Everyone loves a good Disney movie, and the next one to capture hearts is The Little Mermaid. Disney movies filled our childhoods and continue to fill our adulthoods as we share them with friends, family, and younger generations that are just getting started. While Disney is known primarily for their animated films, they are no stranger to live-action movies, both original stories as well as remakes of their previous animated films. While live-action remakes have become more and more frequent, it’s a practice that the studio has been engaged in since the 1990s with remakes of The Jungle Book (1967 / 1994) and 101 Dalmatians (1961 / 1996).
More recently though, many of the popular Disney Princess stories have been reimagined for live-action, including Sleeping Beauty (1959) being revisited as Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (1950) being remade in 2015, Beauty and the Beast (1991) in 2017, Aladdin (1992) in 2019, Mulan (1998) in 2020, and now finally, The Little Mermaid, originally released as an animated film in 1989. The remakes might add new twists to the original story and expand upon the details, but they keep that same Disney magic that we all know and love. After all, a shot-for-shot remake wouldn’t give audiences anything new, but adding just a few meaningful changes can create a fresh story for the big screen. The upcoming live-action take on The Little Mermaid strives to do just this – making impactful changes that add to the story to help create something new, while staying true to the core elements that audiences of all ages originally fell in love with years ago.
A Whole New Ariel with New Sisters
Maybe you’ve seen the animated The Little Mermaid released in 1989. Maybe you’ve even read the original 1837 fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen that the story is loosely based on. But even with both of those, this story presents us with a whole new Ariel. Though, of course she still has her gorgeous red hair! Played by Halle Bailey, Ariel is a curious, strong-willed mermaid that wants nothing more than to discover the land above and all that it has to offer. Even though the animated Ariel also wanted to know more about the land even before she met Prince Eric – after all, she had an entire collection of human trinkets – this was always a common criticism of the film – that Ariel supposedly gave up everything for a man.
This time though, the film makes it much clearer earlier on and goes into more depth of Ariel’s fascination with human life on land, including a whole new song highlighting her first steps and discoveries on the surface. Ariel isn’t leaving the water for a man; she is leaving for her own freedom and independence to live a life that will make her happy. Additionally, you may remember that Ariel has six mermaid sisters in the animated film to represent the seven seas: Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Atina, Adella, and Alana. While our new Ariel has just as many sisters still, they are also all completely new and different characters, to further set apart this Ariel and her version of her story. This time, Ariel’s sisters are Indira, Karina, Tamika, Mala, Perla, and Caspia. Honestly, it’s way less of a tongue twister this time around, which is deeply appreciated.
Ursula’s New Deal
Of course, everyone remembers the Sea Witch Ursula, and fans of the animated sequel may remember that Ursula has an evil sister, Morgana. This time though, Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) is King Triton’s (Javier Bardem) younger sister, which gives an even deeper meaning to why she resents him for having the throne. It gives a similar dynamic that we see with Mufasa and Scar in The Lion King (1994) and creates a deeper past between not only Triton and Ursula, but Ariel and Ursula as well. Just as Scar uses Mufasa’s son Simba to plot his demise and inherit the kingdom, Ursula now uses Triton’s daughter Ariel as a device to take down her brother and become the sole ruler of Atlantica. Furthermore, in the animated film, Ariel instantly loses her voice as part of her deal with Ursula in exchange for human legs. But this time, Ariel sings a whole new song this time after her deal – meaning she does not lose her voice right away. Instead, Ariel has at least a moment where she is free to run around exploring the land, how to walk and run and jump, and how to get dressed in human clothes all while still using her voice.
A Deeper Story for Prince Eric
While the animated movie clocks in at under ninety minutes, the new live-action has a heftier run time of one hundred and thirty-five minutes. With all that additional time, it makes sense that individual storylines would be more fleshed out, with new characters added in to accompany them. In the animated film, there’s not much that is known about Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), other than the fact that he’s royalty, occasionally makes trips out to sea, and lives in a castle with his dog, Max. We didn’t know much about Eric’s parents before, but now we will get to see Eric’s relationship with his mother, Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni). And while Grimsby (Art Malik) – Eric’s confidant and a butler at his palace – does return for the live-action, we also will learn more about Eric’s friendships with some of his shipmates, including a new character named Mulligan (John Dagleish).
A Brand-New Look for Scuttle
Of all the main characters that make an appearance in both the animated and the live-action, Scuttle might see the biggest changes. In the animated movie, Scuttle is a male seagull who isn’t exactly the brightest, though he tries to be helpful, and collects trinkets from the human world for Ariel. However, in the live-action, Scuttle is a female northern gannet – a species native to the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean – voiced by Awkwafina. Though, in true Scuttle fashion, she still isn’t all that bright, but she tries her best. Separating northern gannets apart from many other birds is the fact that they can swim underwater, as they hunt and consume their prey under the surface – like a duck or even a penguin! Naturally, with a movie that takes place partially under the water, this makes for a great ability for Scuttle to have.
Catchy New Songs (And Some Cuts)
One of the most beloved parts of any Disney film, be it animated or live-action, is of course the music. The often emotional, award-winning songs expand upon the story and what the characters are feeling and are a crucial part to the film. Whether they be tearjerkers that leave us reaching for tissues, inspirational ballads, or comedic, catchy beats, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. Everyone has a favorite Disney song, and for caregivers, these songs are often played on repeat over, and over, and over again. It just wouldn’t be The Little Mermaid without “Part of Your World,” and Bailey’s rendition of the classic is beautiful. Ariel also gets an additional solo called “For the First Time” to show a cute montage of her first steps on land as she realizes just how tight corsets are.
While “Daughters of Triton” and “Les Poissons” didn’t make the cut in the live-action movie, there are a couple new additions to the soundtrack, as well as some lyric changes, including a solo for Prince Eric called “Wild Uncharted Waters,” which expands upon his relentless search for the mermaid that saved him from drowning. Scuttle also gets a rap of her own – “The Scuttlebutt” – which could easily become the next “In Summer” if you remember the snowman Olaf’s frequently played song in Frozen (2013). While it would be a tragedy to have Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame in a movie and not have him sing, Sebastian’s well-known “Kiss the Girl” gets freshened up with modern lyrics to focus on consent – a previous criticism of the animated film. Similarly, Melissa McCarthy’s rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” loses its stanza on women staying silent and instead using body language to communicate, now better promoting the empowerment of women.
The Little Mermaid is in theaters May 26. Get tickets now.