THE LITTLE MERMAID Review & Behind-the-Scenes Fun Facts: Revel in New Love, New Songs, & New Voices
Look at this stuff. Isn’t it neat?
Wanna learn why THE LITTLE MERMAID felt so complete?
This hidden grotto contains a collection of behind-the-scenes fun facts and our review of Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID (2023)!
Halle Bailey as Ariel
First, let’s talk about Halle Bailey (Ariel) and how perfect she is as this generation’s new Ariel. She is captivating, beautiful, innocent, and her singing voice (especially “Part of Your World”) left our whole theater breathless. You could hear a pin drop as she reached the final note of the song, and then we all burst into spontaneous applause.
In a Press Conference with the entire cast and filmmakers, we learned that THE LITTLE MERMAID has been years in the making, and throughout that time Halle Bailey has grown from a teenager to a young woman.
HALLE BAILEY (Ariel): I tell people all the time I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself and this young woman version of me. It’s been 5 years of my life now, from 18 to now being 23, so those are like very intense like transformative years. But I feel like especially these themes of the film and what [Ariel] 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. So, she’s taught me so much, for sure.
Ariel helped Halle find her voice, and vice versa.
FUN FACT #1: Halle Bailey was the first person to audition for Ariel
ROB MARSHALL (Director): The first actor we saw for this role was Halle. The first thing she did is she shut her eyes and started to sing [Part of Your World]. And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
She’s so deeply connected to what she’s 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.
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.
Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric
When pressed at the press conference, Jonah Hauer-King admitted that being a “Disney prince” is a great privilege and huge honor, but that’s not what the film means to him.
JONAH HAUER-KING (Prince Eric): What’s special about this [film] is that it feels very grounded in reality. So, the Disney prince and the Disney princess aspect is amazing and it’s fun and exciting, but I think watching it last night made me realize that for all of us, even though we’re living in this fantasy space, it just feels really connected to the real world.
Indeed, the fairy tale aspect of THE LITTLE MERMAID floats away when Ariel and Eric meet. The two actors bring such humanity and connection to these characters, that I’m left wondering what I ever saw in the love story of the animated 1989 film! Even though THE LITTLE MERMAID (2023) is bound by the same three-day time constraint of the original, Ariel and Eric connect on a much deeper level. Their connection goes beyond voice and looks, and thanks to some added scenes, songs, and fantastic chemistry, we understand how the characters could become soulmates for the rest of their lives.
JONAH: What was fun about this 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. It meant that their relationship feels really earnt. They both felt like they were teaching each other things. They were excited and fascinated by each other’s worlds although they didn’t actually know it until the end. And so it’s a really good message for what it means to be in love and what it means to be in a relationship is ultimately tied to friendship. And that’s why it lasts, and that’s what makes it special.
FUN FACT #2 – Big Budget Film begins as Community Theater
Throughout the press conference we learned that musicals require tons of rehearsal. Because of this, THE LITTLE MERMAID actors, director Rob Marshall, and choreographers meet in a small space to try things out.
DAVEED DIGGS (Sebastian): This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of. The way we worked on it, and this is why I think it’s good, wasn’t big. We worked on it like it was a small thing. It really felt like we were kind of doing, like, community theater. We were pushing boxes around to make sets. We made something that we understood, that everybody could wrap their arms around, and that we really believed in and knew inside and out.
MELISSA MCCARTHY (Ursula): Rob Marshall (the director), I think we all agree, sets up this world. 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 everyone, from the actors to the gorgeous camera moves and the sound department’s killing it and look at the costumes and it’s an appreciation of every human and all the moving parts that it takes to make a movie work. And Rob is a soft, gentle cheerleader swaddled in cashmere. Like, if the world had that running everything, we wouldn’t be so mad at each other.
