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The Little Mermaid live action release date, cast, songs, first look and what you need to know

All the updates you need from "under the sea".

Little Mermaid Halle Bailey
Halle Bailey
Published: Tuesday, 13th July 2021 at 10:12 am

The Little Mermaid's release date was one of the many pushed back last year and now looks set for a late 2021 release.

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Filming has just wrapped on the Italian island of Sardinia where a crew of about 300 people have been working over the past few months on the movie. With picturesque blue seas and clean rocky beaches, Sardinia is the perfect place to get reacquainted with Sebastian and co more than 30 years after we first met them.

However, the classic characters won't just be singing Under the Sea all over again - they'll be belting out some original songs with lyrics by Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda and music by Alan Menken, who wrote the music for the 1989 animated version.

The original movie follows teenage mermaid, Ariel, who longs to leave the sea. She dreams of experiencing the world outside, against the express wishes of her father, while also being best friends with a guppy fish.

The haunting fairy-tale turned upbeat animation will join other classics including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King and Mulan in getting a live-action Disney makeover.

We already know who's in the cast including Halle Bailey starring as The Little Mermaid herself, and while production was delayed for a "short time" it was quickly back in business over the past month or so. Leaked set photos revealed the cast and crew filming on a beach, and Bailey has shared a snap of her in the sea too, so fingers crossed we'll be heading under the sea very soon.

Little Mermaid release date: When is The Little Mermaid coming out?

Before The Little Mermaid was even delayed there was no firm release date, just guesses. The only indication we have of a release date is by looking at Disney's upcoming release slate and where they've slotted in 'Untitled Disney Live Action'. The current slots are 17th December 2021, 8th April 2022, 27th May 2022, 12th August 2022 and 4th November 2022.

Filming has just wrapped in Italy, with fans getting a first look at Ariel with her red dreadlocks in leaked pics, so it looks like the December date is far too soon. We expect a 2022 release date for The Little Mermaid. As to which of those dates would be best it remains to be seen.

Bailey gave an update on filming earlier this year: "I was in London at the beginning of the year, about to start filming and of course this pandemic caused everyone to slow down. I actually welcomed it because I was really missing my sister who was in LA, so I was happy to get back to her. I'm just so very excited for when we start back again.

"It's just really coming together. I just feel honoured every day to even think about it or talk about it, I'm like, 'What the heck? That's really happening?'"

The Little Mermaid cast: Who's starring in the remake?

Disney Studios tweeted confirming the full cast list after months of speculation.

Halle Bailey will star as Ariel, half of the R&B team CHLOE X HALLE. Director Rob Marshall said: “After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role.”

Responding to the reaction to her casting – which included some objections from a tiresome few – a classy Bailey said (via Variety), "I don't pay attention to the negativity. I just feel like this role was something bigger than me, and greater. It's going to be beautiful. I'm just so excited to be a part of it."

Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in the original, said: "I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart and their spirit is what really counts. I think the most important thing for a film is to be able to tell a story."

Melissa McCarthy will play the evil octopoid sea-witch Ursula, though the choice came under fire with many hoping for a drag queen to play the witch since that's what inspired the original animation.

The seagull Scuttle will swap genders, voiced this time by Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell star Awkwafina, and Room star Jacob Tremblay will voice Flounder.

Jacob Tremblay and Awkwafina
Jacob Tremblay and Awkwafina

Despite early reports suggesting Harry Styles was in talks to play Prince Eric, the role has gone to Little Women and World on Fire actor Jonah Hauer-King

Jonah Hauer-King will play Prince Eric
Jonah Hauer-King will play Prince Eric

In an interview with The Face, Styles revealed that the project was "discussed", but that he decided to prioritise his music career. "I want to put music out and focus on that for a while," he said. "But everyone involved in it was amazing, so I think it's going to be great. I'll enjoy watching it, I'm sure."

Javier Bardem will star as King Triton and Hamilton star Daveed Diggs will voice Sebastian. If you recognise his name, he's also in Pixar movie Soul. 

Netflix star Jessica Alexander (Get Even) was announced as joining the cast (in an as-yet unspecified role) in March 2021. Joining her are Russell Balogh (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil), Adrian Christopher (Harry Potter and The Cursed Child) and Emily Coates (Cursed).

The Little Mermaid songs: Will it be a musical?

