Look at this sequel—isn’t it neat?
In some way, you’ve likely heard of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and its effect on pop culture. The story started out as a Danish fairy tale from Hans Christian Andersen, but it had a little bit of a different vibe than the Disney version most people know that came out in 1989.
And it’s the later version that Disney is once again tackling in the new live-action re-telling of this classic tale, but even with all the makings of the old blockbuster, they have found a way to put a new and refreshed touch on the story.
This updated and popular version of ‘The Little Mermaid’ follows Ariel (Halle Bailey)—King Triton’s (Javier Barden) youngest daughter who seems to have a knack for humans and not listening to her father’s rules. Through a series of events, Ariel ultimately saves the life of a mortal, a prince named Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). It’s then that she falls in love with the mortal and longs to be above water so much, that she ends up giving away her tail and her voice with the help of a sneaky and evil sea witch, Ursula (Melissa McCarthy.)
Taking on the iconic role of Ariel was one that many people were anticipating—and Bailey, who spent five years preparing and acting out the character, swam it out of the park.
“I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself and this young woman version of me,” explains Bailey. “These themes of the film and what she had to go through with her passions and drive and speaking up for herself, and even though it may be scary, she went for it. I feel like those things I really try to adopt and give to Halle now. She’s taught me so much, for sure.”
Part of the magic of the 1989 Disney film wasn’t just the characters. It was the music as well. ‘Part of Your World’, ‘Kiss The Girl’ and ‘Under the Sea’ have become Disney anthems, and are popular among many age groups. Alan Menken, another legend from the company worked as a composer on both ‘Mermaid’ scores.
But even with the iconic tracks, (which Menken worked on with the late lyricist Howard Ashman), the composer gave Bailey some creative breathing room to make it her own for the new feature.
“[When I saw] the movie when it was just first put together very roughly, Wyatt, the editor, kept having to bring over boxes of tissues for me. Because when we got to ‘Part of Your World’, I was just weeping,” explains Menken. “Part of it is the, you know, missing Howard kinda reaction, and also just remembering the innocence of what we put in there originally, and now look at it.”
Rob Marshall, the 2023 film’s director had a similar reaction to seeing Bailey sing the song in her first audition for the role.
“Here’s the thing. The first actor we saw for this role was Halle. The first thing she did is she came in and sang for us, and she sang that song. She shut her eyes and started to sing the song,” Marshall remembers. “And I thought, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I just thought she [was] so deeply connected to what she was singing about. It’s so emotional. It’s so beautiful. And I thought, oh my gosh, we’ve been doing this for five minutes—have we found Ariel? And we had.”
Marshall continues: “But we didn’t know that. But then we saw hundreds of other actors after that, and Halle kept coming back in. And we saw every ethnicity. We saw everybody. And she claimed the role for hers. That’s what happened.”
2023’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ also brought on a roster of impressive actors taking on different roles in Ariel’s life. As mentioned before Javier Barden took on King Triton and Melissa McCarthy suits up as Ursula, Awkwafina takes on the role of Scuttle, Jacob Tremblay plays the anxious-ridden Flounder and Daveed Diggs brings his own spin to Ariel’s guardian Sebastian. And for those who took on voice roles, seeing the film come to alive on screen was part of the magic that we get as an audience.
“It really felt like we were just building a world in our heads, but then it was there on the screen. That was crazy,” explains Diggs. “To just sit there and be struck by it, it’s just really cool, to see a thing that you thought only existed in your imagination.”
“Rob Marshall, I think we all agree, sets up this world that is [similar to] why I fell in love with plays. It feels so small and yet you know it’s this enormous thing, but it just feels like if we all do our best, maybe we can make a show. And then it just becomes so personal,” McCarthy adds.
2023’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ takes on its own feel. The colors are bright, the action is bigger and the worlds of both land and sea collide together so well, it’s taking everything from the cartoon and animating it even more so than the original animation. That also was the thought with the storylines, particularly, the romance between Ariel and Eric.
“Friendship, I think,” says Hauer-King when asked about what is added with Eric and Ariel’s romance in this particular film.
“Disney romances are always filled with that instinctive attraction to one another. We all wanna see that. But I think what was fun about this, and I think a lot of it came from our off screen selves as well, was looking at Ariel and Eric as two people who were kindred spirits who felt a little bit restless, who felt like they were behind the four walls of their respective castles, and were very much looking outwards and not in. And I think what was nice about that was that it meant that their relationship feels really earnt. They both felt like they were teaching each other things.”
Overall this new rendition of ‘The Little Mermaid’ is going to bring a new audience into a classic story, as well as bring new perspective for old fans.
“It’s massive in some ways, but the scenes are, you know, in a way, it’s a small story. It’s about a father and a daughter, a father learning to let go, and these two kindred spirits learning to change the world and not be afraid of someone that’s different than them,” Marshall finishes. “It’s a beautiful story.”
Catch The Little Mermaid in theaters May 26.