While several of the Walt Disney Company’s live-action remakes have found their home on Disney+, the highly anticipated reimagining of The Little Mermaid (2023) is set to grace the big theatrical screen with a fresh cast embodying these beloved characters. Disney appears to be experimenting with different release strategies, with Pinocchio and Peter Pan & Wendy premiering exclusively on Disney+. This decision might seem surprising, given the immense box office success of previous live-action remakes. However, Disney recognizes that a new rendition of The Little Mermaid is a cinematic event worthy of the grandest stage.
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The original 1989 classic holds a special place in the hearts of fans, not merely as another Disney princess tale but as the triumphant return of the animation giant, marking the inception of the legendary “Disney Renaissance.” Boasting groundbreaking animation, unforgettable melodies, and, above all, iconic characters, the animated masterpiece has solidified itself as a crown jewel within Disney’s ever-expanding legacy. The actors tasked with bringing this enchanting story to life in live-action have large flippers to fill, but with a cast featuring both seasoned veterans and promising newcomers (alongside the guidance of director Rob Marshall and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda), they are more than up to the challenge.
Please note that the following cast and character guide may contain minor spoilers for the original 1989 film and the upcoming remake.
Halle Bailey as Ariel
After the release of the first teaser trailer for The Little Mermaid, Disney enthusiasts around the world couldn’t contain their excitement as they witnessed one of cinema’s most cherished princesses come to life in the form of the talented Halle Bailey, known for her role in Grown-ish. 2023 is poised to be a significant year for Bailey, with her starring in the upcoming remake of The Color Purple. If her audition, described as “Otherworldy” by director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca, is any indication, it’s a well-deserved beginning to what promises to be a remarkable career.
Ariel, the youngest of six sisters and a member of Atlantica’s royal family, is a dreamy-eyed mermaid with a rebellious spirit. Her insatiable curiosity about the surface world often clashes with the overprotective nature of her father, King Triton (played by Javier Bardem). Ariel’s closest companions in her aquatic adventures are her guppy friend Flounder (portrayed by Jacob Tremblay) and the somewhat strict court composer Sebastian (brought to life by Daveed Diggs). Together, they explore the depths to uncover treasures from the surface, creating a secret trove that she keeps hidden from her father. King Triton consistently imparts the notion that the surface is too perilous for merfolk, a lesson he reiterates to Ariel and her siblings.
However, Ariel’s life takes a dramatic turn when she rescues Prince Eric (played by Jonah Hauer-King) from a fiery shipwreck on the surface. Ariel becomes smitten with Prince Eric, yearning to walk on land and be with him. Her father soon discovers Ariel’s secret sanctuary and, in an attempt to protect her, King Triton destroys her collection. Devastated, Ariel makes a hasty and regrettable decision. Against the advice of her friends, she strikes a perilous deal with the notorious sea witch, Ursula (played by Melissa McCarthy). The nefarious enchantress offers Ariel the chance to have legs in exchange for a precious resource – her enchanting singing voice. Ariel accepts this Faustian bargain, setting the stage for her quest to win Eric’s heart without the power of her melodious voice.
Jonah Hauer-King as Eric
Despite being a fully human character, Eric shares Ariel’s fascination with the mysteries of the ocean. He frequently embarks on seafaring adventures, accompanied by his playful shaggy dog, Max, and his loyal but easily seasick butler, Grimsby, portrayed by Art Malik. During one of his voyages through a treacherous storm, Eric finds himself plunged into the depths of the ocean. In his moments of consciousness, he vividly recalls being saved by a captivating woman with an enchanting singing voice. Eric becomes consumed by the desire to find and express his gratitude to his mysterious savior. His relentless quest leads him to encounter Ariel, but her inability to speak raises doubts about her identity as his rescuer. Nevertheless, their meeting sparks a deep connection that may very well be the beginning of true love.
Melissa McCarthy as Ursula
In the original tale, Ursula once served King Triton in Atlantica but was eventually banished from the kingdom. Since then, she has nursed a deep-seated grudge against Triton and his kin, relentlessly scheming to seize his all-powerful trident and, consequently, the entire kingdom. Ursula has a penchant for ensnaring desperate merfolk in her web of impossible contracts, cunningly extracted in exchange for their “poor unfortunate souls.” Her devious companions in this endeavor are her two scheming pet eels, Flotsam and Jetsam. Upon learning of Ariel’s desire to trade her mermaid tail for human legs, Ursula sees the perfect opportunity to exact her revenge on Triton. Granting Ariel’s wish but claiming her voice as payment, Ursula sets her sinister plan for oceanic domination into motion.
