Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “The Little Mermaid” was the beginning of their renaissance. The beloved animated musical is the crowned jewel of that legendary era, and as such, it was given the live-action treatment. Given how successful the live-action adaptations of their animated classics have been, it was only a matter of time before Ariel became part of that world. And there were going to be a few changes to this reimaging of The Little Mermaid, one that would reflect the times we live in and have an update on the timeless story about a girl with boundless curiosity finding her voice to break out of the bubble she’s been trapped in for most of her adolescent life.
Chloe Bailey, one half of the musical duo Chloe x Halle with her sister Chloe Bailey, is the face of that change as she plays Ariel, the lead character of the titular film. The cultural impact of seeing a person of color portray such an iconic character is important because marginalized communities, specifically the Black community, will be able to see a reflection of themselves. What’s more, audiences can connect more with the character because they share the same experiences when it comes to having boundless curiosities, thirst for exploration of the unknown, and adolescent struggles. So even though the story and portrayals are altered, it feels very organic and still is very resonating to this day.
This will be a review of the bonus features that are currently available on the digital version. If you want to know more of our thoughts on the film itself, check the link here.
Like all home entertainment releases, the bonus features vary by retailer. So for the digital version, there are four of them, some of which are broken into smaller chapters that can be watched individually for your viewing pleasure.
The headlining feature is the Sing-Along Version, a feature which will surely be a favorite for those who are fans of the live-action film. In it, you can sing along with your favorite songs while watching the movie with on-screen lyrics.
“Hotter Under The Water” is a 26 minute documentary that chronicles how Rob Marshall and the creative artists brought The Little Mermaid from a beloved animated musical to a live-action musical wonder. “A Tale of a Bottomless Blue” is a small introductory chapter that gives us a glimpse of what it was like for the cast to see what Marshall had envisioned for the live-action film. Next is “I Know Something’s Starting Right Now” which dives into how they discovered Bailey and eventually casting her as Ariel.
In “Down Where It’s Wetter,” we see more of the production crew designing practical costuming and props for a photorealistic world that had to be appropriate for the time period. So not only are there different designs on the sets, but we see how the artisans pulled from different oceans from around the world and reflect those inspirations in the designs of the character’s fins and tails. That chapter is followed by “Explore the Shore Up Above,” which takes a look at the world on the surface. Here we see how Marshall pushed for more realism that would be set against a fantastical backdrop. This included building a real ship that would have existed in the late 1800s onto a modern technological marvel like a gimble that is designed to sustain the weight and structure of the said ship.
Finally, the “Do What the Music Says” chapter reveals how Marshall went about honoring the legacy of the iconic songs of the 1989 animated original and contemporizing them for a new audience. In the last chapter, we get to hear more from Marshall, Alan Menken, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Jodi Benson talk about how those songs that have a very modern feel fit into the fairy tale world and how it continues to be flow into our lives to this very day.
The “Song Breakdowns” bonus feature explores how some of the classic songs and even the new ones help push the story forward and develop the characters further. One of those songs is “Wild Uncharted Waters” which is Prince Eric’s (Jonah Hauer-King) I want song. In this chapter, Miranda talks about giving Eric a musical moment because he’s never had one in the animated original and how there are specific moments that would help lead into the song in an organic way.
And it wouldn’t be much of a “Song Breakdown” bonus feature without taking a look at the film’s most iconic songs. There are chapters on “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl,” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Marshall says the “Under the Sea” was by far the most complicated production since it was trying to create a world without using animated characters. Menken talks about how the song in the original animated film was designed to have a splash of animation. And Miranda address how there was a lot of anamorphic designs the made the fish look like an opera singer or a fish with a saxophone around it’s neck. Of course, since Marshall wanted to make that as grounded as possible, he would have to trade all that in with something more realistic and tangible. So Marshall’s solution was to make it a carnaval musical number. With the help of the Alvin Ailey foundation and choeographers Joey PIzzi and Tara Nicole, they were able to create something that was inspired by the carribbean while staying true to the ocean world that surrounds Ariel.
In the “Kiss the Girl” chapter, the cast and crew talk about how the production of the romantic musical number was done largely on stage. Marshall compared it to being like the Jungle Cruise, where Hauser-King and Bailey would be on a track, with the former fake rowing on a stage. There was also a matter of musicalizing everything to specific beats of the song and imagining things that are not there.
Finally, “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is much more than a villain song. In this chapter, McCarthy reminisces on how the song made an impact on her life because “The Little Mermaid” was the one film she would show to kids when she was a nanny. Marshall sees the song as an opportunity to understand the villain and see why she is the way she is. McCarthy and Marshall also describe her paradoxical lair where there’s a “lushness” and a “dankness” to it. Additionally, we get to hear about how McCarthy wanted to do most of the stunt and dance choreography herself. DeLuca was excited about that initiative because it provided something fresh rather than having to rely on CGI. So the physical work that went into pulling and pushing the rigs to make it look like McCarthy’s Ursula was floating, and the puppeteering that was required to make the tentacles a part of her character was pretty wild.
Overall, one might enjoy the bonus features more so than the actual film itself. Getting to watch the production work that it took to bring a blockbuster film like “The Little Mermaid” to life is very inspiring because you get to see a lot of the artistry and physical demands. There’s just so much to look at when it comes to creating this world, reimagining the songs, and what it takes to adapt the animated classic to a full-length live-action feature film.
The Little Mermaid is available on digital July 25, 2023
The Little Mermaid is vailable on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD September 19, 2023