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Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ Cast Discusses the Impact of Bringing the Iconic Story to a New Generation

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The original story of The Little Mermaid is a fairytale written by Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1837, and Disney’s animated classic of the same name was released in 1989. While it hasn’t quite been over a century since the animated film’s initial release, there’s a whole generation of kids (and young adults) who have never seen the film.

With that in mind, the cast of the live-action The Little Mermaid approached their film with a unique appreciation of how special this project is. At a recent press conference for the film, several members of the cast and the filmmakers spoke about their experience. Participating in the press conference were Halle Bailey (“Ariel”), Jonah Hauer-King (“Prince Eric”), Daveed Diggs (“Sebastian”), Awkwafina (“Scuttle”), Jacob Tremblay (“Flounder”), Javier Bardem (“King Triton”), Melissa McCarthy (“Ursula”) and Noma Dumezweni (“Queen Selina”).

The mutual admiration between the cast was readily apparent, starting with everyone’s affection for Ariel herself, Halle Bailey. “Right in the moment I met her, I just fell for her. I mean, she has this thing where you just can’t help yourself but love her unconditionally,” Bardem said of his on-screen daughter. “…I was always mesmerized by the quality of her as a performer, let alone the singing, that I knew. But as an actress, how willing and [courageous] she is. and in going to the places that she had to go to. And that was amazing.”

(L-R): Halle Bailey as Ariel and Javier Bardem as King Triton in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Halle Bailey as Ariel and Javier Bardem as King Triton in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bardem’s sentiments seemed to be shared by all of the cast members, who at various times expressed how emotional they felt when watching Bailey perform. The feelings were clearly mutual from Bailey, who talked about how much she appreciated working with the talented cast and shared that they gave her so much support. “[T]hese people are just, I feel like they’re my family, and they’re so talented and have inspired me for so long. So, it’s like the feeling is mutual to each and every one of you. And I’m just happy to be surrounded by them,” Bailey said.

As the film’s lead, Bailey clearly carries a substantial responsibility, and it seems that she embraced the opportunity by connecting with her character. “I tell people all the time I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself and like this young woman version of me, you know, because I, well, it’s been five years of my life now. From 18 to now being 23, so those are like very intense, like transformative years, as you’re developing as a young woman,” Bailey said. “But I feel like especially these themes of the film and what she had to go through with her passions and drive and speaking up for herself, and even though it may be scary, she went for it. I feel like those things I really try to adopt and give to Halle now. So, she’s taught me so much, for sure.”

Awkwafina behind the scenes at a voice recording session of Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Awkwafina behind the scenes at a voice recording session of Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

One important element of the film that makes it unique from its predecessor is how amazingly diverse the cast is, including Scuttle, who is voiced by Asian American actress, Awkwafina. Like Bailey, Awkwafina also spoke about how much she connected with her character; though in a slightly different way. “I do feel a kinship with Scuttle. I mean, like I am Scuttle. Like after like two margaritas, you know what I mean? On a Tuesday,” Awkwafina said laughing. “I mean, we have that we’re neurotic, things like that. Yeah. I am Scuttle. For sure.”

Addressing the fact that this story is full of diverse voices, Awkwafina spoke on the importance of representation and recognizing diverse talent. “I think it reflects the world we live in. And I think that everyone deserves to see themselves on screen. And I think that this movie also just really celebrates, I think, really amazing performances as well,” Awkwafina said.

The Little Mermaid is a story that means a lot to so many people, both young and old, and every member of the cast seems to have understood the importance of the project to the fans. The press conference took place the day after the red-carpet premiere of the film in Hollywood, and that event allowed the cast to experience first-hand the passion that fans have for The Little Mermaid.

Daveed Diggs behind the scenes of Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Daveed Diggs behind the scenes of Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

For Daveed Diggs, the love for the character is personal to both him and his loved ones. “A really good friend of mine, who the day I got cast was, like, ‘I’m bringing my daughter to the premiere, whenever that is.’ So he brought his daughter to the premiere last night. And that was such a special experience,” Diggs said. “And then me remembering that I, like, I stood in line to see The Little Mermaid opening night in Oakland, like, you know, when it first came out. That was, it was just this moment of oh, yeah, this thing that was sort of a fundamental part of my childhood is gonna be that maybe for this little girl.”

Melissa McCarthy shared a similar experience with her own children. “That’s the first time they’ve come to a premiere and this is the first time they wanted to come. So, I was like nervous, but also excited that they were there. And they just loved the movie so much and it was fun to see them get excited just about meeting people and seeing them….I was just excited that they were so excited and like that the movie gave ’em so much joy,” McCarthy said.

Several of the other cast members, including Jonah Hauer-King and Javier Bardem, echoed the same sentiments, and Jacob Tremblay summarized the impact of films like The Little Mermaid well, saying “I think it’s really important that all children can watch a movie and really see themselves in the characters.”

The Little Mermaid premieres in theaters May 26, 2023.

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Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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