‘The Little Mermaid’ Director Rob Marshall Explains How the New Film is Grounded in the 19th Century Fairy Tale

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Disney’s live-action reimagining of the beloved 1989 animated musical fantasy, The Little Mermaid, has been fairly warmly received as one of the studio’s best efforts in their quest to remake every animated film in their catalog. Rather than directly adapting the animated classic shot-for-shot, director Rob Marshall and the production team, which included Lin-Manuel Miranda and John DeLuca, looked for ways to make the live-action version a “completely original confection” and a “massive musical” that still captured the heart of the story.

For the new film, that meant more music, bigger swings and helping the stars of the project find their comfort zone and their voices to make the audience feel like they were seeing something new. That’s no small task given that not only is it a reimagining of one of Disney’s most popular films but also based on a nearly 200-year-old fairy tale. Surprisingly enough, as Marshall revealed at the global press junket for The Little Mermaid, it was revisiting Hans Christian Andersen‘s 1837 story that helped the production team find the foundation of their film in one very famous quote.

 But a mermaid has no tears and therefore she suffers so much more

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen
Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Well, it’s so interesting ’cause the first thing that John and I did when we actually started this journey was to go back to the Hans Christian Andersen tale to understand where it all came from,” said Marshall of the famous quote that is shown on screen as the film opens. “We were immediately aware of how this was a very contemporary story already in the 1830s about this young girl who feels displaced and wants to, you know, go on a journey of self-discovery, you know, to another world. And so, for me, [clears throat] the quote, to be able to find something from Hans Christian Andersen specifically, so we sort of ground this in where it came from, was important to us, to find something from him. And this, you know, it’s the most sort of famous quote from the tale.”

That quote turned into one of the film’s prevalent themes and was emoted wonderfully by Ariel actress Halle Bailey. According to Marshall, adapting the story to live-action actually aided in realizing the Andersen quote. “And I have to say that because we were bringing, I think, more depth and emotion, which you can in a live-action piece. You know, that’s what this genre helps you do,” he explained. The idea that, because a mermaid has no tears, and she feels more, she suffers more, it felt to us like it set the table for this more emotional telling of the story.” Bailey’s performance has been roundly praised by critics as elevating the overall quality of the film, including the strong emotional performance delivered when the character is without a voice. Audiences can see Bailey’s emotional performance for themselves as The Little Mermaid is now previewing in theaters ahead of tomorrow’s wide release.

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