The Little Mermaid – Reimagining A Classic

Screenwriter David Magee, director-producer Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca drew inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s source material and John Musker & Ron Clements’ screenplay for Disney’s animated film The Little Mermaid, reimagining and enhancing the story to create a very modern story about a girl who feels displaced and sees her life differently from anyone around her.

The Little Mermaid is Disney’s live-action reimagining of the studio’s Oscar-winning animated musical classic. Inspired by the timeless tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen in 1837, it is the quintessential story of an outsider, and a story that speaks to everyone.

In the hands of visionary filmmaker Rob Marshall, The Little Mermaid is an intimate story set against an epic backdrop, including a stunningly beau8ful, photorealistic world under the sea.

Ambitious in scale, and grounded in reality, the story is set in the 1830s in and around the waters of a fictitious island in the Caribbean, and tells of Ariel, is a spirited 18-year-old mermaid who is fascinated with the world above the surface.

“With a great deal of passion and courage she embarks on an epic journey of self-discovery by breaking down walls and learning not to be afraid of the ‘other,’ which in her case was the human world,” says Marshall (Chicago, Mary Poppins Returns). “The contemporary themes explored felt to me like an antidote to the world’s divisions and a vital reminder that we are all one.”

The films of Rob Marshall have been honored with a total of 30 Academy Award nominations — winning nine, including best picture. His most recent film Mary Poppins Returns,” which he directed, co-wrote, and produced, received four Oscar nominations, four Golden Globe nominations (including best picture), the National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films, AFI’s Top Ten, the Humanitas Prize for writing, as well as BAFTA, SAG Award, and Critics Choice Award nominations. His directorial achievements include the Academy Award -winning films Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha. For his work on Chicago, winner of six Oscars including best picture, Marshall received Directors Guild Award, Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, the National Board of Review Award, and the New York Film Critics Online Award (both for best directorial debut), as well as the American Choreography Award. His epic film Memoirs of a Geisha was the winner of three Oscars, three BAFTA Awards, and a Golden Globe. Marshall’s film version of the musical Nine was nominated for four Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, ten Critics Choice Awards, and a SAG Award for best ensemble. His film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides went on to gross over $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Marshall’s screen adaption of the Sondheim musical Into the Woods was nominated for three Oscars and three Golden Globes (including best picture) and was chosen as one of AFI’s best films of the year. He directed and choreographed Disney/ABC’s movie musical Annie, which received 12 Emmy nominations and won the prestigious Peabody Award. For his work, he received an Emmy and an American Choreography Award. He is the recipient of the Humanitas Writing Award, Contribution to Cinematic Imagery Award from the Art Directors Guild, the Cinema Audio Society Filmmaker Award, the Distinguished Collaborator Award from the Costume Designers Guild, an Annie Award, the Hamilton Award, and the Chita Rivera Award. A six-time Tony Award nominee and George Abbott Award winner, Marshall’s stage work includes Broadway productions of Cabaret, Little Me, Victor/Victoria, Damn Yankees, She Loves Me, Company, and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Marshall’s creative partner, two-time Emmy® award winning producer John DeLuca (Into the Woods, Mary Poppins Returns) elaborates, “I actually saw it as a ‘Romeo and Juliet’-esque tale of misunderstood youths in a world of clashing ideologies. Our heroine is the classic outsider, not unlike Han Christian Andersen himself, and after losing her voice, struggles to find it and ultimately does so through her indomitable perseverance.”

Producer John DeLuca produced Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, which was nominated for three Oscars and three Golden Globes (including best picture) and was chosen as one of AFI’s best films of the year. For his work, DeLuca also received the Hamilton Behind the Camera Award as best producer. He was executive producer of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which went on to gross over $1 billion worldwide. He produced the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Nine, for which he was nominated for his second Golden Globe Award and was also nominated for four Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, ten Critics’ Choice Awards, and a SAG Award for best cast. He was the choreographer of the Academy Award-winning film Memoirs of a Geisha and collaborated with Rob Marshall on their Academy Award-winning film Chicago. He was honored with the American Choreography Award for both films. On Broadway, he choreographed “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and “Minnelli on Minnelli,” as well as directed and choreographed “Broadway Sings Elton John” and “Deborah Voigt on Broadway.”

Adding to this, executive producer Jeffrey Silver (The Lion King) explains, “The theme of this film touches on something that is so important in our world today, which is how we perceive other people and cultures, and that there are prejudices and preconceived no8ons. ‘The Little Mermaid’ addresses that in such a beautiful way, through love, understanding, and the merging of cultures.”

“This was the most challenging film of my career. In fact, I don’t believe I could have done it without having had the experience of working on all my other films to date,” says Marshall.

When Disney and three-time Oscar® nominated producer Marc Plat (La La Land, Bridge of Spies, The Trial of the Chicago 7) first approached Marshall and DeLuca about taking on this project, their first reaction was, “an underwater film musical — how do you do that? It’s never been done before.” DeLuca says, “We knew we were entering uncharted waters.”

“Rob is very singular in his ability to marry music to narrarrive,” says Platt. “He knows how to tell a story with music as a character better than any other filmmaker working today, and you can feel his passion on screen.”

Platt had worked with Marshall and John DeLuca on numerous musical projects in the past and knew that they would be able to create a stunningly beautiful and musically lush world on screen.

Producer Marc Platt has a career that spans film, theatre, and television. His projects have garnered a combined 43 Oscar nominations, 36 Tony nominations, and 50 Emmy nominations and have grossed over $5 billion worldwide. Among his films are La La Land, which tied the record for the most Oscar nominations in history with 14, winning six

(L-R): Cinematographer Dion Beebe, Director Rob Marshall, and Producer John DeLuca on the set of Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

From day one, Marshall stressed the importance of the reality of the land and the fantasy of the sea. He wanted to ensure everything on land was rooted in deep reality and looked as realistic and authentic as possible so as to best show the contrast between the two worlds. “There are two different worlds in our story, the above world, which is the very real world, and the underwater world, which is our magical world where mermaids exist, crabs sing and diving birds speak,” Marshall says. “The underwater world is entirely digital and above the water, everything is real and constructed in the way a classic period film is. And because we were doing a musical as well, in many ways it felt like we were prepping three different movies at once.”

“‘The Little Mermaid’ is very much a love story in many ways,” says director/producer Rob Marshall. “It is about finding your soulmate, finding someone who you connect with. And that’s what Ariel and Eric ultimately find in this film. Together they begin to break down the walls and barriers between two disparate worlds and strive to eliminate the unfounded prejudice that has always existed.”

“We all knew we were working on something very special — an iconic story that has touched millions around the world. Like Ariel herself we all felt a drive to discover something new, something rare, something we had only imagined. It was that leap of faith we all took that not only brought us together but brought us this miracle of a film.”

(L-R): Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric and Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

DAVID MAGEE (Screenwriter) is a screenwriter whose first film, Finding Neverland, received an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay, as well as a Golden Globe, BAFTA, London Film Critics Circle Award, and the Humanitas Prize. His second film, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, received an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay, a
second BAFTA nomination and a Writers Guild Award. In 2013 Magee was honored by UCLA’s
film school as screenwriter of the year. Mary Poppins Returns was Magee’s fourth film, which was followed by Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The School for Good and Evil,” both for Netflix, and A Man Called Otto. Up next for Magee is The Tiger’s Apprentice,” which is currently in production.