musical dark ride when it puts its mind to it, too.
You ride in brightly colored clamshells, whose color helps you forget that this attraction is built on the same ride system as the very dark Haunted Mansion. As you pass under the stern of Prince Eric's ship, Scuttle sets the scene to begin the story. We turn a corner, then we drop "under the sea" as lights and projections create an underwater effect. (Be sure to look up for your first glimpse at our little mermaid.) The sounds of "Part of Your World" signal that we're about to enter Ariel's cave hideaway, where the little mermaid is singing her ode to a statue of the prince.
Ariel's "handler," Sebastien the Crab, has other ideas for the mermaid, and leads a wild chorus of animatronic sea creatures in a delightful rendition of "Under the Sea." The scene, the largest in the ride, explodes with color and motion. Take a look at Ariel's eyes, which dance in delight - Disney didn't skimp. You might not notice such detail, but they help sell the scene to even a skeptical rider.
Ariel jams in the "Under the Sea" scene
On-ride video of The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure. Note: Video fixed to restore ending.
But no great story is complete without some good ol' evil. Flotsam and Jetsam lead us to the lair of one of Disney's most delicious devils, Urusla the sea witch, who belts out "Poor Unfortunate Souls" while plotting the theft of Ariel's voice.
With the tragic deal in place, Ariel gets her legs and Ursula claims Ariel's voice. We next see Sebastien crooning "Kiss the Girl" as Ariel and her beloved Price Eric float along on an evening date, accompanied by Sebastien's crew.
And then… the plot hole.
In the movie, Ursula transforms herself into a raven-haired beauty, using Ariel's voice to lure Prince Eric, against which the now-mute Ariel can't compete. The little mermaid's fauna friends bail her out, though, allowing Eric to escape Ursula's spell until Ariel's father, King Triton, could put everything right. (That didn't happen Hans Christian Andersen's original story, which ended on a tragic note.)
I once twisted my young daughter's mind by pointing out that, from Snow White's perspective, the apple worked. One moment, the old lady is offering her a magic apple, and the next thing she sees is her beloved prince leaning in for a kiss, about to sweep her away to live happily ever after.
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Adventure reminded me of that twist, because here, we skip straight from Ariel and Prince Eric on their date to happily ever after. If you hadn't seen the movie, you'd be lead to think that Ursula came through: Ariel got her man!
What a nice sea witch, helping that lovesick mermaid like that, without taking anything in return.
Still, hearing those songs again, in a delightfully immersive environment, filled with motion and color, helped me forgive the omission of all that drama. Set behind an impressive seaside boardwalk facade, Ariel's Undersea Adventure is as sweet as salt-water taffy. Just don't chew on it too long.