Last week, Disney announced that Halle Bailey was to be their new Ariel in their upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. Instantly, there was a wave of criticism over the choice to cast a black actress for a role that was Caucasian in the animated movie. Thankfully, though, there was a just as strong, if not stronger, wave of fans who were on board and defended Bailey’s casting.
This includes the original Ariel, Jodi Benson, who’s voiced the red-headed mermaid in every one of her appearances across Disney media since 1989. While speaking about Bailey playing the role in the remake at Florida Supercon this weekend, Benson said that it’s the story and the spirit of the character that matters most, not race or other skin deep differences.
“The most important thing is to tell the story. And we have, as a family, we have raised our children, and for ourselves, that we don’t see anything that’s different on the outside. I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart, and their spirit, is what really counts. And the outside package — cause let’s face it, I’m really, really old — and so when I’m singing ‘Part of Your World,’ if you were to judge me on the way that I look on the outside, it might change the way that you interpret the song. But if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel.”
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The voice actress went on to emphasize her belief that story is everything and that she trusts Disney to get to the heart of the original and make a new film that fans can fall in love with.
“We need to be storytellers. And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story… And that’s what we want to do, we want to make a connection to the audience. So I know for Disney that they have the heart of storytelling, that’s really what they’re trying to do. They want to communicate with all of us in the audience so that we can fall in love with the film again.”
Bailey has previously been championed by her namesake, Halle Berry, who the internet initially mistakenly – and hilariously – thought had been cast as Ariel. Zendaya, who was previously rumored to be in with a shot of the lead herself, has also congratulated Bailey on winning the role.
In addition to the aforementioned actress, The Little Mermaid will star the voices of Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Awkwafina as a gender-flipped Scuttle and likely Melissa McCarthy as well, who’s in talks to play Ursula. No release date has been assigned to it as yet, but once we hear more, we’ll let you know.