The Little Mermaid cast says changes were made to reflect 'diversity and inclusion' of 2023

Watch: Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, and Rob Marshall talk The Little Mermaid

When it was first announced that The Little Mermaid would be recreated in live-action with Black actor Halle Bailey in the title role there was a wave of backlash from a vocal minority who refused to accept any changes being made to the original.

But for the team behind the remake, the film's changes highlight why it’s necessary to leave “fear behind” and learn to “communicate” with one another.

Stars Melissa McCarthy and Javier Bardem, who play Ursula and King Triton, and director Rob Marshall tell Yahoo UK that Disney’s new take on the fairytale shows viewers they shouldn’t be afraid of what they don’t know. Bardem says, because of this, the film feels more timely than its cartoon counterpart.

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“I think it's more accurate to the times that we live in, in terms of diversity and inclusion,” Bardem tells Yahoo UK.

“Some roles are now played by women when they were played by men, but also it's about finding bridges to communicate with each other through respect, and [about] leaving the fear behind, and that's very important as a message for the kids and the adults to see.”

(L-R): Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric and Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. (Disney)
(L-R): Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric and Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. (Disney)

At its heart the 2023 version of The Little Mermaid isn’t all that different to its source material, it still sees Ariel make a deal with Ursula so she can become human after falling in love with Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), but McCarthy feels that what was altered makes a huge difference.

“I think the changes on paper were rather small, but I think what they did, in terms of the storytelling, was quite big,” she says.

Read more: Halle Bailey addresses racist backlash over 'The Little Mermaid'

“It wasn't just that Ariel was wanting to find a cute Prince, she wanted to carve out her own life.

“And I think... the fight to live the life you choose, and the life you want, as opposed to the one you’re assigned or told you should be having is incredibly relevant today.”

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in The Little Mermaid. (Disney)
Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in The Little Mermaid. (Disney)

The Bridesmaids star adds, “I think it was done in a beautiful way that didn't feel like ‘we're teaching you a lesson,’ but it really made it feel modern and relevant.”

When Marshall signed on to direct the remake he chose not only to revisit the Disney classic but also Hans Christian Anderson’s original novel, which, he says, features surprisingly contemporary ideas about Ariel.

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“I saw this beautiful modern story about a young girl who feels she doesn't fit in, doesn't belong, and she really is reaching for a different life and learns not to be afraid of someone or some people that are different than she is, in this case the human world,” he explains.

“And I thought that was a very contemporary theme, [it] felt very timely, about not being afraid of people that are different [from] you, and sort of breaking down those barriers and building bridges to another world.”

(L-R): Halle Bailey as Ariel and Javier Bardem as King Triton in The Little Mermaid. (Disney)
(L-R): Halle Bailey as Ariel and Javier Bardem as King Triton in The Little Mermaid. (Disney)

Marshall, who has a wealth of experience adapting musicals for the big screen from Chicago to Mary Poppins Returns, adds he was keen to “tell a deeper, fuller story” in his version of The Little Mermaid, one that was “more emotional” for viewers and also gave Ariel more say in her own story.

“She really is a very strong willed girl who wants something different than anybody around her wants, and so it was natural to make her proactive and really make her have her own agency," he says.

"In many ways, yes, it is about someone who loses their voice, but also finds their voice, [and] finally people hear her.”

The Little Mermaid is in cinemas and IMAX on Friday, 26 May.

Watch the trailer for The Little Mermaid