The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure ride debuts at Disney California Adventure

June 2, 2011, 4:30 PM · Disney California Adventure officially opened its first musical dark ride today - The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure.

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.

The Little Mermaid opening ceremony at Disney California Adventure
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 in the Under the Sea scene
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.

Replies (11)

June 2, 2011 at 4:49 PM · Great note, just in time
June 2, 2011 at 6:37 PM · Looks like a really well themed dark ride, however as you have mentioned Robert, it is missing a huge chunk of the story. I was hoping they'd follow the scenes as featured in the older animated version of this dark ride, (the one where the vehicles were suspended.) In that version, they had Ursula as her giant scary self and a couple tiny ships around her surrounded by thunderclouds. I was sooo looking forward to seeing that, and then have that "wow" moment where you came to save the day and everything's back to normal. With just having a little silhouette of the sea witch doesn't help build up to that "wow" moment in the ride, and the whole thing just seems like a party under the sea. I love the bit in the beginning about how "this is a story about legs." I wonder how long that'll stay there without someone complaining about how that's inappropriate. Overall, I like the addition of a brand new dark ride. I'd love to see them tackle Sleeping Beauty next so we can see Maleficent as a giant fire-breathing dragon!
June 2, 2011 at 6:38 PM · It looks great. The projection of water on the back of the clamshells vehicles is pure magic. The "Under the Sea" scene captures perfectly the movie's energetic set piece (I always loved that song). On the other hand, you are right Robert about the plot hole; it looks awkward to see Ursula give something precious to the mermaid without asking anything in return. Maybe they didn't have more space to add the missing parts.

I will have to wait until 2012 or 2013 to experience the ride. The facade that Disney will build in Magic Kingdom looks more impressive though.

Your video stopped before the ride ended. What happened? Was your camera what Ursula wanted in return?

June 3, 2011 at 9:58 AM · The ride looks like a lot of fun, but I kind of think they went and blew 90% of the budget on the "Under the Sea" segment. I am duly impressed with the detail and craftsmanship, but I assumed it would be fairly close to the "virtual ride-through" video from the Little Mermaid DVD. I was really looking forward to an epically huge Ursula getting rammed by a boat. They probably skipped it to avoid scaring small children.
June 3, 2011 at 8:12 AM · What's there is an amazing achievement; a classic Disney style darkride updated with the latest technology in video and animatronics. Everything really looks like it's floating. The lights and colors are fantastic, and as someone else commented above, I love how they use lights projected on the clam in front of you as part of the experience.

However, Disney has always been best known for its storytelling, and in that department they really dropped the ball. The ride is a wonderful visual experience, but the story still needs to make sense, and here it seems like they ran out money in the third act. What's the point of even introducing Ursula if your not going to bother following the conflict of the story? The ride seems to be missing a couple of scenes that would complete the story, and as it is, the story HAS NO CLIMAX. It just has a pat resolution that makes no sense. I agree with everyone that the ride needs one more big scene to match the big "Under the Sea" scene with a big storm at sea as the heroes face a giant Ursula before transitioning to the big happy ending.

This is a great technological achievement with color and fancy for the kids and the kids at heart, but it fails as a complete story.

June 3, 2011 at 12:41 PM · From the start, Disney has stated that the ride is a showcase for the music of the movie; it's not intended to retell the story.
June 3, 2011 at 1:48 PM · Well, it certainly does tell the story, in chronological order, right up until Act III when it skips the point, conflict, moral and lesson of the entire story and jumps right to the end. If it was only supposed to focus on the music, it might have included "Fathoms Below" at the beginning. I know not every darkride tells a complete story. The Haunted Mansion doesn't. Pirates doesn't. This is based on a film that has a story, however, like "Peter Pan" which tells the story of the entire film in a minute and a half. "The Cat in the Hat" at Universal does an amazing job of playing out the entire children's book. As an ex-English major and lover of storytelling, this just befuddles me. Robert's comments are right on target. You'd think this would have come up in story and planning meetings.
June 3, 2011 at 4:50 PM · Does anyone know how similar the one in WDW is supposed to be? Most rides are slightly different but I feel as though since they're making them around the same exact time and with the major overhaul of fantasyland they may make it identical? Not that that is an issue, just curious.
June 3, 2011 at 9:55 PM · Regarding the plot, this feels like a "Greatest Hits Album" equivalent of The Little Mermaid, i.e., you get everything it's famous for, but not its heart.

Regarding the look, I didn't find it impressive. Ursula's animatronic is excellent, but even the dated Pirates of the Caribbean have a broader range of movements. Perhaps it's because they allow you to get too close to the animatronics, revealing too much detail. Then again, I'm sure the video doesn't do it justice.

Regarding the above comments, I completely agree that they should have included Ursula's epic battle with the ship. That scene in the movie still gets me fired up.

June 4, 2011 at 8:48 AM · I just saw footage of this ride today and think certain aspects are real achievements but other things are somehow poor.

General theming and musical scoring are excellent.

The pacing of the piece is a little odd throughout, but not least with the last appearance of ursula.

People say that 'Under the Sea' is alive with movement but I feel the somewhat simple movements some of the animals make is pretty dated and basic - like 4 lobsters all moving on the same mechanism and as a result looking mechanical. I would forgive this more if they didn't then use identical versions of these creatures in the final scene.

Finally, I know it it a high art, but I don't think Ariel looks much like Ariel, rather a toy of Ariel. Her hair in the Under the Sea scene seems misjudged. And Eric is arguably the most handsome of all Disney princes but this doesn't translate well in this ride.

Sorry it sounds negative, but children are more perceptive that we think and they know when something they are seeing doesn't quite match the image they have in their heads.

Nick M, UK

June 4, 2011 at 10:45 PM · Completely agree with Robert's comments on the story (or lack thereof...). It seems very un-Disney to stop short of telling the complete story.

On a different note, why does King Triton only make an appearance at the end? This would have to be chalked up to the lack of a climax as well, IMO. And is it just me, or does Triton's beard look really out of place? Like they tried to make him look more realistic than any other character. From what I can tell in the video, it looks like they used real "hair" for his hair and beard as opposed to Ariel and Eric's cartoony, plastic hair (which fits the theme better). To me, Triton looks like Harry from "Harry and the Hendersons"...just real goofy looking.

It seems like I'm complaining. Overall, it seems like a great ride--great energy, state of the art technology, and everything in between. Just seems like with all that effort, they would have patched up the holes in the story.

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