• Interviews

“The Little Mermaid” Premiere – A Dive Under the Sea

Hollywood Boulevard looked as if it took a dive under the sea as Disney rolled out the blue carpet for the world premiere of the live action film version of The Little Mermaid last Monday (May 8, 2023). The new film premieres in the U.S. on May 26, 2023.

The Rob Marshall film is a live adaptation of the 1989 animated blockbuster, the film which along The Lion King definitively renewed Disney’s amazing fortune in the animated genre and put it one more time at the very top of that game.

This new version stars actress and recording artist Halle Bailey, who is making Disney history as the first-ever Black version of mermaid Ariel. Starring also are Melissa McCarthy (Ursula), Jonah Hauer-King (Prince Eric), Javier Bardem (King Triton), Jude Akuwudike (Joshua) and Noma Dumezweni (Queen Selina), among many others in this very heterogeneous cast (featuring also Awkwafina, in a voice only role).

The film tells the story of a young mermaid who makes a deal with a sea witch to trade her beautiful voice for human legs, so she can discover the world above the water and possibly impress a prince. The screenplay was adapted by Marshall with David Magee and John DeLuca from the story by Hans Christian Andersen and the 1898 animated version. The music by Oscar winning Alan Menken is an elaboration on the one he scored for that film.


This Little Mermaid was shot in Pinewood Studios, U.K., for all the water sequences, and in Sardinia, Italy, for everything out of the water, including the village, the castle, and the beach where many scenes were shot.

The day following the premiere the director, the producers, composer Alan Menken and the entire main cast joined in a conversation about the four and a half years it took to bring this movie to the audience.

“The premiere was a very emotional moment:  it’s taken us four and a half years to create this film,” said Rob Marshall (Oscar winning director for Chicago, 2003), the day after the premiere in a Zoom press conference. “This story just lent itself very naturally to a global experience and a global casting, and it just felt so right.”  

“This is why I love movies and making movies,” Melissa McCarthy said. “Everything in it was exciting and fun. This has been such a long labor of love. It’s just taken a while to make this beautiful thing.”

“It was an amazing experience,” added Jonah Hauer-King. “I mean, it is horrendous having to sing in a film with a Grammy nominated artist such as Halle Bailey. That’s not fun for anyone! And with everyone’s incredible voices! I think the reaction from the audience to all the music, last night at the premiere, was incredible. It felt like such a warm reaction. There was so much great energy in the room, and it was quite special.”

The actor was asked about how it feels to be a prince: “The Disney prince and 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,” Hauer-King answered.  “But I see Ariel and Eric as two people who are kindred spirits who feel a little bit restless, like they were behind the four walls of their respective castles, and were very much looking outwards and not in. What was nice about that was that it meant that their relationship feels really earned. I think it’s a really good message for what it means to be in love.”

Spanish star actor Javier Bardem ponders his character, King Triton, and his “humanity”: “He’s a man deeply in love as a father with his daughter, but he’s confused and has fear and insecurity with that love. But he’s blocking Ariel from being free. It is the kind of relationship I had to create, and that’s the role I had to play for the tale to make sense.”


Halle Bailey spoke about Ariel and what she feels in common with her: “I tell people all the time I feel like Ariel, or like this young woman version of me, because it’s been five years of my life,” said the actress-singer-composer.

“Those were very intense transformative years as I was developing as a young woman. I understand what Ariel has to go through with her passions and drive and speaking up for herself, even though it may be scary: she’s taught me a lot for sure.”

Awkwafina (voice of Scuttle) was asked about the diversity of the cast: “I think it reflects the world we live in, and I think that everyone deserves to see themselves on screen,” she replied. “And I think that this movie also just really celebrates amazing performances as well. I do feel a kinship with Scuttle, like I am Scuttle, especially after like two margaritas, you know what I mean, on a Tuesday! We share that same neurotic vibe.”

Marshall spoke about the music score: “In the animated 1989 film Ariel had one song. A series of reprises, sure, but just one song,” he explained. “The great thing about working with [composer] Alan Menken is that he’s so open to looking at this. And he knew this was a different genre. We’re doing a live-action film. And how are we going to approach this? And we said, ‘Can we find another place for Ariel?’

“Well, the challenging thing was that of course she had lost her voice. But we realize, obviously, in film, 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 her. And Halle did an amazing job at singing. It’s the kind of singing we love. We grew up with Carol Channing and Rex Harrison and Zero Mostel and these wonderful actors who sing, and that’s what brings the song to life.”

Marshall has a final thought about this new film: “We started this journey going back to the Hans Christian Andersen’s tale to understand where it all came from.  We were immediately aware of how this was a very contemporary story already in the 1830s about this young girl who feels displaced and wants to go on a journey of self-discovery, to another world. And ultimately, it’s about a father and a daughter. A father learning to let go, and then these two kindred spirits learning to change the world and not be afraid of someone different than you.”