Disney’s new live-action The Little Mermaid, which hits theaters in May, runs two hours and 15 minutes long — almost an hour longer than the original. While some Disney remakes are simply shot-for-shot do-overs of the animated films, others take more creative liberties and use the original movies as a springboard more than anything. It’s a sliding scale of The Lion King (2019), which was unflinchingly faithful save for a 20-minute sequence involving a dung beetle pushing a ball of poop, to Mulan (2020) which only really kept the main character’s name and little else.
For the most part, the trailers for The Little Mermaid seem like it falls closer to The Lion King end of the spectrum, with shots highlighting the original movie’s most iconic moments. But there is that extra hour to account for. What in the deep blue sea could that extra hour entail?
As Polygon’s resident Disney expert (and direct-to-home video connoisseur), I am here to theorize about what could possibly fill this time.
Ariel’s sisters look for her — and do more in general
The Little Mermaid has six other female characters, all with established relationships with one another, who barely get any screen time in the original. Giving them something to do — as well as turning them into decent and concerned sisters — would be the most obvious way to fill the time. In the original Hans Christian Andersen story, where the mermaids all get one chance to leave home and venture toward the surface, they all get a little moment of what they did during that time. Additionally, the direct-to-home video prequel, Ariel’s Beginning, gave all the sisters more personality and fleshed out their dynamics a smidge more.
Note, Ariel’s sisters in this new movie are not exact one-to-one versions of the animated counterparts. The original sisters are named Attina, Alana, Adella, Arista, Aquata, and Andrina, but the new ones are Perla (played by Lorena Andrea), Karina (Kajsa Mohammar), Caspia (Nathalie Sorrell), Mala (Karolina Conchet), Tamika (Sienna King), and Indira (Simone Ashley).
More about Ariel’s dead mom
In Ariel’s Beginning, we see the tragic moment where Ariel’s mother Athena dies in a pirate ship run-in. Integrating this scene into the beginning of the movie is a very live-action Disney movie thing to do (see Cruella’s mom being murdered by dalmatians). Of course, if the answer to “does Daddy Triton have a sprawling family of multiracial daughters because he has had a lot of different mer-baby mommas?” is yes, then we could have a whole montage of dead Disney moms.
Ursula and Triton’s fraught backstory
We don’t get much of sea witch Ursula’s story in the original, other than that she just loves to screw people over for the lolz. However, she does mention she once lived in Atlantica and knew Triton. In the Broadway musical, she is actually King Triton’s sister who was bequeathed equal shares of the kingdom with him when their father died. However, she was greedy and Triton banished her. This could be canon in the new movie, or we could see more of Ursula’s time in court and how she turned to the dark side.
Or, we could see her direct-to-home video sister Morgana! Who knows!
The Footloose plot of Ariel’s Beginning
The plot of the direct-to-video Little Mermaid prequel involves Daddy Triton banning all music from the undersea kingdom because he is sad his wife died. So Ariel and her rebellious sisters sneak into clubs to play music and dance. That is an awful lot of backstory to pack into the movie (and also makes less and less sense the more you thinking about it considering how much everyone diagenetically sings in Atlantica), but hey! It’s just a little over an hour long in direct-to-home-video form so the remake team could have easily squished it in the new movie.
Flounder’s badass past
In the prequel, Flounder was a rebel who partied all night and had no regard for the law — something that really undermines his cowardly personality in the actual movie! But Flounder contains multitudes and we could really dive into the psyche of Ariel’s best fishy friend.
This is basically confirmed — you don’t invite Lin-Manuel Miranda to do your music if you don’t want new music! Alan Menken, the composer behind the original and also the live-action, already spoke with Vanity Fair about some of the new songs coming to the movie. They include an Eric solo, a new Ariel song, and also a Scuttle song because everyone was clamoring for that. Why not give the seagull a song? Unfortunately for Daddy Triton fans out there, his song did not make it, but may be in a Disney Plus bonus scene one day.
Sebastian’s tragic backstory, told in the form of a rap
He is played by Daveed Diggs after all, and his Hamilton castmate is in charge of the new music. This might not be a new song entirely, but I would not put it past them to include a rap part in “Under the Sea” for Sebastian to dig in about the time he was almost a crab cake.
Eric gets a personality
Lord knows he needs one. The boy is pretty and he loves his dog, but what else does he want? What are his dreams? Will they make a tortured sole survivor of a shipwreck or lean into that golden retriever himbo energy? He is a beautiful blank canvas that the movie can finally paint on.
More details about Eric’s kingdom
Eric’s mom is an actual character in the new live-action version. Her name is Queen Selina and she’s played by Noma Dumezweni. Where is his dad? Where is this kingdom anyway? Guess we may or may not find out.
Ariel’s Designated Disney Live-Action STEM Hobby
Yes, she is an aspiring anthropologist interested in human culture, but is that really cool and daring enough for a Disney live-action heroine? After all, bookish Belle had to be an inventor for her live-action movie! Disney, like many universities and school programs, apparently decided that the humanities are not worth funding. Maybe Ariel is also really passionate about ecological welfare and sustainable energy by way of whosits and whatsits. We will find out.
Eric’s butler briefly mentions his husband
This guy will not actually appear until the end credit sequence, where he hugs Grimsby in an easily-edited-out-for-the-international-release split second. His name will also be very gender neutral, so when Grimsby does talk about him, a certain subsect of parents don’t have to explain anything to their children.
A 20-minute undersea tour that won’t be a fraction as cool as Avatar: The Way of Water
This isn’t so much a dig at how dark and grubby The Little Mermaid’s underwater scenes look and more so about how nothing underwater will ever look as cool as Avatar: The Way of Water.
The Les Poissons chef is actually the B-villain and a secret mermaid hunter
He partners up with Ursula halfway through the movie and she promises to make him king or something if he kills Ariel. While Ariel battles Ursula, Eric will get a less cool fight with the Les Poissons chef.
Exploring the double standard about why it’s OK that Scuttle eats fish but the shark is a bad guy for just wanting some lunch
I just have questions!