'The Little Mermaid': 15 Differences Between the Animated Original and the Live-Action Remake
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It's time for a new generation of children to fall in love with the story of Princess Ariel and her Prince Eric, and Disney's live-action remake of The Little Mermaid is giving viewers the classic fairytale with several modern-day tweaks. The Rob Marshall-directed musical stars Halle Bailey as the titular, headstrong princess, a drastic departure from her previous depiction that initially garnered racist backlash.
But Bailey's casting is only one of the changes made to the new live-action adaptation, which also stars Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, and Javier Bardem as King Triton, with Daveed Diggs as the voice of Sebastian the crab, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, and Awkwafina as Scuttle.
Here are 15 ways the remake differs from the original. [Spoiler alert! This article contains spoilers about the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.]
1. Halle Bailey's casting as Princess Ariel.
The most obvious difference between the animated film and the new live-action movie is Ariel herself. When the 23-year-old singer was announced as the lead of the film in 2019, the news was met with intense racist backlash as people decried changing Ariel into a Black mermaid.
Director Rob Marshall recalled the backlash while speaking with Deadline, saying, "I didn't think that it was a big deal, casting a woman of color. I thought, 'that's an archaic way to see the world.'"
He added, "When that controversy arose, from narrow-minded people, I thought, 'Wow, that really feels like it's coming from another century. Are we really still there?'"
However, he said there have been many positive things that came from the announcement as well, including the fact that the casting choice allowed little children the opportunity to see themselves in this story. "But the bonus that came with that casting, and I wasn't aware of it at the time, is seeing these young girls of color and young boys of color looking at her and thinking, 'Wow, I'm represented,'" he said. "It was very, very moving to me."
Soon after the first trailer for the upcoming film was released, videos began circulating on social media that showed numerous Black girls "blind reacting" to the live-action trailer, which included a seconds-long glimpse at the new Ariel swimming under the sea and singing the song "Part of Your World."
Bailey told ET she felt "grateful" for the role, citing Brandy Norwood's Cinderella and Anika Noni Rose's Princess Tiana as her inspirations.
"It's been such a beautiful moment for me to be able to see the reactions of the babies -- it makes me just emotionally overwhelmed honestly and I cry as soon as I watch them," she admitted. "I think of the little girl that's still in me, honestly, and it heals that girl inside of me to watch them feel like they have representation and someone to look to, to know that they deserve to be in those places too. [It's] so important. It just makes me cry anytime I see any of those videos."
2. The live-action remake opens with a quote from author Hans Christian Andersen.
The Little Mermaid pays tribute to its origins, opening with an epigraph attributed to the author of the 1837 fairy tale from which Disney's adaptations are based. "But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more," the intro reads.
"Personally, I went back right away to the Hans Christian Andersen tale, that's where this all came from. I wanted to do a re-imagination of the actual story," Marshall told IndieWire of using the quote. "The opportunity that you have with a live-action film -- which is very different than an animated film, it's a very different genre -- is you can bring more scope, more depth, more emotion to the piece."
"I thought, why are we making this film now?" the director added. "There's no reason to make this film unless it has something important to say. It was there in the 1800s, 1830s, when it was written, it's not fearing someone that's different than you. It's about tolerance and the passion and what [Ariel] goes through to build that bridge to that other world. I found it very profound, very moving... I wanted to keep the elements of the piece, but why not give it some more depth?"
3. Princess Ariel gets aged up.
Ariel is 16 years old in the animated film, which certainly lends to her willfully young behavior, but makes her quick marriage to Eric a little worrying.
The live-action remake ages the mermaid by two years, noting the change in the production notes by pointing out that Ariel's a "spirited 18-year-old."
4. Prince Eric gets a purpose.
While Disney's more recent princes are notable for having distinct personalities, desires and backstories, that wasn't true for their predecessors. Prince Eric, while always a handsome face, didn't have much to distinguish himself from any of the earlier princes aside from his dimples and propensity for swashbuckling ventures.
Hauer-King's Prince Eric has a little more to him than his animated counterpoint: a deadly shipwreck brought Eric ashore, where he was adopted by Queen Seline (Noma Dumezweni) and her King. Although not a native to his kingdom, he's obviously well-loved by his people.
His faithful steward Sir Grimsby (Art Malik) serves as a liaison between Eric and his mother, who grows weary of her son's constant voyages since they continually put his life in danger. But Eric not only yearns for the adventures he finds on the open sea but the potential they hold to help advance his kingdom. He argues with his mother about how closed off their home is to other kingdoms and how his journeys could help them open trades and build relationships with other lands.
It's this yearning for more that makes Eric a kindred spirit to Ariel, who always wants to explore the world beyond her own, and helps them draw closer when they finally meet.
5. Prince Eric gets his own song.
Eric's aforementioned yearning for the open seas leads to the biggest change for his character in the live-action remake -- his own "I Want" song!
All Disney Princesses have their "I Want" song, a tune that conveys their main motivation in the film. For Ariel, it's "Part of Your World," and for Eric, it's "Wild Uncharted Waters."
After he's been saved by Ariel and sent scores of his men out to search for his mysterious savior, Hauer-King’s Prince Eric channels his frustration into the emotional song. Overwhelmed by his mother's dismissal of his voyages and his fierce desire to find Ariel -- of whom he has no real memory of and only knows she has a great voice -- Eric wanders along the shore to express his wants through song.
The song alludes to Ariel -- perhaps unconscious -- haunting Eric with her siren song and spurring his intense desire to find her. "All I ever wanted / Was the open sea and sky / Freedom from the life I always knew. Now all I am is haunted / As days and hours roll by / All I ever think about is you," he sings. "Now I am on the shoreline / But I'm still lost at sea / In these wild uncharted waters / Come find me... again."
