It is impossible not to have seen the latest Disney casting news as Grown-ish alum, Halle Bailey, is cast as Ariel in the upcoming live-action retelling of The Little Mermaid with reponses on the internet ranging from overjoyed support to the downright outdated.
Disney's ongoing trend to recreate its beloved films in the live action format is at times controversial with some deeming it a simple cash-grab and whilst that greedy mouse knows audiences will flock to see these retellings, there is something much more sincere happening beneath the surface. Disney's animated films have been influencing childhoods since the 1930s - it's no surprise that change would come at some point and regardless of opinions to the contrary, this is both needed and positive.
Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs debuted in 1938, there have been only 3 Disney princesses of colour (Pocahontas, Jasmine and Tiana) and even then, it took until 2009 for Disney to debut Tiana as the first African-American princess in The Princess and the Frog. In 2019, it is about time that Disney got serious about representation.
Ariel is not only a ficitional character, but a fictional mermaid complete with fins and bright red hair. Why shouldn't Halle Bailey bring this beloved character to life? Her casting is yet another step for Disney in their slow progression of creating characters that reflect today's society. 1989's animated The Little Mermaid isn't going anywhere. Having a different version that allows a whole new generation of children to say, "she looks like me," can only be a positive thing.
Disney Princesses have maintained their prominence in the filmic cultural canon for decades. In times gone by, they may have been known for their beautiful dresses, twirling dances and perfect hair but it seems that too is changing. Rob Marshall, director of the live-action The Little Mermaid, spoke on Bailey's casting: "It was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance - plus a glorious singing voice - all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role."
The 21st-century live-action Disney Princess isn't held back by the limitations of her predecessors. To see such a focus on character and integrity is equally a progressive move by Disney.
The recent live-action retelling of Aladdin evidenced a similar development with Naomi Scott's Jasmine also receiving some much-needed updates. Even in her animated debut, Jasmine was defiant - going against the Sultan's wishes to marry an eligible Prince - but her narrative still revolved around finding love. Guy Ritchie's live-action Aladdin welcomed an additional sub-plot that saw Jasmine fight to break tradition and become Agrabah's first female sultan (accompanied by new girl-power anthem Speechless).
Disney's live-action films come thick and fast and at times, feel like they are rolling off the factory production line but such updates shouldn't be overlooked. Scott's Jasmine represents everything mainstream feminism stands for - the desire for equal rights. It might not be the central plot of Aladdin but for young people today to grow up with this mentality is a move by Disney to better society.
The live-action retellings of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast aren't to be disregarded. Both films stick closer to their source materials although not completely. Live action Cinderella and Belle are both given additional scenes in which they discuss classical literature taken one step further by Beauty and the Beast's Belle.
Bill Condon's live-action retelling incorporates a scene in which we see Belle teaching a young girl to read in a society that discourages women from being educated. Belle has long been considered the first feminist Disney Princess but to see this augmented is a further step in the right direction. Live action Belle doesn't simply inhabit feminist traits, she becomes an advocate for women's rights and much like live action Jasmine, she evidences the struggles women have overcome and the ones which they continue to face.
Disney is clearly conscious of the #metoo era. In the latest digital and Blu-ray release of Disney Pixar's Toy Story 2, a scene was edited out of the fake blooper reel that ran during the film's credits. The scene saw Stinky Pete (The Prospector) with a couple of Barbie dolls saying, "You know, I'm sure I could get you a part in Toy Story 3," whilst he suggestively stroked one of their hands.
In a post Harvey Weinstein scandal society, this casting-couch 'joke' is completely inappropriate. Disney's progressiveness does not seem to be restricted to its live action films. This scene won't be disappearing completely any time soon but its deletion in this new edition distances the company from such outdated views. This commitment to appropriate standards can only promote personal betterment in Disney's audiences.
Disney doesn't seem to be slowing down. We have Halle Bailey's turn as Ariel to look forward to in addition to 2020's live action Mulan which sees Chinese-American actress, Liu Yifei, play the title role. These changes are positive for everyone. As Disney's progressiveness continues to spread into its live action films, so it spreads within its viewers and surely, that can only be a good thing.
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