To make The Little Mermaid work, there are many things you need to get right. And perhaps more important than any of the technical challenges – or facing up to the pressure of tackling one of Disney’s most beloved animated classics – it all comes down to this: audiences really need to feel the connection between adventurous mermaid Ariel, and human seafarer Prince Eric. If the chemistry isn’t there, the romantic spark that drives Ariel to make that desperate bargain – to swap her fin for feet, at a terrible price – doesn’t make sense. No pressure, then, for Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King, the stars tasked with making that work in Rob Marshall’s live-action reimagining of the 1989 favourite.
Helping to build that connection and characterisation in Marshall’s film is a new number for Eric, ‘Wild Uncharted Waters’ – one of three tunes penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alan Menken to sit alongside the classics. If the original Eric represents a ‘part of that world’ that Ariel’s always wanted to explore, Eric 2.0 is more like her equal and opposite – someone born on dry land, who’s always looking out into the Big Blue. “It’s a call-out to the girl that saved him,” says Hauer-King of his new song. “They’re both looking for adventure, to other worlds.”
For Hauer-King and Bailey, the experience of making the film was a massive adventure in itself. But while you’d expect the mermaid portion of the cast to have spent most of the shoot in the giant tanks at Pinewood, Hauer-King claims he’s the one who really faced the way of water. “The person that got the wettest in this film, by a country mile, was me!” he laughs. “It came from a smart decision [of Rob’s], which is that, as a human, I should be interacting with water as a human would. So, for my stuff – the shipwreck, fights in water – I needed to be wet. Halle and the mermaids can’t interact with water as humans, so they were on blue-screen stages.” We bet he wished he was part of that world during the shoot instead.
Read Empire’s full The Little Mermaid feature – talking to Rob Marshall, musical legends Alan Menken and Lin-Manual Miranda, and cast members Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King and Daveed Diggs – in the upcoming June 2023 issue, on sale Thursday 13 April. Become an Empire member now to access the issue in full on launch day, or pre-order a print copy here. The Little Mermaid comes to UK cinemas from 26 May.