'The Little Mermaid': Halle Bailey is 'emotional,' 'beautiful' in Disney's best live-action remake

"I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself," the talented star taking on the role of Ariel said

We'll admit that we aren't biggest fans of Disney's live-action remakes, but The Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, alongside Jonah Hauer-King, Javier Bardem and Melissa McCarthy, is the best one we've seen (in theatres May 26).

"I tell people all the time I feel like Ariel truly has helped me find myself," Bailey said at a press conference ahead of the film's release. "From 18 to now being 23, [those] are like very intense transformative years as you're developing as a young woman."

"But I feel like especially these themes of the film and what she had to go through with her passions and drive, and speaking up for herself. Even though it may be scary, she went for it. I feel like those things I really try to adopt and give to Halle now. So, she's taught me so much, for sure."

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. (Photo by Giles Keyte)
Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. (Photo by Giles Keyte)

A large part of what makes this version of The Little Mermaid enjoyable does hinge on Bailey's star power and her moving performance as the lead character.

As director Rob Marshall revealed, she was the first person they saw for the role, and clearly the best fit.

"The first actor we saw for this role was Halle," Marshall said. "The first thing she did is, she came in and sang for us."

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I just thought she's so deeply connected to what she's singing about. It's so emotional. It's so beautiful and I thought, oh my gosh, we've been doing this for five minutes. Have we found Ariel? And we had. ... But then we saw hundreds of other actors after that, and Halle kept coming back in. We saw every ethnicity, we saw everybody and she claimed the role for hers. That's what happened."

Bardem, who plays Ariel's father King Triton, was absolutely taken by Bailey, right when he met her.

"Right in the moment I met her, I just fell for her," Bardem said. "I mean, she has this thing where you just can't help yourself but love her unconditionally."

"I was always mesmerized by the quality of her as a performer, let alone the singing, that I knew. But as an actress, how willing and courageous she is, and in going to the places that she had to go to. That was amazing."

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. (Photo courtesy of Disney)
Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. (Photo courtesy of Disney)

'The movie gave them so much joy'

While many have debated whether live-action remakes of iconic animated Disney films are necessary, it's clear that The Little Mermaid has been able to make a significant impact on this generation of children, including kids of some of the cast members.

McCarthy, who plays Ursula, highlighted that her children, who she shares with husband Ben Falcone, were excited to attend the premiere of the film, the first one they've ever been to.

"That's the first time they've come to a premiere and this is the first time they wanted to come," McCarthy said. "So, I was like nervous, but also excited that they were there."

"They just loved the movie so much and it was fun to see them get excited just about meeting people and seeing them. They were like 'oh my god, Halle's sitting behind us,' and they're jaded old, young people. So I was just excited that they were so excited, and that the movie gave them so much joy."

Daveed Diggs, who voices Sebastian in The Little Mermaid, saw the impact of this new version of the story when his friend brought their child to the premiere.

"I stood in line to see The Little Mermaid opening night in Oakland when it first came out," Diggs shared.

"It was just this moment of oh yeah, this thing that was sort of a fundamental part of my childhood is going to be that maybe for this little girl, who was also so terrified of Ursula that I had to introduce her to Melissa afterwards so that she didn't have nightmares."

Musicals can certainly be a risky and tricky thing to execute, particularly when there's already an existing version for audience to make comparisons to. But if nothing else, this version of The Little Mermaid still taps into nostalgic joy, even if you're also not really on board for live-action remakes.