Disney's live-action remake of "The Little Mermaid" has finally arrived.
Ahead of the film's long-awaited premiere, the film's cast and crew teased that fans could expect a modern take on the 1989 animated film that still stayed true to the message at its heart.
For director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca, the beloved tale about a teenage mermaid princess who is dissatisfied with her life underwater has always been a modern one.
"It was all there in a weird way," Marshall told "Good Morning America" at the "Little Mermaid" premiere in Hollywood, California, earlier this month. "There was a very modern, contemporary story about a young girl who feels displaced and really wants something different in her life and goes to find that."
"It felt modern immediately to me," he added. "It was great that the bones were there."
The film stars Halle Bailey as Ariel, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, and Javier Bardem as King Triton.
Creating an underwater musical
Marshall described directing this project as "the challenge of all challenges."
"It was sort of daunting to be quite honest," Marshall said on taking on the project. "How do you begin? An underwater musical where people are singing and speaking, weightless, moving through water?"
Cinematographer Dion Beebe said complex lighting effects were used to simulate the appearance of being under the sea. Filmmakers also used a film technique called dry-for-wet in a blue screen environment to make scenes look like they were being filmed in the water.
Additionally, sets included state-of-the-art rigs and teeter-totters, and actors were often hooked into harnesses to simulate movement underwater.
"We literally started with storyboards, moving to animatics, moving to pre-visualization, how people move through water, how the cameras are going to move -- we actually created almost like a little mini movie before we even began rehearsals," Marshall said.
"We had to completely create this world that they were living in," he added.
Despite the technicalities of it all, Marshall said that he didn't want to let that take over the story.
"You want to really be invested in the people in the story, in the emotion, in the feeling, in the joy and the humor of the characters," he said. "And that was my mantra the whole time."
Updating the classic film
While Marshall's goal for the film was to stay true to its message, he and composer Alan Menken, who worked on the 1989 animated feature, said it was also important to "bring the old experience and open it up in fresh and new ways."
One of those ways was updating all of the songs, including "Poor Unfortunate Souls," which is sung by McCarthy, and "Kiss the Girl," which is performed by Daveed Diggs as Sebastian and Awkwafina as Scuttle.
According to the film's production notes, Marshall said that he and Menken collaborated with "Hamilton" star Lin Manuel Miranda, a producer on the film, to make "slight adjustments" to the two songs.
In "Poor Unfortunate Souls," Ursula's lyrics, "The men up there don't like a lot of blabber / They think a girl who gossips is a bore / Yet on land it's much preferred for ladies not to say a word," have been omitted in the 2023 version.
And in "Kiss the Girl," Sebastian's lyrics, "Yes, you want her / look at her, you know you do / Possible she wants you too / There is one way to ask her / It don't take a word / Not a single word / Go on and kiss the girl," has been altered to: "Yes, you want her / look at her, you know you do / Possible she want you too, use your words, boy, and ask her / If the time is right, and the time is tonight / Go on and kiss the girl."
"You're adapting it to make sure that everything works in the context of the storyline," Menken said. "The changes just are a natural part of the creative process that I embrace. That's important."
Miranda also collaborated with filmmakers to bring three new songs to the live action film, including "Scuttlebutt," which is sung by Awkwafina, "For the First Time," a song sung by Bailey, and "Wild Uncharted Waters," a ballad sung by Jonah Hauer-King, who plays Prince Eric.
DeLuca said that he and Marshall wanted to give Prince Eric a full story in their film by giving him "the agency Ariel has and the same passions."
Hauer-King also spoke to Marshall about making Prince Eric more of a three-dimensional character.
"We wanted to make sure we really understood who he was and what he wanted in life, and understand the man that Ariel was falling in love with," Hauer-King said. "For me, it was just about trying to bring as much sensitivity to him as possible and also to quite understand his experience of life."
Aside from the music, some of the film's beloved characters, including Sebastian, Flounder (played by Jacob Tremblay) and Scuttle, received an updated look too. While some online had strong feelings toward the new look of each of the character, Tremblay said it "makes sense" for the new film.
"I think it genuinely really, really works," Tremblay said when asked about his thoughts on the film's Flounder. I think all the choices they made just turned out to be just genius."
Awkwafina added, "I think that the technology and also the work that went into crafting the characters and how they're based on us and our performance is really special."
Bringing 'Under the Sea' to life
When it came to producing the musical number for one of the film's hits songs, "Under the Sea," which won an Academy Award for best original song in 1989, Marshall said that it was a "massive amount of work."
Similar to the animated film, the scene features an array of tropical fish surrounding Bailey, as her crustacean friend Sebastian sings the popular tune.
"Filming Halle Bailey in a huge blue screen space and knowing what's going to be circling and what's going to be moving around her, what she's going to be looking at and interacting with was incredible," said Marshall.
To bring the musical number to life, Marshall said he brought the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation on board.
"We used their bodies and their incredible dance abilities to actually replicate different sea creatures -- so, every kind of creature you can imagine, from feather starfish to limpets to jellyfish -- and we chose the actual creatures we were going to use by what lends themselves to dance," he said.
Diggs told "GMA" that being part of the whole process was "unbelievable."
"The things Rob is trying to accomplish are insane. I just had to sing it," Diggs said. "Choreographing dance scenes with sea creatures that are also Alvin Ailey -- it's a huge undertaking."
"The creative team on it, the whole production was just, every day, you'd sort of walk in, and even if we're just rehearsing a scene and look to your left, they're building a life-sized ship. There was so much magic happening all the time," he said.
'A love letter to the original film'
In addition to Awkwafina, Diggs and Tremblay putting their own spin on Scuttle, Sebastian and Flounder, respectively, the film's star, Bailey, 23, is breaking barriers in her role as Ariel, as the first Black actress to play the iconic character.
While news of her casting was initially met with various opinions and commentary across the spectrum, the singer said she's since realized how important it is for others to see themselves on screen in roles they never imagined themselves in.
"I hope they see themselves in me on the screen," she told "GMA" at "The Little Mermaid" premiere in Hollywood. "I'm just grateful to be here. There were women before me like Brandy and Anika [Noni] Rose, who really were the blueprint for me to even be able to be here today. So I'm just taking this moment all in. I'm so excited."
McCarthy, meanwhile, commented on Bailey's and Hauer-King's performances in the film and said they play Ariel and Prince Eric with "so much compassion and so much grit," that they make the film one that everyone "needs to see right now."
"It's a love letter to the original film for sure," she added. "It feels so relevant today. It is about two young people that are absolutely carving out the life that they want, not the life that they've been given, and that fighting for it is OK and being the person you choose to be is OK."
"The Little Mermaid" live-action film is in theaters now.
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