How the New ‘Little Mermaid’ Goes Back ‘Under the Sea’

The director Rob Marshall discusses his take on the musical number featuring Daveed Diggs as Sebastian and Halle Bailey as Ariel.

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‘The Little Mermaid’ | Anatomy of a Scene

Rob Marshall narrates the “Under the Sea” sequence from his film, featuring Halle Bailey and Daveed Diggs.

Hi, I’m Rob Marshall, and I’m the director of ‘The Little Mermaid.’ So this is about two minutes into the musical number ‘Under the Sea,’ which was the most challenging musical number I’ve ever created because you have one live actor — I mean, there she is Ariel, played by Halle Bailey. And introducing dance into a sequence is so complicated because it has to feel seamless. It has to feel organic. It can’t feel applied. So right about here, as the turtles start to move, then you see, O.K., there’s a little bit of dance starting to happen. The tricky part about this was because I only had one live actor, I needed some dancers or something to work from. And I took a page out of Walt Disney’s playbook, and I worked with the Alvin Ailey Company. He had worked with the Ballet Russe Company when he created ‘Fantasia.’ And I thought that was such a brilliant idea. So I worked with the Alvin Ailey Company, brought them to London so we could create all these sea creature moves on something so our artists, our CGI artists, could actually use them as a template, which was incredible. And then we found all these sea creatures that actually lent themselves to dance naturally. These are all real sea creatures. So right there you have mimic octopus and flatworms. Here we’re moving into a bioluminescent world. We had the Alvin Ailey Company using umbrellas and, literally, ribbons, streamers hanging from them so that they could literally create this idea of jellyfish. But all of this, every moment of this was choreographed. And it was so complicated because everything was done on counts. It wasn’t sort of just like, well, let’s just let them do whatever they want. Every moment of it was strategically choreographed by myself, John DeLuca, and our choreographers. [‘UNDER THE SEA’]: — music to me. Music is to me — There’s one moment actually coming up here right here — [‘UNDER THE SEA’]: — hot crustacean band — — that, literally, the CGI artist said it’s the most creatures they’ve ever had ever onscreen. But it was really about protecting and celebrating this beautiful number. Here’s a nautilus shell that we tried to create a la Busby Berkeley. But I really just wanted to make sure that we were doing justice to this incredible number but also bringing a photoreal, exciting world to life.

By Mekado Murphy

In “Anatomy of a Scene,” we ask directors to reveal the secrets that go into making key scenes in their movies. See new episodes in the series on Fridays. You can also watch our collection of more than 150 videos on YouTube and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

When the director Rob Marshall took a journey “down where it’s wetter,” he decided to bring a dance company with him.

The beloved musical number “Under the Sea” has received a makeover in the new version of “The Little Mermaid,” this time featuring one live performer (Halle Bailey as Ariel) and a host of exotic computer-generated dancing sea creatures flanking her.

Narrating the scene, Marshall called it “the most challenging musical sequence I’ve ever created.” He had to figure out how to introduce dance into the scene and make it “feel organic.”

To pull it off, he “took a page out of Walt Disney’s playbook.” Disney worked with the Ballets Russes to bring animated sequences to life in “Fantasia.” And here, Marshall worked with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, bringing its members to London to execute the choreography of the scene. Then, CG animators used the company’s dance as a template to animate the movement of the sea creatures.

Read the “Little Mermaid” review.

Read an interview with Halle Bailey.

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Mekado Murphy is the assistant film editor. He joined The Times in 2006. @mekadomurphy

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