In the remake, there’s a significant twist to Ursula’s character, involving an unexpected connection to Ariel and King Triton that we won’t reveal here to avoid spoilers.
Javier Bardem as King Triton
Javier Bardem, an Academy Award-winning actor known for his role as the menacing Captain Salazar in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” is now taking on a more benevolent character in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” as King Triton.
Triton, in addition to his role as the revered King of Atlantica, is a devoted single father to seven young daughters. He holds deep affection for all of them, but his youngest, Ariel, constantly finds herself embroiled in various escapades. Ariel’s unwavering curiosity about the surface world greatly concerns Triton, who believes the only way to protect her is to dispose of her extensive collection of “thingamabobs” and “whatsits.” However, when this drastic measure drives Ariel to seek help from his sworn enemy, Ursula, Triton is faced with the challenge of learning to let his daughter follow her own path and become her own person.
Jacob Tremblay as Flounder
Jacob Tremblay, who gained recognition for his heartwarming performance in “Room,” is now lending his voice to Flounder, bringing this beloved character to life.
Flounder is an enthusiastic young fish who enthusiastically joins his best friend Ariel on nearly all of her daring escapades, even when it involves perilous tasks like exploring a shipwreck teeming with sharks. Although Flounder may not be the bravest of companions, his unwavering loyalty to Ariel and their deep friendship more than compensate for his lack of courage. He’s always ready to assist and support Ariel in any way he can.
Daveed Diggs as Sebastian
Daveed Diggs, best known for his role in the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton,” lends his voice to the character of Sebastian, the perpetually stressed-out crustacean.
In Atlantica, Sebastian holds the esteemed position of court composer, responsible for organizing and conducting a variety of musical performances. Many of these shows feature King Triton’s daughters. However, Sebastian’s duties extend beyond music when Ariel, the headstrong princess, repeatedly skips these performances. Triton assigns Sebastian the task of keeping a watchful eye on Ariel, hoping he can persuade her that a life “under the sea” is far superior to one on land. Despite his loyalty to Triton, Sebastian is also a hopeless romantic who aids Ariel in her quest to win the love of Prince Eric.
Awkwafina as Scuttle
Awkwafina, a versatile comedian and actress known for her roles in “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” is set to make her Disney live-action remake debut as Scuttle. In this reimagining, Scuttle will take on the persona of a gannet, a bird with the unique ability to dive underwater for extended periods.
Scuttle, the third member of Ariel’s close-knit group of friends, serves as Ariel’s walking, squawking encyclopedia for all the human objects she discovers in the ocean. However, while Scuttle is undeniably enthusiastic, expertise in human artifacts is not their strong suit. Scuttle has a knack for providing wildly inaccurate names and explanations for these objects, resulting in comical misunderstandings when Ariel eventually gains her legs and explores the surface world. Nonetheless, Scuttle’s heart is always in the right place, making them a cherished friend to Ariel.
Noma Dumezweni as Queen Selina
Noma Dumezweni, known for her role as Miss Penny Farthing in “Mary Poppins Returns,” returns to the world of live-action Disney films. This time, she takes on the role of one of the few original characters in the remake, Queen Selina.
Queen Selina serves as the counterpart to King Triton and plays the role of Eric’s human adoptive mother. While she may not be as strict as Triton, Selina holds concerns about Eric’s adventurous spirit and his penchant for exploration. She views these pursuits as dangerous endeavors that could lead to harm or even tragedy. When Eric finds himself in a perilous shipwreck, Selina is reminded of a past incident when a young Eric washed ashore after a similar maritime disaster.
Art Malik as Sir Grimsby
Art Malik, perhaps best remembered as the antagonist Aziz from “True Lies” (1994), takes on a more amiable role as Sir Grimsby.
Sir Grimsby serves as a loyal servant to Prince Eric, but his role goes beyond mere servitude; he’s a dedicated and trustworthy confidant. Grimsby manages many of the day-to-day responsibilities that hold Eric’s interest. In the original film, he is responsible for instructing Ariel in matters of etiquette and the ways of the human world, all while remaining blissfully unaware of her true identity as a mermaid princess. In the remake, Grimsby’s character takes on an added dimension as a nurturing father figure, aiding Eric and Ariel in eluding the Queen’s watchful eye so they can enjoy some precious moments together.