Of all the musical numbers from the original animated version of The Little Mermaid, it's probably fair to say that Under the Sea is the most beloved – with the calypso-themed track having won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1989.


There was therefore never any question that the track would once again feature in the new live-action remake, but according to the film's director Rob Marshall there was a great deal of pressure when it came to getting the reimagined version right.

"The challenge of that number was beyond," he said during an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com. "I'd never done a musical number like that. I mean, you have one live actor and everything else is created around you. And I really sort of wrestled with how do I crack this?"

Marshall explained that it was not going to be possible for him to recreate the sequence exactly as it appears in the animated film – which sees the various sea creatures and fish playing instruments "like a jazz band under the water".

"I was like, 'This can't be, we're trying to create a somewhat photo-real world down there, where you can really believe that you're there'," he said.

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"So, what I did was, I remembered that Walt Disney had actually worked with the Ballets Russes when he did Fantasia, the whole Nutcracker suite sequence. And I thought this is a really good idea because he had a company of dancers that his artists could create from and use as a template. And I thought that's what we'll do!"

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And so Marshall brought the New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to London and collaborated with them – allowing the animation team to study their movement so it could then be replicated by the CGI sea creatures.

"It was fantastic, because we had chosen which sea creatures we wanted to work with, but then they could sort of replicate their moves and how they would move and we could choreograph on them, then our artists used them as a template to create this number," Marshall explained. "And we did storyboards and pre-visualisation with it.

"But it was like this massive combination of things to create this musical number out of nothing with one live actor – so it was daunting. It was the one that I said, we have to crack this one. It's a big musical number, and it's the Oscar-winning song. So I'm particularly proud of what we were able to accomplish with that."

(L-R): Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina), Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), and Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), and Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Disney

Meanwhile, Marshall also explained how Ariel star Halle Bailey was the very first person to audition for the lead role – explaining that no one else who was up for the part was able to surpass her.

"We brought her in... blown away by her, she literally sang Part of Your World, made me cry," he said. "I mean, I was in tears at the end of her songs, she was so moving, so touching.

"She has a deep connection to what she sings about, so soulful and I thought, 'Wow'. And so she set the bar very high... and she read for us and I thought she's such a natural actor. And then we started looking at everybody else, so we went through hundreds of women and she kept coming back in and no one ever surpassed the bar that she set.

"And then we finally did a screen test with her and it was hers – it was so obvious."

The Little Mermaid will arrive in cinemas on Friday 26th May 2023. Check out the best movies on Disney Plus and best shows on Disney Plus, read more of our Film coverage, or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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