In recent years, Disney has been updating their classic animated movies with visually-beautiful live-action films that often offer a blend of nostalgia and fresh takes on their iconic stories. The most successful entries of the bunch have stemmed from the studio’s Renaissance era of the ‘90s with recent remakes of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. The next in line is a live-action The Little Mermaid, which has been in the casting over the last few months.
Looking back at the 1989 classic, there are certainly some plot points that wouldn’t float well with audiences today. The story written by Hans Christian Anderson in the 1800s would show its age, considering the leading heroine literally gives up her voice to follow her dreams to be among humans and get some quality time with her big crush, Prince Eric. President of Production at Walt Disney Studios, Sean Bailey touched upon how the studio will deal with the movie’s original messages. In his words:
Well, I don’t want to say too much about it because they do involve some, sort of, plot changes. It’s something we’ve talked a lot about. And we are definitely working to still sort of deliver the beautiful foundations of that story while being cognizant of the times we find ourselves in.
So unlike The Lion King’s close devotion to the original content of the beloved film, the new Little Mermaid will take some creative liberties to separate itself from what audiences know. Perhaps in the vein of the live-action Aladdin’s addition to Princess Jasmine’s story, including a new song called “Speechless”. The Guy Ritchie film gave Naomi Scott’s version of the character more agency – giving her aspirations to explore the world and rule her own kingdom.
Since Sean Bailey became president of production at Disney in 2010, he told Freakonomics Radio the studio has made it a priority to cater to an underserved audience – women. He admits in the ‘90s the priority was to appease teen to 20-something males, since it was thought they’d come in big numbers on opening weekends in movie theaters.
The Little Mermaid will be played by 19-year-old R&B Chloe x Halle singer and Grown-ish actress Halle Bailey. Melissa McCarthy will play Ursula, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Awkwafina as Scuttle and Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs as Sebastian. Mary Poppins Returns’ director Rob Marshall will direct.
It would certainly feel like a lost opportunity if Disney didn’t update Ariel’s story in Little Mermaid. While at the time of release the Disney Princess may have had attributable traits not seen from female characters at the time but her love story with Prince Eric leans much more on his physical attraction to her without much mind to her particular personality. The teenage couple seem to fall in love and get married within three days of meeting too. By the end of the film, Ariel successfully ditches her family to be with her hunky prince!
First, fans can relive the magic of The Little Mermaid with ABC’s live musical event, premiering on November 5.