Walt Disney Animation Studio’s “The Little Mermaid” remains one of the most iconic animated films ever. As one of the films of the Disney Renaissance, it helped restore the studio’s reputation for making fairy tale musicals feel modern and accessible. Now in a time where representation is vital for the audience to see themselves in the characters that appear on screen, the live-action adaptation starring Halle Bailey brings forth a new way to see a familiar story.
ThatsItLA had a chance to join their fellow journalists for “The Little Mermaid” press conference where the newly crowned Ariel, played by Hallie Bailey, half of the Grammy-nominated Chloe x Halle, spoke about being the first Black actor to play Ariel, connecting with her character, creating chemistry with Jonah Hauer-King, and playing opposite her on-screen father Javier Bardem and the film’s primary antagonist Melissa McCarthy.
While “The Little Mermaid” touches upon those familiar themes of finding your identity through song, it also addresses the choices we make and how some things cannot be undone once those choices are made. And that is one of the things that Bailey connected with. “I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself and like this young woman version of me,” she said. “it’s been five years of my life now from 18 to 23. So those are like very intense, transformative years as you’re developing as a young woman. Especially these themes of the film and what she had to go through with her passions, drive, and speaking up for herself. And even though it may be scary, she went for it. I feel like those things I tried to adopt and give to Hallie now. So, she’s taught me so much for sure.”
Of course, playing such a role means a lot to anyone, especially if one is a fan of the original. But playing it in such a way that a community can see themselves in that role gives more meaning to the idea of a reflection of the world we live in today. So for Bailey, learning that she landed the role was quite emotional. “Oh my gosh, my first reaction was just sobbing. Honestly, I was just crying,” she said.
Bailey recalled the first time she got the call after returning from a trip celebrating her sister’s birthday. “We were coming home, like unloading everything like in work mode. And then I got this call from Rob, and I don’t answer unknown numbers. So I just thought I’m like, whatever, not going to answer,” she said. “Then my baby brother like comes running to me. So he was like, ‘Answer the phone, answer the phone.’ And I was like, ‘okay,’ so I answered it. And then Rob was like, hello, I’m looking for Ariel. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and just crying for, like, a whole day.
While the film’s early reaction praises Halle Bailey and Hauer-King’s chemistry, the romance part of it all wasn’t the former’s favorite sequence to shoot. For Bailey, it was one of the more harrowing action sequences that proved to be a pivotal bonding moment.
Within a few days of the start of production, the two were thrown into the deep end by filming the shipwreck scene. So while playing hero was exciting for Bailey, it was also the funniest and most hilarious for her. “We’re both trying to survive this moment. And you know, in the tank at Pinewood, it’s so intense when they turn on the thunder and lightning and fires around us in the waves, it feels like you’re in the middle of the ocean, like actually in the middle of a thunderstorm,” she said. “So I was trying to look like you know, I’m a mermaid. I do this all the time. And same time…”
“I was just passed out,” Hauer-King chimed.
“Jonah is so much taller than me, but I had to hold him up. And we kept laughing about these boots that he had to wear,” Bailey laughed. “He kept sinking under because of the boots. So we had to raise our hands and ask Rob, ‘You know, you don’t see the boots, right? So can you just take them off because he kept like stepping on my toes.’”
“I was kicking you. I was breaking your shins,” Hauer-King admitted.
“We were just dying in the water the whole time. Like we have to look natural. It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay. But that was like the funniest moment I think,” Bailey said.
“The Little Mermaid” also stars Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Melissa McCarthy as the evil sea witch Ursula, and Javier Bardem as King Triton. Directed by Rob Marshall, who uses a script by David Magee, the film features four new songs written by Alan Menken and Lin Manuel-Miranda. It opens in theaters on May 26, 2023.