Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid” is almost here, and while most of the new film remains a mystery, we already know quite a few ways it’s going to differ from the 1989 original. The movie, which stars Halle Bailey as Ariel, is another in Disney’s growing collection of remakes. In a Dec. 20 interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Rob Marshall explained that the new movie will give Ariel a little more agency than the original, though he doesn’t see that as a major departure.
“The character goes back to Hans Christian Andersen from another century, 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,” he explained. But most important to the new movie’s Ariel is “her passion,” he said, adding, “That fire is very important.” He explained, “She feels displaced and it’s really an epic story of finding your true self. But also there needs to be a great deal of joy. It’s a strange combination of innocence and wisdom, and a great deal of soul and heart. She’s very modern in that way.”
Marshall added that in the new movie, she’s not afraid of “the other,” aka the human world. The movie puts emphasis on the wall between the mermaids and humans and uses it to add more texture to the role of Prince Eric, too. “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,” Marshall told EW. “There’s a whole story that’s developed in our film. He has a mother, a queen, that’s new to the film. He has a very similar trajectory in a way to Ariel. He doesn’t feel like it’s where he fits in, his world.” In the new film, Eric is played by Jonah Hauer-King and it seems his mother is played by Noma Dumezweni.
“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,” he added of the movie’s interpretation of Ariel and Eric’s relationship.
But perhaps the biggest difference is that the new movie will have two brand-new songs written for Ariel by the movie’s original composer, Alan Menken, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Howard Ashman, who wrote the lyrics for the first movie, died in 1991 from complications from AIDS). “I won’t share what those are right now, but you’ll get a sense of what she’s feeling,” Marshall told EW, hinting that at least one will occur during the period of the story when Ariel can’t speak.
We also already know about some aesthetic changes to the film. Bailey’s Ariel costume is not an exact replica of the original movie’s; her tail is longer, her shell-bra has been traded in for a bandeau, and Bailey rocks her signature locs, this time with a red hue.
“The Little Mermaid” (2023) also stars Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, and Awkwafina as Scuttle. The movie will hit theaters on May 26, 2023.