What You Need To Know Before You Watch Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’

Ask any fan of Disney’s previous iteration of The Little Mermaid about what it means to them, and they’ll probably tell you a personal story about their connection.

For Halle Bailey, the titular lead in the studio’s new live-action adaptation, it’s no different but also somehow a whole new world of a journey. While some grew up with the movie, she grew up in it.

“I tell people all the time I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself and this young woman version of me,” mused Halle Bailey. “It’s been five years of my life now, from 18 to now being 23, and those are very intense, transformative years as you’re developing as a young woman. The film’s themes show what Ariel had to go through with her passions, drive, and to speak up for herself, even though it may be scary. She went for it. I try to adopt and give those things to Halle now, so Ariel, and being her, taught me so much.”

Co-star Melissa McCarthy, who plays the despicable sea witch, Ursula, explained how the cast’s journeys and deep connections with the characters stopped them from being “caricatures” and enabled them to “give them humanity.”

“They’ve tethered them like these are real people, and everyone walks with the same problems, troubles, and worries,” McCarthy enthused. “I think that’s a big difference. Halle and the others brought their humanity to the screen.”

Ahead of the film’s release in theaters, the film’s key cast gathered in Los Angeles to talk to select media to discuss the new adaptation, helmed by director Rob Marshall. Once again, it tells the story of a young mermaid with an overbearing father who trades her voice for human legs, love, and a new life on land.

While some cast members weren’t born when Disney’s classic, and Oscar-winning, animated movie landed in theaters in November 1989, they were all familiar with and fans of it. However, Daveed Diggs, who voices Ariel’s iconic crab companion, Sebastian, in the live-action version, saw the movie debut.

“I stood in line to see The Little Mermaid opening night in Oakland,” he recalled. “The day I got cast in this, a really good friend of mine was like, ‘I’m bringing my daughter to the premiere, whenever that is,’ so he brought his daughter to the premiere here in LA. It was such a special experience.”

“For me, that was this moment of, ‘This thing that was a fundamental part of my childhood is now going to be that for this little girl.’ She was also terrified of Ursula. I had to introduce her to Melissa afterward so she didn’t have nightmares.”

Jacob Tremblay, who provides the voice of Ariel’s fish friend, Flounder, added, “It’s also really cool for me because I have little cousins, and a lot of the time, the kind of do the things I do, I’m not able to show them.”

Although it was five years ago, Halle Bailey clearly recalls the phone call that confirmed she was going to be filling the fins of Ariel for the highly-anticipated adaptation.

“Honestly, my first reaction was just sobbing,” she explained. “I think we had celebrated my sister’s birthday the day before. We had rented an Airbnb, we were coming home and unloading everything, and then I got this call from an unknown number. I don’t answer unknown numbers, so I saw it and was like, ‘Whatever. I’m not going to answer it.’ Then my baby brother comes running to me, saying, ‘Answer your phone! Answer your phone!” So I answered, it was Rob Marshall, our director, and he said, ‘Hello. I’m looking for Ariel?’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and cried all day.

For The Little Mermaid‘s voice cast, such as Diggs, Tremblay, and Awkwafina, seeing the scope and scale of the world that Marshall and his team had created on the big screen for the first time was emotional.

“We worked on it like it was a small thing. In our work sessions, it felt like we were doing community theater. We made something we understood, and everybody could wrap their arms around,” Diggs explained. “We really believed in and knew it inside and out.”

“To show up at the premiere when they’re shutting down the street, the posters are huge, and then you watch the film, and it’s on this massive screen, it’s a whole world that I never saw at all. I never saw any of that. I recorded some voices, and I dipped.”

Diggs continued, “To just sit there and be struck by it, to see a thing that you thought only existed in your imagination, because it felt like we were just building a world in our heads, was crazy.”

Even the experience of recording was something different for Awkwafina, the voice of simpleminded but well-intentioned seabird, Scuttle.

“For me, it was the first time I’ve ever read a scene for something like this with other actors,” she recalled. “Usually, you’re in the booth, and the director will just read the other parts with you, but we were all able to do it. It all happened there. There were other people in the room too; it was pretty wild, and that one day was where most of our performances came from.”

“I did feel a natural kinship with Scuttle. After two margaritas on a Tuesday, I’m a bit like her. We’re neurotic and things like that, so I am Scuttle, for sure.”

What about her preparation for the session?

“I would love to say that I don’t go out the night before, and I wake up early the day of,” Awkwafina confessed. “I wake up, I show up, I’m usually in Crocs, and just like, ‘All right. Let’s run it,’ and then we’ll do it. You’ve just got to bring yourself and ensure you don’t have Covid or whatever.”

For some cast members, the work it took to fulfill their roles meant they sometimes felt like their feet hardly touched the ground during the Pinewood Studios shoot. For Melissa McCarthy, that sensation was very real.

“I was never literally on my feet,” she recalled. “We were either up in rigs, or there were other different magical things. If we were diving, it was one rig. If we were spinning, it was another, but I was never on the ground, but the biggest challenges were probably the crazy 60-foot clam shell and trying desperately not to cry every time Halle sang a melody. I didn’t want her to think I was crazy as tears ran down my face.”

Ultimately, The Little Mermaid, as with the animated inspiration, has love at the heart of it. That was something that Javier Bardem, who plays Ariel’s overprotective father, King Triton, found very specific about the role.

“He’s a man who, as a father, is deeply in love with his daughter, and he has confused his fear and insecurity with love. He’s blocking her from being free. That kind of relationship is what I have to create for the tale to make sense.”

“At the premiere, Halle’s mom told me, and she was so right, was that one of the beautiful themes in the story is that the adults, the mother and father, learn from their kids. It’s a crucial lesson about what love means. They thought they knew, but they didn’t get a glimpse of real love until they saw their own kids departing. It’s about respecting each other.”

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