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The Little Mermaid - What We Know So Far

The plight of any Disney princess is always one that is appealing on a universal level. Though Ariel is but a sea creature that makes a magical pact in exchange for legs, the themes at the center of the story transcend the plot. "The Little Mermaid" at its core is about the pursuit of love, however unrealistic it may seem. It appears unlikely that a human prince and a mermaid would have a lot of shared life experiences, but love knows no bounds. Despite the very dark history of "The Little Mermaid," the movie's heroine has become one of the flagship characters of the Disney brand, making it a prime time for a resurgence.

After a brief Broadway run as well as the continuing trend of live-action adaptations, "The Little Mermaid" is just one on a long list of many fan favorites to get the reboot treatment (via The New York Times). And while we may not know if the new film will go the way of Hans Christian Andersen's treatment of death and sacrifice, here is what we do know about the upcoming movie.

What is the plot of The Little Mermaid?

There have been many incarnations of the sea-dwelling character, though not all are the same. From Hans Christian Andersen's mature story to Disney's more upbeat interpretation, there are clearly many different directions that the story could go. But judging by Lin-Manuel Miranda's involvement as well as Disney's popularity, it is safe to say that the newest version of "The Little Mermaid" will stick close to the animated film (per Playbill). Plot details have not been explicitly stated, but Miranda has let some interesting tidbits slip in his role as a producer. In the "Award's Circuit" podcast for Variety, the composer indicated that the main beats of the Disney film will remain.

"We wrote three or four original tunes, replacing none of the ones you like. All of those are in," Miranda stated. With the music remaining intact, it's safe to say that the story will still revolve around Ariel's yearning for life on land and the love of a prince. Miranda also went on to say that Ariel trading her voice for legs is a large part of the story. "We wrote some music [for] her time on land. She experiences a lot of firsts, as someone with legs for the first time, so we got to lean into all of that musically."

Who is starring in The Little Mermaid?

The acting and singing pedigree for any movie musical should be unparalleled, and it looks like "The Little Mermaid" has struck gold. Ariel will certainly be able to sing as she will be portrayed by Grammy winner Halle Bailey. Part of the duo known as Chloe x Halle, Bailey has exploded in recent years for her singing and starting her foray into acting. In addition to her new role as a siren of the sea, Vanity Fair announced she has also joined the on-screen adaptation of the Broadway production "The Color Purple."

Bailey shared with Variety the seriousness she is taking to her new duties as Ariel. "I want the little girl in me and the little girls just like me who are watching to know that they're special, and that they should be a princess in every single way," Bailey acknowledged. "There's no reason that they shouldn't be."

Bailey will not be the only actor of note in the cast. The rest of the performers in significant roles are just as impressive, such as Oscar winner Javier Bardem as King Triton, who Bailey commended. "When I had scenes with Javier, I just pulled from my experience with my own father: how deep that love is, and how strong and protective they get," she told Variety. Additional actors include Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, and Awkwafina as Scuttle (via The Hollywood Reporter).

What's the release date of The Little Mermaid?

Like many highly anticipated films of the past few years, "The Little Mermaid" has had some obstacles along the way. Film and television schedules have been interrupted due to COVID-19 concerns — and the upcoming Disney adaptation is no different. Casting first occurred in 2019 and went into production in the subsequent year. In 2020, Entertainment Weekly reported that the film was just one of many that were interrupted. "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Nightmare Alley," and "The Last Duel" were also impacted by the pandemic. Luckily, all of these films have been released, and it looks like "The Little Mermaid" is up next.

The musical is currently scheduled to be released on May 26, 2023. After three years of filming, Ariel will be part of her fans' world when the film is finally released — barring any further disasters, that is.

Who is directing The Little Mermaid?

Where Lin-Manuel Miranda goes, it seems that Rob Marshall follows. Or the other way around. The two collaborated on the 2018 sequel "Mary Poppins Returns" when Marshall cast Miranda in the role of Jack, seemingly a no-brainer. "It was actually John DeLuca's idea," Marshall told Deadline. "He said, 'What about Lin-Manuel?' I thought, 'Oh, what a great idea!' I mean, it was the height of the 'Hamilton' craze. I sat with him in between shows. As soon as you sit with Lin, there's such an infectiousness about his enthusiasm and his very pure childlike spirit." The spirit is continuing in "The Little Mermaid," with Marshall naturally in the director's chair and Miranda in a producing role (via Playbill).

