When is Disney’s The Little Mermaid remake released in cinemas? Cast, plot and trailer

All the updates you need from "under the sea" as The Little Mermaid remake announces its cast

Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid, Getty

Thirty years after Disney first showed us Atlantica – The Little Mermaid’s watery home – they’re planning a live-action remake. This haunting fairy-tale turned chirpy cartoon will join other animated classics including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and the upcoming Lion King as the latest film to get a Disney makeover.

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We’ve got the lowdown on the film’s release date, who is playing the rebellious heroine Ariel, and how the new version is likely to differ from the original.

When will The Little Mermaid be released in cinemas?

The film doesn’t currently have a release date, but filming and production is rumoured to start in April 2020.

Who will play Ariel in The Little Mermaid remake? 

It’s been confirmed that Halle Bailey will be playing Ariel.

Who is actress Halle Bailey? 

No, not Halle Berry – Halle BAILEY, who’s best known as one half of R&B duo Chloe x Halle with her sister, Chloe.

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.”

Meanwhile, Baile shared a redrawn image of Ariel by Dylan Bonner, captioned ” dream come true…”

What was The Little Mermaid controversy?

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.”

Rumours had been circulating for months that the Spider-Man and Greatest Showman star Zendaya would be the one to bring the finned lady to life. She told People in 2018: “I loved The Little Mermaid. It is honestly one of my favourite movies of all time. I was obsessed with it when I was a little kid.”

Other disappointed stars may include Lea Michelle, who already played Ariel in Disney’s 30th Anniversary staging of the film at Hollywood Bowl in May 2019, where she performed the movie’s iconic songs alongside clips from the Disney original.

Flame-haired actress-turned-reality star Lindsay Lohan also had her eye on the role, responding on Twitter to Michelle’s casting in the show with a telling ‘Huh?’, as she had previously expressed interest in playing the part on screen. (Lindsay, stop trying to make Ariel happen. It’s not going to happen.)

Is there a trailer for The Little Mermaid remake?

No, it’s unlikely we’ll see a trailer before filming has been completed.

Who is in the cast of The Little Mermaid?

Melissa McCarthy will reportedly play the evil octopoid sea-witch Ursula and Jacob Tremblay is tipped to play Flounder. The seagull Scuttle will swap genders, played this time by Awkwafina.

Jacob Tremblay and Awkwafina
Jacob Tremblay and Awkwafina

Early reports suggested Harry Styles was in talks to play Prince Eric, but the role eventually went to 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 him joining 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.”

Auditions appear to still be taking place with 13 Reasons Why star Christian Navarro tweeting that he’s thrown his hat in the ring after Disney had got in touch and asked him to send his audition tape.

Meanwhile, Javier Barden is in discussions to take on the role of King Triton – perhaps Disney have an eye on a more villainous ruler of Atlantica by casting this seasoned movie bad-guy?

What’s the plot of The Little Mermaid?

The original Hans Christian Andersen story is about a mermaid who gives up her fins to gain a human soul, and ultimately sacrifices her life for the man she loves, even though he spurned her for another woman.

The classic Disney version is unsurprisingly more upbeat. Ariel is a disorganised but lovable princess whose only wish is to become part of the human world. This longing is made even more intense when she falls in love with Prince Eric and saves his life during a storm. Her obsession with life on dry ground upsets Ariel’s father, King Triton, who believes that humans are ‘barbarians’, sparking Ariel’s infamous line, “I’m 16 years old – I’m not a child anymore”, said shortly before making the most reckless decision of her life.

Ariel is convinced by villainous Ursula to enter into a binding contract that will enable her to venture onto land in human form to win over Eric’s heart. But there’s a catch – while Ariel’s on land she will be mute, and Ursula will have her voice. If Ariel fails to get the ‘kiss of true love’ from Eric within three days, she will turn back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula forever.

On land, Eric is entranced by Ariel and falls in love with her, but, seeing this, Ursula intervenes by disguising herself as the beautiful Vanessa, using Ariel’s voice (plus a bit of magic) to make Eric forget all about Ariel and agree to marry Vanessa the next day. After a final showdown on the high seas, Ursula is eventually killed by Eric, Ariel’s father agrees to turn Ariel into a human permanently, and Ariel and Eric sail away on their wedding ship.

But after all that, in The Little Mermaid II, the couple welcome their daughter Melody whose only wish is to return to the sea to live as a mermaid. Cue the whole story in reverse.

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’ (because you don’t have to get a job), 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.  

Which songs will be used in The Little Mermaid remake?

There’s no clear answer on this, 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.

But these classic hits will probably be joined by some new songs too, with Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda working on lyrics for new music from Disney veteran Alan Menken.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Getty)
Lin-Manuel Miranda

Menken and Miranda go back a long way – in 2017, the composer told RadioTimes.com, “I’ve known him since he was a kid although I knew of him more than knew him. I really got to know him when he came to New York after college. He is of course a wonderful composer and lyricist.”

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 also the man behind Oscar-winning movie musical Chicago.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Marshall, Marc Platt and John DeLuca will share the job of producing 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 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.

But, if they keep the tropical fish 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. 

How many live-action Little Mermaid films are there?

Disney has already made an animated sequel, a prequel, and a series about Ariel and her daughter Melody, but this will be their first live-action contribution to the franchise.

Sofia the First, Getty
Sofia the First

Other studios have also showed interest in bringing the story to the screen. MVP Studios released their own live-action version of The Little Mermaid in August 2018, with a brand new plot and characters.

Meanwhile, there are still talks of Universal Pictures retelling the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale. But since their top choice for Ariel, Chloe Grace Moretz, and writer Sophia Coppola have dropped out, it seems this project might remain in gestation for a while yet.

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.

How many The Little Mermaid movies are there?

The Little Mermaid original 1989 film was re-released for the Disney classic DVD collection, you can buy it here.

There was also a sequel Return to the Sea, which saw Ariel’s daughter drawn to the ocean her mother had left behind for land. There was even a third movie, – Ariel’s Beginning – this time a prequel, giving fans a look at Ariel’s life before she met Eric as she’s torn between family and her love of music.

The Little Mermaid hasn’t just been tackled by Disney either.

Blake Harris directed a live-action non-Disney The Little Mermaid movie that was released in 2018 too, as well as The Daydreamer (1966) The Little Mermaid (1968) Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (1975) The Little Mermaid (1976 Czech film) The Little Mermaid (1976 Russian film) and Mermaid (2007).

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The Little Mermaid starts production in April 2020 which means a 2021 release date looks likely.