Disney’s live action of “The Little Mermaid” ventures into “Wild Uncharted Waters”


Artwork by Maria Brandao-Lacerda

Jana Isern, Assistant Editor

Disney’s seventh live action princess movie the “The Little Mermaid” welcomes much needed changes from its original counterpart that evoke messages of feminism, adventure, and strength. 

Long before its debut in theaters on May 26, “The Little Mermaid” gained publicity over its casting of Halle Bailey, a black actress, as Ariel. This directing decision resulted in controversy from the media, however, after watching the production it becomes exceedingly clear that actress Halle Bailey was the perfect cast with her beautiful voice and incredible acting that channels the adventurous and dreamer spirit of the character we’ve all come to love as Ariel. 

Bailey’s acting brought Ariel’s spirit to life in a new form that encouraged adventure, courage and rid the original character of its stereotypical tendencies to create an independent and assertive female lead. Alongside her, Jonah Hauer-King playing Eric and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula added incredible performances with  Hauer-King depicting Eric with an actual personality other than being the “prince” and McCarthy bringing Ursula’s evil, envious, and dangerous plans to the screen with a perfectly executed cackle. 

Just like the change in casting, from the original, this live version of “The Little Mermaid” included other changes that instill hope that Disney’s new generation of production will bring about much needed changes. 

A significant change in this new adaptation was Ariel’s more assertive role as she maintained a proactive attitude toward her dream and adventurous spirit to explore the world above the surface. In the original, Ariel longs to live above the surface and explore the human world, however, soon, after rescuing Eric from the shipwreck, her dream changes and she strives to be a part of Eric’s world. This suggested that Ariel’s happiness and goals were dependent on Eric’s love for her and that her rebellious and curious nature were only acceptable when pursuing a relationship.

In the live action, Ariel’s love for Eric influences her actions but she still prioritizes exploring the island and experiencing the human world before pursuing a relationship with Eric. In fact, their connection stems from their love of adventure and desire to explore “uncharted waters”. 

Additionally, Ariel is placed in command of resolving the conflict in the plot. Ariel throws the last blow at Ursula, killing her when she steers a boat mast stabbing Ursula through her stomach. She resolves the conflict saving Eric who is depicted as helpless in this scene, a stark contrast to the original where Eric saves Ariel. By portraying her with this assertiveness and capability of violence, Ariel’s character shifts to become more dominant and in control of her fate. 

Another significant change was the lyric change in the song “Kiss the Girl” by Samuel E. Wright, sung by Sebastian. In the original the lyrics say “Possible she wants you too/There is one way to ask her/It don’t take a word/Not a single word/Go on and kiss the girl” suggesting Eric to take actions that could be non-consensual. The change in the lyrics of the new adaptation address this issue with the lyrics stating : “Possible she want you too/Use your words, boy, and ask her” suggesting that the kiss will be consensual. 

These changes show that perhaps Disney is taking a new route and addressing many of the issues present in the older films, especially with many of the princess characters. 

The live-action adaptation included three new songs all written in collaboration with Lin- Manuel Miranda. One is sung by Prince Eric called “Wild Uncharted Waters” where for once the male lead is seen in an emotional trance singing a heartfelt ballad as he falls in love with Ariel. The second is “The Scuttlebutt” featuring Miranda’s rapping and upbeat style, sung by Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Sebastian (Daveed Diggs). And finally, the song “For the First Time” sung by Ariel as she encounters her first experiences above the surface. This song is crucial in the development of Ariel’s character because it continues to give her a prominent voice as she explores the world above without communicating with those around her. These songs added a new twist to the original tale, keeping it more interesting and creative. 

Overall, the movie was well developed with breathtaking cinematography picturing beautiful underwater scenes, extremely talented casting, and a reworked plot that revived the old princess tale.