Halle Bailey's Performance in the Live-Action 'Little Mermaid' Brought the Director to Tears

·7 min read
Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz - Getty Images

It's been over 30 years since The Little Mermaid graced the big screen with anthems like "Under the Sea" and "Part of Your World." The Disney classic is beloved by many late-'80s and early-'90s kids, who watched and sang along with Ariel's journey to dry land—and falling in love with a human prince. The live-action remake has been in the works for a few years, but it became a hot topic in July 2019, when Disney announced Halle Bailey would be taking on the role of Ariel.

The 20-year-old singer is one half of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle, a protégé of Beyoncé, and a star on Freeform's Grown-ish. Fans of The Princess and the Frog and the Brandy-starring Cinderella know another Black Disney princess is long overdue. Though the film's release date has yet to be announced, I'm ready to buy my tickets now.

As we wait, here's everything else we know about the forthcoming movie.

The Little Mermaid will premiere in theaters on May 26, 2023.

Disney just announced that its live-action remake will hit theaters on Memorial Day weekend in 2023, per The Hollywood Reporter. Halle Bailey revealed that production had wrapped on the film in an Instagram post last June, where she also shared a first look of our live-action Ariel. "I cannot wait for time to speed up so you all can watch this film because it was made with so much love (plus blood sweat and tears)," she wrote.

Bailey will officially star as Ariel.

Rob Marshall, the film's director, released a statement on July 3, 2019, saying, "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."

Bailey shared her excitement on Twitter, calling the casting a "dream come true."

There hasn't been an African-American Disney princess since Anika Noni Rose voiced Tiana in 2009. This level of representation is equally a dream come true for many Black girls around the world.

Jonah Hauer-King will play Prince Eric.

After Harry Styles reportedly turned down the role, Disney casted Jonah Hauer-King as The Little Mermaid's Prince Eric, according to Deadline. The outlet also reported that Hauer-King auditioned for the role in September 2019, along with actor Cameron Cuffe.

British-born actor Hauer-King has been on West End and starred in BBC miniseries, including Howards End and Little Women, according to his IMDb page. Other acting credits include lead roles in A Dog's Way Home and Once Upon a Time in Staten Island.

The cast also includes Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy, and Hamilton's Daveed Diggs.

Disney has confirmed the full cast: Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) will play Ariel's father King Triton; Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) will play sea witch Ursula; Awkwafina (The Farewell) will play Ariel's seagull friend Scuttle; Jacob Tremblay (Room) will play the mermaid's finned BFF, Flounder; and Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) will play the famous musical crab, Sebastian.

Bailey reportedly looks "stunning" as Ariel in the film.

In a cover story for Variety, Bailey kept mum on what her formal transformation into Ariel will look like, it was revealed she'll have the character's signature red tresses.

“She looks stunning in red hair — not everybody does,” said the film's director Rob Marshall. Her vocal performance is just as gorgeous too, per the director.

“When she finished, I was in tears because she’s so soulful,” Marshall told the outlet about hearing Bailey's first rendition of 'Part of Your World'. “You could tell right away that she was able to harness Ariel’s passion, her fire, her soul, her joy and her heart.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda will write music for the new movie.

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda will work alongside Alan Menken, who wrote the original movie's music with the late lyricist Howard Ashman, to craft additional music for the remake. Miranda most recently worked with Disney to write music for 2016's Moana, and is also a producer on this movie.

He told Vulture in 2016 that he's "intimidated" about the project. "This came out of a conversation with Disney, and basically they were like, 'There's no bigger fan of this movie than you, and no bigger public supporter,'" Miranda recalled. Talk about pressure.

Miranda will also reunite with his Mary Poppins Returns director Rob Marshall.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Marshall will direct the film from a script written by Jane Goldman (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children). He and Miranda are fresh off a successful collaboration for the Disney sequel Mary Poppins Returns, but Marshall's experience with musicals goes far beyond that. He also directed Into the Woods, Nine, and the Oscar-nominated Chicago.

The original Ariel has defended Bailey's casting following backlash.

After Bailey's role was announced, the hashtag #NotMyAriel began circulating around Twitter. Many people argued that the singer was completely wrong for the role because the Ariel made popular from the 1989 animated film was Danish and had red hair.

Freeform defended its network star in an open letter addressed to the "Poor, Unfortunate Souls." The post explained that "Danish mermaids can be Black because Danish people can be Black" and that "the character of Ariel is a work of fiction."

Even actress Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in the 1989 movie, defended Bailey's casting. "The most important thing is to tell the story. And we have, as a family, we have raised our children, and for ourselves, that we don’t see anything that’s different on the outside,” Benson said during a July 2019 fan convention, according to ComicBook.com. "And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I'm tall or thin, whether I'm overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story."

Bailey addressed the controversy for the first time in a cover story for Variety expressing how the backlash initially affected her.

“It’s important to have a strong support system around you. It’s hard to carry the weight of the world on your own," said the actress in the interview. "[But] it was an inspiring and beautiful thing to hear [my grandparents's] words of encouragement, telling me, ‘You don’t understand what this is doing for us, for our community, for all the little Black and brown girls who are going to see themselves in you.’”

She also acknowledged how seeing an Ariel that looked like her decades prior would have changed not just her outlook on the world but of herself. “What that would have done for me, how that would have changed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything,” she said. “Things that seem so small to everyone else, it’s so big to us.”

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