Marshall's connection to the composer is not the only thing he has going for him. His experience in the musical sphere should prove instrumental for the upcoming film. He has been behind many musical adaptations such as "Into the Woods," "Nine," and — most significantly — "Chicago" (via IMDb). Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger at the height of their fame, "Chicago" took the Broadway stage show and transformed it into a seamless film. Full of dazzling visuals and set pieces, the musical swept the Oscars that year and has become a definitive film for the director. After proving himself as an accomplished musical director, there is no telling what he will bring to "The Little Mermaid."

Where to watch other movies in The Little Mermaid universe

"The Little Mermaid" adaptations started out with the famous 1989 animated film, but there may be more iterations of the franchise than some of us remember. The love story between Ariel and Prince Eric remains a classic for many reasons, and songs like "Part of Your World," "Kiss the Girl," and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" are pieces that will stick in our minds forever. But after reliving the nostalgia, you may also want to peruse the rest of the catalog. After the success of the first film, Disney released a sequel, "The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea." The animated film revolves around Ariel and Eric's daughter Melody who comes to terms with her mermaid heritage. Other tangential animated films in the universe include "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning," an obvious prequel to the original film. And for those who don't know all the words to the songs, they can always watch "The Little Mermaid Sing-Along."

There is also an option for a live-action adventure, for those who forgot about the 2019 stage adaptation. "The Little Mermaid Live!" was a stage production filmed for ABC that garnered a dismal 36% on Rotten Tomatoes. Stars Queen Latifah and John Stamos brought some cachet to the production, but not many were impressed (via USA Today). If you are a die-hard "The Little Mermaid" fan, all of these films are available on Disney+ for your viewing pleasure.

Where was The Little Mermaid filmed?

Though much of the classic "Little Mermaid" story takes place under the sea, the live-action remake wasn't actually filmed at the bottom of the ocean. 

While the story boasts the incredible Kingdom of Atlantica — bested, perhaps, only by Atlantis from the "Aquaman" films — there was no filming taking place miles beneath the surface. Instead, production for the 2023 remake began in London in early 2020, or at least it was meant to. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, production was soon delayed but resumed again later that year.

Principal photography took place at the famed Pinewood Studios in England, known for the James Bond series of films as well as others including "Alien," "Superman II," and much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the studio wasn't the only location on Disney's radar. In 2021, "The Little Mermaid" moved production to Sardinia, Italy where they shot in the village of Santa Teresa di Gallura — a favorite of films like "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Red Notice." 

One interesting element regarding the film's production is that Denmark wasn't featured as a part of the rounds. This might sound strange on its surface because Hans Christian Andersen, the writer of the original fairy tale, was Danish, and many believe the story's events are set close to his homeland.

How was The Little Mermaid filmed?

Much like "Aquaman" before it, a big challenge for the "Mermaid" reimagining was how to set entire dialogue-heavy scenes underwater while filming them on dry land.  

"It's the most challenging film I've ever done," director Rob Marshall ("Chicago," "Into the Woods," "Mary Poppins Returns") said in February of 2023. "I don't think anybody's ever done an underwater musical before."

Through a mix of technology and choreography, Marshall was determined to lose nothing in the translation from animated classic to live-action update. "[We were] using complicated, cutting-edge techniques to make this work," he explained. "Every single moment of the film had to be choreographed in advance so that we could have a flow to the whole piece. It's crazy the apparatuses we worked with from wires to things called tuning forks to teeter-totters. Thank God we had the rehearsal time. You always need it on a musical anyway."

Which isn't to say that plenty of the "Mermaid" shoot wasn't done in the drink. Halle Bailey estimates that she spent upwards of 13 hours in water on days where she portrayed the mermaid. 

"I pushed myself as far as I've ever pushed myself in life," she said in March 2023. "I feel like the message from [Ariel] was to know that you've always had it in you." 

In crafting a number like "Under the Sea," Marshall says his cast and crew had to similarly push themselves.

"You are creating a world, you're creating creatures, but it's very important to me that it feels real," he said. "You have to believe, you have to care about them, you have to follow their journey."

Will the music remain the same?

Like most Disney movies, especially of the princess variety, the 1989 "Little Mermaid" has musical hits that have withstood the test of time. Take Ariel's power ballad "Part of Your World," for instance; an empowering classic that quickly became the signature song of original voice actress Jodi Benson. "Poor Unfortunate Souls" is a fun and villainous tune, "Kiss The Girl" is a romantic calypso, and "Under the Sea" ranks among the most famous Disney masterpieces of all time. Needless to say, music is key to "The Little Mermaid."

Not long after the remake was announced, news broke that original soundtrack co-writer and composer Alan Menken would be returning, with Lin-Manuel Miranda in tow to aid in writing new songs and lyrics. It was also confirmed that many of the tracks from the animated film would return for the remake, much like other recent live-action Disney adaptations including "The Lion King," "The Jungle Book," and "Aladdin."

