Creators And Cast Of The Little Mermaid Talk Challenges Of Bringing Under The Sea Scenes To Life

Disney's live-action version of "The Little Mermaid" releases exclusively in theaters on May 26, 2023 — and fans who grew up watching the animated version from 1989 will have a chance to see some of their favorite moments brought to life in a whole new way. For the cast and crew, remaking such a cherished film was both thrilling and challenging.

The live-action version is especially difficult because so many scenes have to appear as if the characters are deep in the ocean, and many characters, such as Sebastian (voiced by Daveed Diggs) and Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), are talking sea creatures that had to be created through CGI. Others, like Ariel (played by Halle Bailey) and King Triton (Javier Bardem), had to be transformed into merpeople.

Creating this film took a lot of coordination and years of dedication. During a recent press conference, the cast and creatives behind the film sat down to discuss their experience and share how they brought the magical underwater world of "The Little Mermaid" to the big screen.

Creating Under the Sea

"Under the Sea" as it appeared in the original 1989 animated film won an Academy Award for best original song and was a beloved classic for millions of families who watched "The Little Mermaid," so recreating that scene for a live-action version was critical. During the press conference, the filmmakers explained that "Under the Sea" was the number they put off until the end of making the film.

"It was so daunting," director Rob Marshall explained, "because there's one live actor in this massive production number." As Ariel, Halle Bailey was the only live performer in the sequence — meanwhile, Sebastian and the other colorful sea life in the ensemble were all added via CGI. Coordinating that was very complicated, and they knew the expectations would be high when the original song was such a massive hit.

That wasn't the only sequence that took a lot of hard work and imagination. To imitate the effect of swimming, the crew had the actors "float" using wires, and it took a lot of time to get the movements perfect. Marshall explained how they filmed and pieced together the underwater scenes, saying, "Sometimes I would say, 'action,' they would say two lines, and I'd say, 'cut,' and then we'd put them on another apparatus ... It was like a mosaic."

Acting in the water

Planning underwater scenes took a strong vision from the creative team, but then it was up to the performers and crew to execute that vision. Melissa McCarthy, who plays the villainous Ursula, said she spent practically all her time filming in different rigs to make it appear like she was swimming with the tentacles that were added after shooting. According to McCarthy, her feet were never on the ground. "I slipped on the clamshell occasionally, on my back, but I was never literally on my feet ... There were all different magical things. If you were diving, it was one rig. If you were spinning, it was another."

They also filmed in actual water for the scene where Ariel saves Prince Eric. Halle Balle and Jonah Hauer-King described shooting in a tank with a wave machine and rain to simulate an ocean storm. "When they turn on the thunder and lightning and fires around us and the waves, it feels like you're in the middle of the ocean, actually in the middle of a thunderstorm," Bailey said. On top of that, Bailey was holding Hauer-King up in the water. Hauer-King joked that he felt like he was really drowning and admitted to accidentally kicking Bailey several times. "We were dying in the water the whole time ... but that was the funniest moment," Bailey said.

"The Little Mermaid" opens exclusively in theaters on May 26.