First things first, yes it's a musical! Lin-Minuel Miranda is working on the film with the original composer Alan Menken. Miranda revealed he had written four new songs for the remake back in February 2020.

We've seen Disney is happy to make such changes with Dumbo, the darker Tim Burton remake last year as well as Mulan due out in August 2020, which won't have any music bar instrumental as it opts for a martial art movie take.

There’s no clear answer on what songs will be used either, but it’s unlikely that Disney would drop favourites like Under the Sea, Kiss the Girl, Poor Unfortunate Souls or Part of Your World, all of which were performed at the Hollywood Bowl event for the 30th anniversary concert in honour of the original film - and indeed star Halle Bailey has confirmed that, at the every least, Part of Your World would be included in the film.

"I've been a fan of The Little Mermaid since I was 5, so those new songs are very exciting to me, as well as the old," Bailey told PopSugar. "That's probably like, ding, ding, ding! My number one."

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Getty)
Lin-Manuel Miranda

The Little Mermaid trailer: Is there a trailer yet?

No, it's unlikely we'll see a trailer before filming has been completed. Set photos have been leaked showing Halle Bailey with her tail on the beach, and her escaping in a cart showing off her red dreads, and Bailey herself has confirmed filming has wrapped but we still have a little while to go yet.

How will the new version of The Little Mermaid differ from the original?

The Little Mermaid, Getty

It’s likely that the main differences will be political corrections on some of the more dated aspects of the classic film. In July 2019, Disney launched two initiatives for talent from under-represented backgrounds which includes women, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community.

The announcement of Halle Bailey is already a big step forward, as she will be the first person of colour to play a live-action Disney princess who was white in the original animation.

We might also get a revamp of the character Sebastian – the Jamaican-sounding crab who sang about how great life is ‘under the sea’, which has since been criticised as racially insensitive.

In addition, it's possible that Disney will introduce some LGBTQ+ characters into the film, as they did in Beauty and the Beast with a one-second shot of the villain’s sidekick, LeFou, dancing with a man in the final ballroom sequence. Meanwhile, Jack Whitehall is set to play the first major gay character in a Disney film, as the brother of Emily Blunt’s character in 2020 film Jungle Cruise.

Disney may also delve deeper into the reasons behind Ariel’s desire to join the human world that don’t revolve around her love for Prince Eric, in line with Disney’s recent trend towards more three-dimensional female characters.  

Who is directing The Little Mermaid?

Rob Marshall, who’s already worked with Disney on Mary Poppins Returns, Into the Woods, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, will direct The Little Mermaid. He's the man behind Oscar-winning movie musical Chicago.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Marshall, Marc Platt and John DeLuca will all produce the film, whilst Jessica Virtue and Allison Erlikhman are overseeing for the studio.

Where is The Little Mermaid set?

Atlantica – the make-believe city found underneath the Atlantic Ocean featured in the 1989 original – is expected to feature, but the film was always unclear about where Prince Eric’s palace was located.

In Beauty and the Beast, Disney gave Belle’s French village home a real name – Villeneuve – and she visits Paris during the film, so we might expect Prince Eric’s kingdom to be given a real geographical location.

If so, it's quite likely that this will be somewhere in Denmark in honour of Hans Christian Andersen, where the fantasy palace is surrounded by mountains, with cliffs onto the sea. Other contenders are Switzerland or Wales, where Chillon Castle and Tintagel Castle are found, as these real-life castles are thought to be the basis upon which Prince Eric’s castle was designed.

Prince Eric may also have taken up residence on the Italian island of Sardinia, as the film is set to shoot on the Mediterranean island in summer 2021. Variety reported that the film will move from London's Pinewood Studios to the seaside village of Santa Teresa di Gallura, known for its picturesque blue waters and rocky shores.

But, as they're keeping the tropical fish Flounder and the Jamaican crab Sebastian that feature in the original, it’s still possible that Disney will avoid pinning down the exact location to avoid confusion. 

Will The Little Mermaid be shot underwater?

Shooting underwater is difficult – Sophia Coppola told The Wrap it was "a nightmare" during her work on Universal Pictures’ version of The Little Mermaid, and so it seems more likely that Disney will opt for clever lighting and CGI to create the marine environment.

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The Little Mermaid has no release date yet. Check out the best movies on Disney+ and best shows on Disney+ or, if you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide.

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