Disney’s Live-Action world has seen some of our biggest stars reimagining some of our most treasured animated heroes. From Beyonce and Donald Glover as Nala and Simba to Will Smith as The Genie from Aladdin. Halle Bailey of Chloe x Halle is following in her mentor Bey’s footsteps and taking on a beloved Disney character as well. It’s been known for years that she will be portraying Ariel in The Little Mermaid’s live-action film. Recently, fellow pop-star Lizzo shed some light on the movie’s audition process and how she almost scored the role of Ursula.
Before her mainstream pop crossover, fans on Twitter were campaigning for Lizzo to play the iconic character on film after she dressed us as her for Halloween back in 2018. She even posted a clip of her singing Ursula’s signature song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” with scored over 3 million views on Twitter.
According to a recent interview with Variety, Disney heard the fans and brought Lizzo in to try out for the part. Lizzo tried to play coy but seemed a little defeated at not scoring the role. She told Variety, “I didn’t get it. But you know, I’m fine as hell,” shaking off the loss. She elaborates, stating that her version of Ursula would have been a “THOT, shaking [it]” The role ultimately went to actress Melissa McCarthy who will star across from Halle Bailey.
Filming on the movie wrapped last summer after being delayed by COVID. Bailey took to her IG in June to let fans know that the movie was done and how wonderful her experience was. In a shot of her sitting in the water looking very much in character, she told her followers, “after auditioning for this film when I was 18 just about to turn 19, to now finishing filming through a pandemic when I turned 21 ..we have finally made it.” She says how grateful she was for the experience and shous tout her co-stars, which also include Awkwafina, Javier Bardem, Daveed Diggs, and Jonah Hauer-King.
Its been a long road for the film, which initially received some backlash for casting a black actress in a role that was originally drawn as a white girl. While some argued that her casting was erasing the original film’s legacy, others stated that this version could exist alongside its predecessor much like Brandy’s Cinderella from the ’90s and the original Disney Cinderella cartoon from the ’50s. People also pointed out inconsistencies in the first film, with much of the music being inspired by West Indian/Caribbean culture (reggae, dancehall) but not including any characters of color san for Sebastian the crab and his Jamaican accent.
Halle has gone on to win the public over, thanks to a very successful year with sister Chloe. Their album “Ungodly Hour” helped solidify the siblings as true pop forces, with Chloe going on to launch a successful solo career while the world waits to see Halle’s big-screen debut in The Little Mermaid.
Before Bailey’s casting, many fans online had their dream pick for the role. Lindsay Lohan was a long-time favorite, thanks to her history with Disney and signature red hair. Zendaya was also a popular pick for a while due to the same reasons. She would eventually go on to portray another famous redhead on-screen, MJ, in the Spiderman films. Ariana Grande was also rumored to be in the running. Harry Styles and Jack Whitehall were considered for the role of Prince Eric for a time. Styles revealed that he turned down the part due to conflicting schedules.
While it is not clear who else auditioned for Ursula, Queen Latifah did play a version of the character for a television broadcast that ran during the Christmas season in 2019. She got exceptional reviews. Many argued the role should have gone to a man or drag performer because Ursula was based on drag actor Divine. Divine is most famous for playing Edna Turnblad in the original version of Hairspray. Titus Burgess and Ginger Minj were fan favorites after videos of them performing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” went viral. Tituss actually got his start on Broadway’s version of The Little Mermaid playing Sebastian.
The movie was directed by Rob Marshall and features new music from Lin-Manuel Miranda (Encanto, Hamilton). It is scheduled to be released on May 26, 2023, 34 years after the original.