This article contains spoilers about the live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”
Ariel, poor girl, already had no voice — and that was before the sea-witch added selective amnesia to the mix.
It’s one of more than a dozen changes to the classic 1989 Disney animated film made for the new live-action adaptation, which is almost an hour longer. Among them: new songs; updated lyrics to “Kiss the Girl” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls”; and a personality for Prince Eric.
Here are 13 ways the remake, directed by Rob Marshall, differs from the original.
1. Ariel has locs.
Halle Bailey, whose casting as Ariel led to a racist backlash, and the crew knew that death-by-flat-iron to recreate Ariel’s flowing mane of straight red hair was not the way to go. Instead, Bailey sported her natural locs, which were wrapped with strands of red hair.
“As Black women our crowns are so special to us,” Bailey, who has worn locs since she was 5, told The New York Times. “Our hair is important to us in every single way, so I was really grateful that I was allowed to keep that essence of me.”
2. Flounder looks like … a fish.
When audiences got their first look at live-action Flounder in the trailer, there was a consensus: too real. “Before and after ozempic,” The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert tweeted with shots of Ariel’s anxious sidekick looking plump and colorful then and flat and scaly now.
3. Prince Eric is a perk, not the prize.
For Bailey’s Ariel, it’s the human world that piques her curiosity, not just the handsome prince (played by Jonah Hauer-King). Instead of giving up everything for him, Bailey told The Face, “it’s more about Ariel finding freedom for herself because of this world that she’s obsessed with.”
4. The prince is more than just a pretty face.
Now he has a back story, too. “In the animated film — I’m sure the original creators would agree with this — it’s a wooden, classic prince character with not a lot going on,” Marshall told Entertainment Weekly. Now Eric’s trajectory is similar to Ariel’s. “He doesn’t feel like it’s where he fits in, his world,” Marshall said.
5. Meet Prince Eric’s mother.
Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni) isn’t fond of the underwater realm and doesn’t understand her son’s obsession with oceanic exploration. The remake uses the added time to explore the divide between mermaids and humans.
6. You might sympathize with King Triton.
The overprotective ruler of the seas (Javier Bardem) also gets a more nuanced narrative, focused on why he hates humans so much. (His wife, Ariel’s mother, was killed by humans, a back story that fans of the prequel and TV series may know but that isn’t in the original.)
7. Ariel and Eric share actual interests.
Though their courtship still takes place in a blink-and-you-miss-it three days, the extra run time means they can do things other than make goo-goo eyes at each other, like poring over artifacts in his study and visiting a market.
8. At times, you’ll feel like you’re watching “Hamilton.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda — the “Hamilton” creator who’s also a big “Little Mermaid” fan — collaborated with the animated film’s composer, Alan Menken, on three new songs. (The original lyricist, Howard Ashman, died in 1991.)
The new tunes are: “The Scuttlebutt,” a very Miranda-esque rap performed by Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) when they are trying to figure out whom Prince Eric will marry; a quintessentially Menken ballad for Prince Eric, “Wild Uncharted Waters”; and a Latin-infused number for Ariel, “For the First Time,” when she gets her legs.
9. Two beloved tunes sport updated lyrics.
While “Kiss the Girl” originally suggested Eric do just that without asking Ariel first (“It don’t take a word, not a single word/Go on and kiss the girl”), Sebastian now advises him to “use your words, boy, and ask her.” Menken told Vanity Fair they wanted to avoid suggesting the prince “would, in any way, force himself” on Ariel.
And in “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” while Ursula originally informs Ariel that “on land it’s much preferred/for ladies not to say a word” and that “it’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man,” the new version, sung by Melissa McCarthy, drops that verse entirely. (Because, Menken told Vanity Fair, some lines “might make young girls somehow feel that they shouldn’t speak out of turn, even though Ursula is clearly manipulating Ariel.”)
10. “Les Poissons” is Les Poi-gone.
As is Chef Louis, the French-accented cook who is out to serve up Sebastian.
11. Ariel has selective amnesia regarding a certain kiss.
Because simply losing her voice would have been too easy. Ursula’s spell now makes Ariel forget she must get Eric to kiss her.
12. Get ready to be Team Grimsby.
You might have forgotten he was even in the original, but Art Malik’s performance as the prince’s confidant will have you waving the Grimsby flag. He does everything he can to help Ariel and Eric get together.
13. Ariel, not Eric, kills the sea-witch.
That’s right: In 2023, women impale their own monsters.
Sarah Bahr is a senior staff editor at The Times. She has reported on a range of topics, most often theater, film and television, while writing for the Culture, Styles and National desks. @smbahr14
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