In talking with Vanity Fair, Menken explained that even though popular tracks like "Kiss The Girl" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" are revered elements of the original film, some of the lyrics will be changed in the remake, due to modern sensibilities. "People have gotten very sensitive about the idea that [Prince Eric] would, in any way, force himself on [Ariel]," Menken said about "Kiss The Girl." He added that Ursula's song was likewise reworked to avoid bad messaging, "even though Ursala is clearly manipulating [her] to give up her voice."

Will the plot mirror the original fairy tale?

It's no secret that the 1989 Disney animated film is a far cry from the original Danish fairy tale; the remake similarly sidesteps its source material, following Disney's lead. Though changes have been made to give Ariel more agency in the live-action adaptation — much like in the original story — the plot doesn't deviate much from Disney's revision. Nevertheless, director Rob Marshall is taking both the fairy tale and the animated film into consideration.

"The character goes back to Hans Christian Andersen from another century," Marshall said in December of 2022. "But at the same time, even in 1989, it felt in some ways like a very modern woman, someone who sees her life differently than anyone around her, and goes to find that dream." 

In Andersen's original fairy tale, the Little Mermaid (who is unnamed) makes a deal with a Sea Witch to become human, not just for the sake of the prince she's fallen in love with, but to earn her own eternal soul. 

It being a fairy tale, the Anderson story features a much darker ending that feels more Brothers Grimm than Walt Disney, with the Mermaid dying after the prince falls in love with another woman. With such elements in mind, it's understandable why the filmmakers changed things around.

Casting controversies

After Melissa McCarthy and Awkwafina were announced as the live-action Ursala the Sea Witch and a gender-swapped Scuttle in the 2023 remake, fans anxiously awaited an announcement of who would play the titular princess. Though there were some initial rumors that Zendaya would be playing Ariel, they proved to be just that. Soon it was announced that Halle Bailey would be taking on the role — and some online voiced displeasure that this would change the look of their undersea princess.

"After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance —plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role," Marshall said of Bailey, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and actress best known for being half of the musical duo Chloe x Halle and playing Skyler on "Grown-ish."

In the age of the internet, it isn't too hard to find someone outraged online; it's little surprise, then, that some took umbrage at the film's perceived race-swapping. Detractors cited the European location of the fairy tale and Ariel's appearance in the original animated film as reasons she should look similar to the 1989 film; others disliked the idea of a remake in general.

Likewise, the casting of McCarthy as Ursala was met with some criticism; the original Ursala concept had clear drag queen influences — the character was based on John Waters regular Divine — so some had assumed that a drag queen would be cast in the role, even if Queen Latifah did play Ursula in 2019's "Little Mermaid Live!" television production.

A 'four-dimensional' Prince Eric

With all the changes being made to Ariel and her supporting cast, it would be surprising if Prince Eric were left completely un-revised by Marshall and his crew. When speaking about Ariel's human dreamboat, Marshall confirmed that Eric too would be undergoing some changes. "The role of Eric in the animated film — I'm sure the original creators would agree with this — it's a wooden, classic prince character with not a lot going on."

In the remake, this new version of Prince Eric — played by "A Dog's Way Home" actor Jonah Hauer-King — is a bit more "four-dimensional," with a story similar to Ariel in that he hopes for more to his life than where he is in the moment. "These two kindred spirits find each other and really teach the world about prejudice and about breaking down barriers and walls between these two worlds," Marshall continued.

In the 1989 feature, the wayward prince doesn't have a lot going on outside of trying to find and marry the woman who saved his life. It remains to be seen just how different Eric will be.

What movie is Disney going to remake next?

Live-action remakes of iconic Disney titles have become a staple at the studio, which means (depending on who you ask) that either they're out of ideas or simply providing something their audiences demand. With many of these live-action remakes finding success, speculation often turns to which animated classics fans would next like to see get the live-action treatment.

After the release of "The Little Mermaid," Disney has a few other musical features in various stages of development. The first of these is a Marc Webb-directed "Snow White," from a screenplay by Greta Gerwig. Guy Ritchie is also reportedly working on a remake of "Hercules," there's an updated "Hunchback of Note Dame" in development, and even "Lilo & Stitch" is getting the live-action treatment, with newcomer Maia Kealoha cast as the title character.

In addition to remakes of beloved animated films, Disney is also working on producing sequels to many of their newly minted features. With a sequel to the 2019 "Aladdin," a new "Jungle Book," and "Mufasa: The Lion King" prequel all on the way, Disney has doubled down on the remake game.