Disney’s live-action retelling of The Little Mermaid has opened to largely positive reviews most of which sing the praises of Halle Bailey, who bring Ariel to life with “the innocence and eye for mischief that the story needs to propel its plot forward.” Bringing one of Disney’s most beloved princesses to life was no small task but it is one that director Rob Marshall believed Bailey capable of immediately upon meeting her.
“I mean, here’s the thing. The first actor we saw for this role was Halle,” said Marshall. “The first thing she did is she came in and sang for us. And she sang that song [Part of Your World]. She shut her eyes and started to sing the song. And I thought, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” explained the director who most recently worked with Disney to helm 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns and 2014’s Into the Woods, two films which also featured plenty of singing.
However, while both Marshall’s prior films with the studio included familiar tunes, “Part of Your World” is iconic even among Disney’s vaunted catalog but according to the director, Bailey’s rendition was so good, that he knew he had found his Ariel after just a few minutes.
“I just thought she’s so deeply connected to what she’s singing about. It’s so emotional. It’s so beautiful,” said Marshall before adding, “And I thought, [laugh] oh my gosh, we’ve been doing this for five minutes. Have we found Ariel?”
Despite being blown away by Bailey, Marshall stayed true to the casting process, auditioning “hundreds” of other actors for the part before returning to Bailey. “But then we saw hundreds of other actors after that,” said Marshall. Bailey continued to move through each round of cuts, according to the director, before it finally became clear the job was hers. “Halle kept coming back in,” he said, “and we saw every ethnicity. We saw everybody. And she claimed the role for hers.” Audiences will have a chance to catch Bailey’s performance for themselves soon as The Little Mermaid opens in theaters on May 26th.