The Little Mermaid’s Jacob Tremblay, Daveed Diggs, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, and Rob Marshall.
The 1989 animated feature film The Little Mermaid, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of a mermaid desperate for life on land, is credited with kicking off Disney’s renaissance, a period in which the company returned to producing successful animated films after a period of decline.
It was no easy task to create a live-action adaptation of a film that was partially set underwater and featured large musical sequences as well as aquatic and mythical creatures.
Not only did the actress need to convincingly portray a mermaid. But she also had to perform well-known melodies and spend a significant portion of the film without a voice.
Halle Bailey, half of the pop duo Chloe x Halle, was the sole person to audition and win the role.
Her selection triggered a racist response, with supporters only believing in white mermaids.
King Triton, portrayed by Javier Bardem, is derisive of anyone who disagrees with Bailey’s casting.
“I don’t think we need to give that any voice,” he said.
Melissa McCarthy, who portrays the sea witch, Ursula, concurred, “Seeing it, she’s so technically superior, she’s such an amazing actress, and her voice is just ridiculous, but I think what makes her so incredibly watchable and you feel like you’re always with her is her humanity.”
She’s magical, and no other human or fish could play Ariel.
Rob Marshall found it aggravating that Bailey was being evaluated before her performance in the role.
“There was no agenda when we cast her. We weren’t looking for a woman of color, and we considered every ethnicity for the role. We simply wanted to find the best Ariel,” he told Backstage.
“That was all we cared about, and she was the one, it was so obvious, so I thought these people were so narrow-minded; it seems so archaic that we’re even discussing skin color in this day and age; it’s like we’re living in another century.”
“I thought, ‘You know what? Just see the movie.’ In my mind, I thought, ‘There’s no question that she’s Ariel,’ and I’m excited for people to see her.
The other performers had to combine paying tribute to legendary childhood figures with modernising the film.
McCarthy says she was influenced by Divine, the American drag diva who inspired the original Ursula.
She stated, “Since high school, I’ve been a huge fan of drag – it’s such an incredible art form and it’s been around forever, and there’s something to that kind of unapologetic, larger-than-life, I’m right in your face, I shall not apologize.”
It’s a tribute to a certain type of woman, but it’s also a spoof.
“It’s a balancing act, and I’ll always have a drag queen in my heart for every role I play.”
Daveed Diggs, who portrays King Triton’s advisor Sebastian the crab, was aware that he did not want to simply imitate the voice actor who originally voiced the character, Samuel E. Wright.
I was extremely anxious about it until the day we began,” he admitted.
“Then it was very clear that Rob [Marshall] was creating an environment where he wanted us to bring new things to it, and the entire team, including Alan [Menken – who composed the film’s music] as well, was constantly encouraging us to find what works for us.”
He added, “Everyone attached to this project is a huge fan of the original, so all of that was feeding into it, we were getting all of that for free, all of the reverence for this film that we all love, and they pushed us to figure out what our version is.”
The Little Mermaid was a huge production that required actors to wear underwater harnesses.
The voice performers for Sebastian and Flounder were also on scene during filming.
The presence of Diggs and models of the character had a significant impact on Bardem’s performance.
He stated, “There were puppeteers as well as puppets. Toys! I was engaged in recreation!
However, Daveed was present to deliver the words, so you will play the scenario with Sebastian, which is wonderful.
Due to two performers, the scene will move to several locations instead of following one voice.