The unprecedented box office success of The Little Mermaid in 1989 was obviously a massive game-changer for Disney, yet it seems that Disney themselves were a little knocked for six by its performance. At the very dawn of the Renaissance era, they couldn't be certain if or when they would experience another success story like it (a good call, as their 1990 release, The Rescuers Down Under, had a comparatively weak run at the box office), so it was imperative that they maintained momentum in their sparkly new creation. Oliver and Company, a film which had performed well enough in 1988 to keep Disney's head above the waters at a time when Don Bluth had a realistic shot at making shark meat of them, was suddenly all but buried, and wouldn't even see the light of day on home video for nearly a decade. For now, it was all about the mermaid. Yet Disney didn't seem to have a project immediately at their fingertips for capitalising on the public's immense goodwill toward the fishy-finned maiden. It would be a further three years before they were able to fill the Ariel-sized hole in their output with what would become a standard for them in the Renaissance era, the spin-off Saturday morning cartoon show. In between, there were some interesting attempts by Disney to keep the mermaid cash cow good and milked, including a proposed puppetry-based series devised by Jim Henson during that brief period at the dawn of the new decade when it looked as if he and Disney were about to join forces. The tragic death of Jim Henson in 1990 and the ultimate failure of the Disney-Henson merger (for now) meant that Little Mermaid's Island never got further than a couple of pilot episodes (which we'll talk about at a later date). Little Mermaid fans did, however, get this oddity in 1991 - a 28-minute tour of Caribbean-themed music hosted by the cancrine maestro. If this wasn't part of your Disney VHS collection back in the early 90s, you missed out on a treat, let me tell you.
Naturally, I really dig this thing because I love Sebastian. For the longest time, he would have secured my vote as the classiest, most endearing character in the entire Disney line-up, right up until late 2016 when he was unceremoniously dethroned by Tamatoa from Moana. Yes, I have this thing about crabs. Crabs are adorable, and I thank Disney for managing to prove that point on multiple occasions.
Actually, despite receiving title billing, Sebastian has only a supporting role in the film itself, the real star of the show being Samuel E. Wright, Sebastian's voice actor (credited here as Sam Wright), who appears in the flesh and gets to hang out with his crab alter ego in between shaking his pants to The Banana Boat Song and other Caribbean favourites. If the entire concept of this film sounds a little out there, then it's probably best explained as a supplementary film to an album Disney released in 1990, Sebastian, which had Wright singing a selection of calypso covers and traditional Jamaican folk songs in character as Sebastian (everything from "Jamaica Farewell" to more recent hits like Arrow's "Hot Hot Hot" and Bob Marley and The Wailers' "Three Little Birds"). Sebastian's Caribbean Jamboree is a concert film, of sorts, with Wright putting on a show for crowds of screaming kids at Walt Disney World, Florida while Sebastian stays mostly on the sidelines, fretting about the fact that he's never conducted a concert on dry land before. That's about the entirety of Sebastian's contribution, in fact. If I have one quibble about Jamboree, it's that it's extremely light on the Jamaican crustacean himself. Not that Wright lacks the charisma to carry the full 28 minutes on his own; there's a warmth and energy to his performance which makes him an absolute blast to watch.
Actually, I suspect that the main reason why Sebastian is given so little to do here is because they had severely limited means of utilising the character. Sebastian's Caribbean Jamboree does not contain what I suspect many Little Mermaid fans would have come here to see - namely, new animation. Rather, animation of Sebastian was recycled from the original film and integrated into the live action environment, and his lip movements dubbed with new dialogue. There's a lot of recycled footage in this film in general, including an inevitable return to the original's "Under The Sea" sequence (I do love that song, even if the nature enthusiast in me winces at how many examples of so-called marine life given therein are freshwater fish). In one particularly surreal sequence, we return to the scene from the original film where Ariel observes the revelry aboard Prince Eric's ship, only Wright has taken the place of Eric and is prancing around the animated boat with a few of his adoring young fans. It all looks tacky as sin, but that's what makes it so grand. In many respects, Jamboree is a glittering example of early 90s naffness (it's not quite up there with the Macaulay Culkin segments of the "Black or White" music video or the original Crystal Pepsi commercial, but it certainly gives it its all) but likeably so. It's a whirlwind of colour, energy and perfectly singable music, all wrapped up in Wright's charisma and that classy cartoon crab.
Jamboree was followed by a sequel in 1992, under the title of Sebastian's Party Gras. In my opinion, it was easily the stronger of the two, chiefly because it manages to incorporate a subplot for Sebastian (again, using 100% recycled footage), one that's so amazingly ridiculous that I'm all over it - while Jamboree makes only very limited use of the titular crustacean, Party Gras full-on embraces the goofiness of its central scenario, and has some fun with the entire notion that Sebastian would be hanging out on dry land and hosting a concert with this flesh and blood human (even if they are technically one and the same). Unfortunately, global distribution for that one appears to have been more limited; I couldn't find any evidence of a UK release and had to track down a copy from the US.
Regrettably I couldn't find much else about Jamboree online, so I'm imploring all kids of the early 90s to give the Wright/Sebastian concert films a bash and get acquainted with these delightfully quirky products of their time. Oh, and one of the scant pieces of writing that I came across about Jamboree online was from the film's IMDb page, with the author commenting that Wright is delightful and that "it is unfortunate he left us so soon". Fret not, because as of writing, Wright hasn't actually left us; in fact, he stuck around and continued to voice Sebastian in a barrage of other projects (including the aforementioned 1992 TV series).
To wrap things up, here's a great crab video, which contains a showdown between a real-life Sebastian and Tamatoa (that's at 2:08):