The Little Mermaid changed Disney in different ways, and the upcoming live-action remake can also bring positive changes to the Mouse House.
The Little Mermaid is one of Disney’s most popular and beloved animated movies, and it’s one of the studio’s most important projects as it changed Disney in many aspects, and the remake has the potential of also bringing important changes to Disney, now on its branch of live-action movies. Although Disney has explored different styles and genres for decades, it continues to be best-known for its animated movies, of which many have become film classics. Among them is The Little Mermaid, released in 1989, directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, and based on the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen.
The Little Mermaid tells the story of Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson), a 16-year-old mermaid princess who dreams of becoming human. After saving him from a shipwreck, Ariel falls in love with a human, Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes), which leads her to make a dangerous deal with the mysterious sea witch Ursula (Pat Carroll), who agrees to turn her into a human in exchange for her voice. The Little Mermaid was a critical and commercial success, launching a media franchise with direct-to-video sequels and even a stage musical, and adding to this is now a live-action adaptation. Directed by Rob Marshall and starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, The Little Mermaid is set for a May 2023 release, and it could follow the steps of the animated movie and change Disney for good.
How The Little Mermaid Changed (& Saved) Disney’s Animated Movies
As mentioned above, The Little Mermaid is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale, which follows a young mermaid willing to give up her life in the sea to gain a human soul. The original tale actually has a dark ending, but Disney being Disney and always aiming for family-friendly content in its animated movies, gave Ariel a completely different (and much happier ending) – and it was a big hit. The Little Mermaid received positive reviews, with critics praising its animation, music (written by Alan Menken), and characters, particularly Ariel, who back then was found to be a “fully realized character” whose “independence” surprised viewers. The Little Mermaid also earned various nominations for different awards, including three Academy Award nominations – Best Original Score and two for Best Original Song (“Kiss The Girl” and “Under the Sea”), taking the Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for “Under the Sea”, but the legacy and impact of The Little Mermaid goes beyond all that.
Disney’s reign in the world of animation began in 1935 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which was followed by a number of now-classic animated movies, most notably Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (1959), which were also the first Disney Princesses. The Little Mermaid was the studio’s first animated fairy tale since Sleeping Beauty, and while that could be seen as a big risk for Disney, it actually benefited the studio and its animation branch. The Little Mermaid re-established feature-length animation as a profitable venture for the Walt Disney Company, this after Disney’s theme parks, TV productions, and live-action movies overshadowed the animated output since the 1950s. Following the success of the live-action/animation hybrid movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Disney began to expand its animated output, and The Little Mermaid was the second movie after Oliver & Company to be produced after this expansion, and it became the studio’s first critical and box office hit since The Rescuers in 1977.
The Little Mermaid also prompted the expansion of Walt Disney Feature Animation and was the beginning of a string of successes for the studio, with movies like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, and it re-established the musical film format as a standard for Disney animated movies. In addition to all this, The Little Mermaid marked the beginning of what’s now known as “The Disney Renaissance”, the period between 1989 and 1999 in which the studio produced critically and commercially successful animated movies again after a period of mostly failures, and some of these movies helped established the unwritten rules of Disney Princesses, such as having an animal companion, at least one musical number, and either being royals or doing a heroic act.
Live-Action Little Mermaid Is A Huge Step For Disney’s Representation
The ongoing live-action trend in the film industry has been mostly present over at the Mouse House, which has seized the trend to give some of its most beloved and successful animated movies the live-action treatment. Although most of Disney’s live-action remakes haven’t been the success the studio expected, that hasn’t really stopped it from picking more animated movies and giving them a new life, and up next on the list is The Little Mermaid. Almost every Disney live-action remake has faced some backlash, mostly when it comes to the actors cast in the lead roles, and unfortunately, The Little Mermaid was no exception, but the controversy went above and beyond. Halle Bailey’s casting was praised by many but also received negative and racist reactions, as some claimed that mermaids can’t be Black (for some reason) and that the adaptation should be as close to the original as possible.
Halle Bailey’s casting was just the beginning of a more diverse cast for The Little Mermaid, as Javier Bardem was later cast as King Triton, Daveed Diggs as the voice of Sebastian, and Awkwafina as a gender-bent Scuttle, with Jacob Tremblay, Melissa McCarthy, and Jonah Hauer-King completing the cast as Flounder, Ursula, and Prince Eric, respectively. The live-action Little Mermaid movie is already changing Disney by taking huge steps towards more representation, which will hopefully continue in future live-action projects.
Live-Action Little Mermaid Can Fix Other Disney Remake Problems
Disney’s live-action remakes have faced a variety of problems, such as lack of originality, but one of its most criticized ones is its terrible CGI. 2D animation gave the artists a lot of freedom when it comes to how characters show their emotions and pretty much everything the characters can do, which makes it very challenging to translate these characters, scenes, and more to live-action/3D format. The best example of Disney’s live-action/CGI flaws can be found in The Lion King, where, as impressive as the characters’ designs were, their inability to emote as their 2D counterparts played against it. Although The Little Mermaid has mostly human/mermaid characters, some of its best ones, like Sebastian and Flounder, have to be animated characters, but this can be Disney’s opportunity to learn from its mistakes and find the best ways to bring these characters to life in much better (and less creepy) ways than before, thus finally making a cohesive live-action/animation remake.