Halle Bailey fondly remembers how Little Mermaid director Rob Marshall wanted to incorporate her personal style into Ariel’s character design.
Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel in The Little Mermaid was a strong influence on her character design. A remake of the 1989 animated feature of the same name, The Little Mermaid tells the story of Ariel, a young mermaid who wishes to live in the human world. Upon release of the film’s first trailer at D23 earlier this month, Bailey’s casting as Ariel was met with many positive reactions. Responses ranged from young Black girls excited to see her in the role to Ariel’s original voice actress, Jodi Benson, supporting her casting.
With positive reactions, though, also came a tsunami of racist negativity. Many who did not want to see Bailey in the role of Ariel took to disliking the official Little Mermaid trailer on YouTube. At the time of writing, the trailer has over 2 million dislikes compared to 1.1 million likes. While not everyone who saw the trailer may have disliked it due to Bailey, a Black woman playing a previously white character, racism was still a strong factor for many vocal critics. The backlash has resulted in public figures standing up for Bailey’s casting, including comedian Trevor Noah and actress Rachel Zegler, who will play Snow White in 2024’s live-action adaptation. While racist critics may complain, it hasn’t stopped Bailey from expressing love for her role as Ariel and gratitude for the input she had in developing her.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Bailey revealed that The Little Mermaid‘s director, Rob Marshall, wanted to incorporate Bailey’s personal style into Ariel’s character design. She talked about how incredible it was that she had the chance to make her version of Ariel distinct from her cartoon counterpart. Check out what Bailey shared below:
With Rob, he’s so amazing and just saying, ‘I see you and I want to bring you into the character.’ So it was a beautiful thing. My hair, for example. Incorporating my locs into the red hair was something that was really special to me. The outfit, the fins, everything. It’s just amazing. I’m just grateful that I’ve been able to take the essence of me and mix the two.
Bailey’s praise for Marshall is just one of many times the young actress has shared her adoration for everything surrounding The Little Mermaid. Upon hearing that young Black girls were excited about her portrayal, Bailey took to Twitter, sobbing tears of joy for little girls inspired by Ariel thanks to her casting. Bailey’s input for Ariel’s character design and her ability to encourage young girls is a moving sentiment that helps wash away any unwarranted negativity aimed at her casting in the film.
Bailey’s personalized interpretation of Ariel hints at how different an experience the live-action Little Mermaid is poised to be compared to the 1989 original. The incorporation of her hairstyle in Ariel’s character design may allude to other distinct elements that set this version of The Little Mermaid apart. Disney has already experimented with changing up stories they adapt into live-action, such as 2022’s Pinocchio altering some story elements to create a different experience from the 1940 animation. It’s possible that, with the freedom Bailey had in crafting a character design for Ariel, there will be other surprises in store for viewers to make The Little Mermaid a unique experience.