ROB MARSHALL: I always feel that my job as a director is to protect the actors. Make them feel safe in a space where they can screw up and be terrible, and then get better. And not feel judged. And so, it does feel small. It feels intimate. You know, 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. What I never want any actor to feel is the pressure of the film, the technical portions of it. Because, especially with this movie, we didn’t want the technical aspects of the film to lead it.
While there are portions of THE LITTLE MERMAID that are very technical, the story generally takes precedence. One moment that did not live up to the level of the original film was “Under The Sea”. That song is a showstopper in the original, and in this version the filmmakers tried to top it technically. Yes, your imagination is the limit when it comes to digital enhancement, but I took umbridge with the song when lyrics arrived such as “the newt play the flute, The carp play the harp,” and we saw neither newts, carps, nor harps!
New Songs for The Little Mermaid
Fun Fact #3: Eric gets an “I Want” song
THE LITTLE MERMAID does boast several new songs, and most flesh out the characters and story. For instance, Prince Eric has his own “I want” song! Protagonists in musicals are usually given a song in the 1st act that shares their deepest desires, so we as the audience can root for them to achieve that by the end of the story. Ariel’s “I want” song is “Part of Your World” where she longs for the shore. Eric sings “Wild Uncharted Waters” where he longs for the sea.
JOHN DELUCA (producer): When we were writing [the film], we knew that Eric had no song. So we had to have a song for Eric. He needed his voice.
ALAN MENKEN (composer): So we chose the moment when Prince Eric, he’s been told, “Don’t go back out [to sea], you can’t,” and he thinks about this girl. It’s a love song to her, and it’s a love song to the sea. And to HIS uncharted waters – his life ahead of him. An important theme throughout the movie.
When reviewing the original film’s soundtrack, Rob Marshall and Alan Menken were shocked to discover that Ariel only has one song, with a series of reprises. With Halle Bailey in the mix, they knew they could give her more. Yes, Ursula has stolen her voice, but they realized they had some leeway.
ROB MARSHALL: You can create something where you’re hearing the internal thoughts through music, through song. And that was sort of the key for us to find this piece [“For The First Time”] for her.
The standout new song is “The Scuttlebutt”, performed by Daveed Diggs (Sebastian) and Awkwafina (Scuttle), where the pair break the news to Ariel that Prince Eric will be proposing shortly. It is unequivocally a Lin-Manuel Miranda song, with a beat and lyrics to match. So catchy you’ll find it hard to stay still in your seat! This is another moment your theater may erupt into applause. The filmmakers wished they had built in a little pause for applause, because the Premiere screening missed the final line!
FUN FACT #4 – Alan Menken thinks of music like a physical sculpture
Alan Menken, composer of the original LITTLE MERMAID film with lyrics by Howard Ashman, worked with a new team to create all of this new music. How does he create new songs for a musical?
ALAN: You create a mold, a shape. Where does the song start? Where does the song end? How does the character progress dramatically throughout the song? Everything that’s happening, the world we’re in, the palette we’ve decided to use. You give yourself over to the moment and the character, create the structure you want, and then, pour yourself into it.
For instance, “A Part of Your World.” It’s Ariel’s colors, but also, the “mold” was simply the water flowing. It’s just that sense of motion, and it all grows out of that.
And as with any artistic endeavor, it’s also realizing when it’s not working. “and be willing to just go, ‘No, that’s the wrong pour.’” 1989’s THE LITTLE MERMAID was already a pretty perfect film. It’s obvious that 2023’s live-action remake was made with all the love and care this team could muster.
My advice – see this film opening weekend with a full, nostalgic audience. Revel in this new love story between Ariel and Eric, and the onscreen chemistry of the actors. Laugh with delight over Awkwafina’s Scuttle and Daveed Diggs’ Sebastian. Watch Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula dripping with evil intention, though the actress herself had to curb nostalgic tears every time she sang “Poor Unfortunate Souls”. Go and enjoy the hell out of this movie! THE LITTLE MERMAID opens in U.S. theaters on May 26th. Flip your fins over to your nearest theater, stat!