6. Ariel also gets a new song.
In a clever workaround for Ariel lacking a voice for a large chunk of the story, film composers Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a song for Ariel -- who only sings once in the animated film -- after she's been welcomed into the castle with her new legs. The song, "For the First Time," serves for Ariel's internal monologue as she comes on land and experiences everything for the first time.
"Of course, by that time, she's lost her voice, but we could use this technique of actually hearing her internal thoughts and song," Marshall told IndieWire. "We were also able to use it as a musical concept where you take a song and it wraps around a whole montage, so it takes her from [getting] on land till the moment she meets the prince and past that. It was exciting to actually pull that all together with one big new song for her."
7. Scuttle and Sebastian have a duet.
Menken and Miranda also wrote "Scuttlebutt," the brand new rap performed by Scuttle and Sebastian when they are trying to figure out whom Prince Eric will marry.
8. Scuttle gets an avian makeover.
Instead of the seagull fans loved in the animated film, Scuttle is now a gannet, a diving bird who regularly meets Ariel and Flounder underwater.
The change was to reinforce the idea that Ariel never goes to the surface world, thus making her breach of the surface in "Part of Your World" all the more poignant.
9. Ariel and Ursula's deal includes an additional spell.
In the animated film, Ursula offers Ariel the standard agreement that she'll lose her voice in exchange for legs and have 48 hours to get Eric to kiss her to make it permanent. In the live-action remake, the sea witch adds a secret tweak to her spell so that Ariel can't remember she needs to kiss Eric in order to remain human and regain her voice.
The update is a smart one: Ariel doesn't know she needs to kiss Eric for the spell so she's simply getting to know him as they bond over their love for adventure and falls for him more naturally than the animated Ariel got the chance to.
This is apparent in an added scene where the pair find themselves exploring Eric's sprawling library which is full of treasures he's found during his seafaring voyages. Ariel, also a collector and a lover of other cultures, gleefully gets him to share the stories behind the souvenirs and they bond over their mutual obsessions.
10. Sebastian doesn't have a run-in with Chef Louis in the kitchens.
A beloved scene in the animated film is Sebastian's run-in with the palace chef, Chef Louis (Rene Auberjonois). The Chef tries to cook him during a musical moment to "Les Poissons."
The live-action film doesn't feature the segment, instead, Sebastian is preoccupied with helping Ariel get her kiss from Eric since she doesn't remember it needs to happen.
11. Ariel tells Eric her name instead of Sebastian.
The live-action remake gives Ariel her own agency in the smallest of ways, including having her be the one to tell Eric her name instead of Sebastian whispering her name to Eric during the animated version's rendition of "Kiss the Girl."
In the 2023 film, Ariel tells Eric her name by pointing to the constellation Aries and then guiding him from there. He says that's a beautiful name, which is a noted step up from Eric's response in the animated film in which he says, "That's kind of pretty."
12. "Kiss the Girl" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" get lyrical changes.
Originally, "Kiss the Girl" suggested Eric give in without asking Ariel first. "It don't take a word, not a single word/Go on and kiss the girl", Sebastian sings in the animated film. In the live-action remake, Sebastian now croons for him to "Use your words, boy, and ask her."
Menken told Vanity Fair the changes were done to avoid suggesting the prince "would, in any way, force himself" on Ariel.
For "Poor Unfortunate Souls," where Ursula originally informs Ariel that "on land it's much preferred/for ladies not to say a word" and that "it's she who holds her tongue who gets a man," the new version drops that verse entirely.
Menken explained some lines "might make young girls somehow feel that they shouldn't speak out of turn, even though Ursula is clearly manipulating Ariel."
13. Ariel joins in on Sebastian's "Under the Sea" performance.
While Sebastian's rendition of "Under the Sea" is backed by a bevy of sea friends in the animated film, the live-action adaptation gives Ariel a chance to join in on the fun.
"I think naturally, I just really tried my best to stay true to myself with every choice that I would make in acting, especially in the songs," Bailey told ET about the various song changes. "I was really grateful to Rob Marshall that he gave me the freedom to just be me and sing how Halle would sing. And some of those inflections and riffs I was allowed to do -- that was fun to be able to play because the original music that we have is so beautiful and such a staple in all of our childhoods; the fact that I got to tweak and edit it a little bit was like so much fun and a joy to have that creative freedom."
She added, "Moments like those are really fun when you get to sing with your favorite songs."
14. Ariel kills Ursula, not Eric.
While the animated battle against Ursula ends with Eric piercing her in the chest with his ship's bow, the live-action remake changes it so that Ariel is the one at the helm.
When Ursula grows into a behemoth version of herself, Ariel steers a ship into her to deliver the killing blow.
15. Ariel and Eric don't have a wedding.
While the animated film ends with Ariel and Eric's wedding aboard, the live-action film keeps things a bit vague. While Ariel does return to Eric -- sans the fabulous glittering dress her animated counterpart wears -- there's no wedding to speak of. Instead, after the couple finally kiss, we flash to the tail-end of a celebration thrown in their honor.
No one specifies if it was a wedding, an engagement party, or a simple going-away party, but the pair are met by King Triton, Ariel's sisters, and other merpeople when they break the ocean's surface for an emotional send-off.
After saying goodbye to her father, Ariel and Eric continue making their way to their departing ship, heading for unknown adventures on those wild, uncharted waters.
The Little Mermaid is now out in theaters.