Why Everyone’s Flipping Over Halle Bailey In ‘The Little Mermaid’

The world premiere for “The Little Mermaid,” Disney’s live-action reimagining of the studio’s Oscar®-winning animated musical classic, took place in Hollywood at the Dolby Theater, with cast, filmmakers, and celebrity guests gathering to toast the film’s upcoming launch. Visionary director Rob Marshall’s “The Little Mermaid” opens exclusively in theaters nationwide on May 26, 2023.

“The Little Mermaid” is the beloved story of Ariel, a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure. The youngest of King Triton’s daughters and the most defiant, Ariel longs to find out more about the world beyond the sea and, while visiting the surface, falls for the dashing Prince Eric. While mermaids are forbidden from interacting with humans, Ariel must follow her heart. She makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, which gives her a chance to experience life on land but ultimately places her life – and her father’s crown – in jeopardy.

The film stars singer and actress Halle Bailey (“grown-ish”) as Ariel; Jonah Hauer-King (“A Dog’s Way Home”) as Eric; Tony Award® winner Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”) as the voice of Sebastian; Awkwafina (“Raya and the Last Dragon”) as the voice of Scuttle; Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) as the voice of Flounder; Noma Dumezweni (“Mary Poppins Returns”) as The Queen; Art Malik (“Homeland”) as Sir Grimsby; with Oscar® winner Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men,” “Being the Ricardos”) as King Triton; and two-time Academy Award® nominee Melissa McCarthy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” “Bridesmaids”) as Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” is directed by Oscar® nominee Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Mary Poppins Returns”) with a screenplay by two-time Oscar nominee David Magee (“Life of Pi,” “Finding Neverland”). The songs feature music from multiple Academy Award® winner Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin”) and lyrics by Howard Ashman, and new lyrics by three-time Tony Award® winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton,’ “In the Heights”). The film is produced by two-time Emmy® winner Marc Platt (“Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” “Grease Live!”), Miranda, two-time Emmy winner John DeLuca (“Tony Bennett: An American Classic”), and Rob Marshall, with Jeffrey Silver (“The Lion King”) serving as executive producer.


Nischelle Renee Turner, the co-host of Entertainment Tonight, went one-on-one with the filmmakers to dish out the big splash Halle Bailey made on everyone with her beautiful voice.

ALAN MENKEN: Just seeing it on that huge screen at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood was just…
NISCHELLE: The shot of just her face when she’s holding that note is, I mean, goosebumps. I was like, “What is it? What’s happening to me?”
JOHN DELUCA: Well, when she first auditioned and sang the song for us, I turned to Rob and there were tears streaming down his face.
ROB: I mean, here’s the thing. The first actor we saw for this role was Halle. The first thing she did is she came in and sang for us. And she sang that song. She shut her eyes and started to sing the song.
NISCHELLE: When you heard her do that for the first time, take me back to that moment.
ALAN: Well, she’s adorable. She’s completely adorable. She’s so talented. You can’t take your eyes off her.
ALAN: The emotion is just right there on her face and in her voice. She’s just, she’s Halle Bailey. She’s a delicious person. And she’s amazing, Ariel.
ALAN: And you see it in levels, right? I mean, we had our recording sessions, then you allowed me to see the movie when it was just first put together roughly. And Wyatt, the editor, kept tapping to bring over boxes of tissues for me. Because when we got to ‘Part of Your World,’ I was just weeping. Part of it is the, you know, missing Howard kinda reaction, and also just remembering the innocence of what we put in there originally, and now look at it.


Mermaid Cast on the red carpet in Hollywood. Credit: Disney


ROB MARSHALL: And I thought, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I just thought she’s so deeply connected to what she’s singing about. It’s so emotional. It’s so beautiful. And I thought, [laugh] oh my gosh, we’ve been doing this for five minutes. Have we found Ariel? And we had.
JOHN: Little did we know.
ROB: But we didn’t know that. But then we saw hundreds of other actors after that, and Halle kept coming back in. And we saw every ethnicity. We saw everybody. And she claimed the role for hers. That’s what happened.
NISCHELLE: Mm. That gives me chills right there, it did.

ALAN: So it’s simply as simple as that. And those decisions are made, first of all, by character, by moment, but also by sequence of a score, and what’s needed at a certain moment. So we chose the moment when Prince Eric, had been told, “Don’t go back out there, you can’t,” and he just thinks about this girl. And it’s a love song to her, and it’s a love song to the sea. And to his uncharted waters. So his life ahead of him. So it ends up being a real important theme throughout the movie.

ALAN: Then we had the first time she’s on land. And was so much fun, because I gave Lin a very sort of lilting tune and he said, “Can we give a kind of a bap-a-bap, mm-bop bop.” So it’s a three-against-two kind of feel. Said, “Okay, let’s do that,” and then boom, the song where she’s so excited, everything is so new and so wonderful. And then he doesn’t think it’s a girl and realizes she can’t speak. And then she’s so, for the first time, heartbroken. And then the scuttlebutt, which is just, that’s a surprise gift of him, ’cause I gave him this Caribbean tune.

ALAN: And Lin sort of did a rap over it that was so perfect. Used the music, but it had this rhythmic pulse to it. It was just pure Lin-Manuel Miranda.
NISCHELLE: The audience flipped.
ALAN: I know.
NISCHELLE: [laugh]
ROB: They missed the end line, the final line, because they’re applauding.
ALAN: “Oh, Scuttle, you’re too close.”
ROB: Yeah.
ALAN: I know, I thought about that last night.
ROB: I was like, well, we didn’t build it an applause. Now if I was going back, we were [overlap] and I knew it was gonna get that, we’d definitely delay that.

ALAN: Or just put it in sooner.
ROB: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
JOHN: And just, to further that, when we were writing it, we knew that Eric had no song. So we had to have a song for Eric. You know, he needed his voice.
ROB: And it’s surprising when you think about it. In the animated film, Ariel had one song. A series of reprises, but one song. And so, you know, the fact, I mean, the great thing about working with Alan is that, you know, he’s so open to looking at this. And he knew this was a different genre. We’re doing a live-action film. And how are we gonna approach this? And we said, “Can we find another place for Ariel?” Well, the challenging thing was that of course she had lost her voice. But we realize, obviously, in film, you can create something where you’re hearing the internal thoughts through music, through song. And that was sort of the key for us to find this piece for her.

ROB: And also accomplished a lot for us too, because it’s a montage of all her time on land, until she meets the prince for the first time. So it helped us in so many ways. It was wonderful to have that collaboration.
NISCHELLE: And you had so many actors who we don’t think of traditionally when we think of singers. I mean, you had Halle, which of course. But then Jacob who said he had never sang anywhere but in the shower, who has an amazing voice, by the way.
ROB: Amazing. Amazing.
NISCHELLE: And Jonah and Melissa. And, I mean, we know Daveed can sing. But, I mean, what you guys did with them, for us not to know them as singers, is bananas.
] ALAN: And, like we say, because we had, also, Javier sang a song that, it happens all the time in musicals, we didn’t need that particular spot for the film.
NISCHELLE: Can we get it in the director’s cut?