Disney’s New Little Mermaid Is Drag Show Inspired

Melissa McCarthy says she "100 percent" used drag as an influence for Ursula.

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Updated

 little mermaid

Disney’s The Little Mermaid has possibly been the most controversial animated-film-turned-live-action remake the House of Mouse has done so far. Since it was first announced in 2016, fans have been picking apart details of the film to find things to complain over, including the casting of the film’s two most important characters, Halle Bailey as the titular little mermaid, Ariel, and Melissa McCarthy as the film’s villain, Ursula. The main complaint about McCarthy is that she isn’t a drag queen, but as it turns out, the actress was deeply inspired by drag when filming for the role.

Moviegoers have been fighting for more LGTBQ+ representation for a while now, and The Little Mermaid remake seemed like a perfect opportunity for Disney to show more diversity. After all, the original film composer, Alan Menken, has confirmed in the past that the animated version of Ursula was inspired by the late drag queen Divine. It would have made perfect sense for a prominent drag queen to be cast in the live-action remake. 

Instead, Disney cast Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy was an interesting choice considering that the actress is most well-known for her over-the-top comedic roles, and while The Little Mermaid’s Ursula certainly has a flair for the dramatic, it isn’t exactly a funny part. Still, McCarthy has proven she’s got acting chops that go far beyond comedies like Bridesmaids and Spy since she’s also played the ever-so-sweet Sookie St. James from Gilmore Girls and more serious roles in dramas like The Nines or The Kitchen.

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Nevertheless, people wanted a drag queen to play Ursula in The Little Mermaid remake, and McCarthy is no drag queen. Or at least, that’s what people thought. In reality, McCarthy actually has extensive drag queen experience, as she used to be a drag performer who used the name, Miss Y.

“There’s a drag queen that lives in me. I’m always right on the verge of going full-time with her.”

According to Entertainment Weekly, McCarthy “100 percent” used drag as an influence when filming The Little Mermaid remake. When McCarthy was in her 20s, she lived in New York City and spent the days nannying children who watched The Little Mermaid on repeat and spent the nights performing in costume in Manhattan clubs. Her past experience with Miss Y and the actress’s love for the art of drag heavily influenced how she played the character.

In The Little Mermaid remake, the movie explores more of who Ursula is, creating a heartbreaking story that explains her villainous ways. The tentacled sea witch is the sister of King Triton, a black sheep of the family who has been exiled to her lair. “There’s such an edge to her,” McCarthy says. “That is a woman who has seen it, been in it, dug her way back out.” 

Having been cast in The Little Mermaid remake in 2019, just before the pandemic, McCarthy drew similarities between the isolation that Ursula suffers and the actress’s experience with quarantining in 2020. Joking, McCarthy says she never wants to go that for a role again. However, despite the uncomfortable circumstances of the pandemic, the experience did help McCarthy relate better with her character, showing her the edginess that comes from isolation.

“To keep the humor and the sadness and the edginess to Ursula is everything I want in a character — and frankly, everything I want in a drag queen.”