With a production team composed of Broadway greats Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In The Heights) and Marc Platt (Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land), Disney’s live-action Little Mermaid is poised to be anything but prosaic. Set photos swarmed the Internet last week and found Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King chilling on the beaches of Sardinia, Italy, shooting what looks like the first act of 1989’s The Little Mermaid. Steely-eyed fans might recognize the scene as when Ariel rescues Eric from the flaming shipwreck, dragging him safely to shore. Bailey plays Ariel in live-action. King was cast as Prince Eric shortly after singer Harry Styles turned down the part.
Halle Bailey is sporting a blue-and-pink wetsuit tucked inside her mermaid tail, while Jonah Hauer-King is similarly underdressed. Later reports indicate the actors were simply rehearsing their scenes. Bailey’s hair will presumably change during editing since her long braids aren’t dyed red in the pictures. Admittedly, the shade depicted is still up for debate; it could be a deep auburn, but resembles a reddish-brown most of all. On the other hand, King already has the dimples to match Eric, but has yet to be seen donning the character’s classic sailor wear. The Little Mermaid began filming in January at Pinewood Studios. The cast is spending three months in Sardinia to shoot some additional sequences.
Disney’s upcoming live-action Little Mermaid is both a musical and a contemporary retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic. Casting became especially controversial when fans of the original film protested Disney’s decision to race-bend Ariel. Despite her uncanny visual resemblance to the character and her latent musical ability, Halle Bailey was picketed online for being chosen to play a black Ariel. The race-swap continues to intrigue and frustrate longtime Disney viewers in equal measure.
The role of Prince Eric was also a strong point of contention in 2019 when news outlets prematurely announced Harry Styles was playing the dashing young mariner. The former One Direction member told The Wrap in an exclusive report that he was no longer in the running to play Eric, telling Capital FM in a separate interview, “I think it’s obviously going to be an amazing film, but they shoot for so long and I wanna tour next year, maybe.”
The tour lapsed when the coronavirus pandemic locked down businesses, but by then it was too late to return to the part. Styles obviously has the pipes to play the crooning side of Eric and might have suited the Little Mermaid character well, but like Graham Phillips before him, Jonah Hauer-King sings. “When I was growing up, I played a lot of guitar and sang, and for a long time that’s what I thought I was going to do,” he tells Masterpiece. “Then I started doing more acting, but it’s definitely a massive passion of mine where I feel safe and comfortable and fulfilled. It’s something that, thankfully, I’ve started doing professionally as well. It’s really lovely to have different outlets and to have different creative stimulus. So music: that’s sort of my safe space, my happy place.”
King owns a mini music studio to go, composed of two guitars and a keyboard. Halle Bailey, on the other hand, is an established vocalist, being one-half of R&B duo Chloe x Halle and backed by Beyoncé herself. Lindsay Lohan and Chris Evans were at one point interested in playing the lead roles. Krypton lead Cameron Cuffe was also on the shortlist to play Eric.
The Little Mermaid stars Halle Bailey as Ariel, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Melissa McCarthy as sea witch Ursula, Javier Bardem as Ariel’s father King Triton, Jude Akuwudike as Eric’s chief counsel Grimsby, and Norma Dumezweni as Eric’s housekeeper Carlotta.
It features the voice talents of Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs as sassy crab Sebastian, multi-awarded child actor Jacob Tremblay as Ariel’s best friend Flounder, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ Awkwafina as diving bird Scuttle. Jessica Alexander, Russell Balogh, Adrian Christopher, and Emily Coates are also in the film.
The man behind Chicago, Rob Marshall, is directing the feature, with Jane Goldman (Kingsman, X-Men prequels) and David Magee (Mary Poppins Returns) writing the screenplay. Alan Menken returns as composer, with Lin-Manuel Miranda taking over as lyricist from the late Howard Ashman. The film will have “four to five new songs” — for Eric, Ariel, King Triton, and Scuttle — all penned by Miranda. The Little Mermaid currently has a July 9 release date and Halle Bailey looks like she’s ready for a star turn.