‘The Little Mermaid’ Director Rob Marshall Says Disney Remake Is ‘The Most Challenging Film I’ve Ever Done’

“I don’t think anybody’s ever done an underwater musical before,” the “Chicago” director told TheWrap

"The Little Mermaid" (Disney)
"The Little Mermaid" (Disney)

Filmmaker Rob Marshall has spent a long time thinking about “The Little Mermaid.” Nearly five years, to be exact. When speaking to the Oscar-winning director about the 20th anniversary of “Chicago” (and a new deluxe home video release), he offered an update on his live-action redo of the 1989 Disney animated film, due in theaters this May. “I’m very excited to be finishing up after four-and-a-half years,” Marshall said. “It’s a long time.”

Marshall’s version of “The Little Mermaid” stars Halle Bailey in the title role of Ariel, with Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Javier Bardem as King Triton, with Daveed Diggs voicing Sebastian, Jacob Tremblay voicing Flounder and Awkwafina voicing Scuttle. The first footage from the film, which features new songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda and original composer Alan Menken, was screened at last year’s D23 Expo to a rapturous response.

“I’m very proud of the film. It’s the most challenging film I’ve ever done, for sure. No question,” Marshall said. “Using complicated, cutting-edge techniques to make this work. I don’t think anybody’s ever done an underwater musical before. I have to say every single moment of the film had to be choreographed in advance so that we could have a flow to the whole piece. It’s crazy the apparatuses we worked with from wires to things called tuning forks to teeter-totters. Thank God we had the rehearsal time. You always need it on a musical anyway.”

Marshall said that on the “big, massive musical number” for “Under the Sea,” “there’s one live-action person in that piece.” Yowza. “But I did a lot of work in advance with John DeLuca and myself creating these musical sequences, to prep it in advance from storyboards to something called pre-visualization, which is almost like a little mini animated film, so we know how it flowed and how it worked. The prep on this film was insane.”

But don’t worry. Marshall said, “The post has been insane too.” And it’s easy to forget the scale of movies Marshall has worked on, since after “Chicago” he tackled complicated monstrosities like Disney’s “Into the Woods,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and “Mary Poppins Returns.”

“You are creating a world, you’re creating creatures, but it’s very important to me that it feels real – you have to believe, you have to care about them, you have to follow their journey,” Marshall said. “And you shouldn’t be aware. When you see it, I hope you don’t see any of what I just described. You should just believe it’s all happening and it should look easy and seamless, which is the goal.”

“The Little Mermaid” opens exclusively in theaters on May 26.