The Little Mermaid - the cartoon feature-film based on Hans Christian Andersen's story about a mermaid desperate for life on land - was credited with kicking off Disney's renaissance in 1989, a period when the company returned to making successful animated movies following something of a slump.

Half set underwater, with big musical numbers and aquatic creatures mixed in with mythical ones as well as those on land, making a live-action version was no mean feat.

The casting of the lead character Ariel had to be right - not only did the actress have to convincingly act as a mermaid, but they would also need to perform beloved songs and spend much of the movie without a voice at all.

Enter popstar Halle Bailey - who with her sister Chloe is one of half of the pop duo Chloe x Halle - was the first person to audition for the role and ultimately the only one to win it.

But her casting led to a racist backlash, with those behind it seemingly ready to believe in mermaids, but only if they are white.

Javier Bardem, who plays Ariel's father King Triton, is dismissive of anyone who disagrees with Bailey's casting.

"I don't think we need to give any voice to that," he told Sky News's Backstage podcast.

"Seeing it, she's so technically superior, she's such an amazing actress, her voice is just ridiculous, but I think what makes her so incredibly watchable and you feel like you're always with her is her kindness as a human," agreed Melissa McCarthy, who plays the sea witch Ursula.

"There's just a little bit of magic in her and I think you feel that, you can't deny it and I can't imagine any other human or fish playing Ariel."

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For director Rob Marshall it was frustrating to see Bailey being judged before anyone had seen her in the role.

"When we cast her there was no agenda, we weren't looking for a woman of colour, we saw every ethnicity for the role - we just wanted to find the best Ariel," he told Backstage.

"That was all we cared about and she was the one, it was just so clear, and so I thought these people are so small-minded, to me it feels archaic we're even discussing skin colour in this era - it's like from another century."

"I thought, you know what, just come see the film, in my head I was like, you will see that she's Ariel, there's no question about that, and I'm excited for people to see her."

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For the other actors playing roles that loom large in many people's childhoods was a balance between paying tribute to what came before and refreshing and modernising for the new movie.

The original Ursula was said to be inspired by the US drag queen Divine and McCarthy says she was definitely inspired by drag for her own performance.

"I've always been a big fan of drag since high school - it's such an incredible art form and it's been around forever and there's something to that kind of unapologetic, bigger than life, I'm right in your face, I shall not apologise," she said.

"But also it's a front for things, so yes, it's a homage to a certain type of woman, but you're also kind of poking fun at that type of woman.

"It's a balancing act and there's always a drag queen in my heart for all my parts."

For Hamilton star Daveed Diggs who plays King Triton's advisor - a crab called Sebastian, he was aware that he didn't want to simply do an impression of the character's original voice actor Samuel E Wright.

"I was super worried about it until the day we started," he admitted.

"And then it was very clear that Rob [Marshall] was creating an atmosphere where he really wanted us to bring new things to it and the whole team like Alan [Menken - who did the film's music] too, every time we were doing anything, it was like, really find what works for you."

He added: "Everybody attached to this thing is such a fan of the original, so all of that was coming into it, we were getting all that for free, all of the like reverence for this film that we all love, and then they really pushed us to also figure out what our version is."

Making The Little Mermaid was a huge undertaking with the actors put on specially devised rigs in order to make them look as though they were moving underwater.

And rather than the voice cast of characters such as Sebastian or the fish Flounder being locked away in a booth far from set, they were also present during filming.

For Bardem having Diggs in the room as well as models of the character made a big difference in his performance.

He said: "There were puppeteers and also there were toys. Toys! I was playing with toys!

"But Daveed was there too, to say the lines, so you will play the scene with the actor who's playing Sebastian, which is amazing.

"The scene will evolve and we'll go to different places because you have two actors playing it rather than following just one voice."

The Little Mermaid is out in cinemas in the UK.

2023-05-27T01:29:04Z dg43tfdfdgfd