Stop Making Me Defend Disney!

Disney has a tough job, trying to maintain its roles as a great middle class cultural icon and celebrator of Americana in the midst of social upheaval and culture wars. It couldn’t be doing a lousier, lazier, more destructive job of it, either, but that is, as they say, neither here nor there. The issue of the day is whether Disney deserves to be pilloried for its new teaser trailer for the live-action version of its animated classic “The Little Mermaid.”

It does not.

Conservative media is now resolutely anti-House of Mouse, so it is actively gloating over the detected (but inconclusive) negative reaction to the first look at the film scheduled to hit theaters in May of 2003. Ed Driscoll at Instapundit writes, “Disney in particular absolutely loves …to both gin-up hype, and wave away large scale fan hatred of their latest reboot.” But since fans haven’t seen the film yet, since it hasn’t been finished, “large scale hatred’ is an unwarranted assumption. At The Daily Wire, it is implied that there are widespread objections to the red-headed Ariel of the 1989 animated film being played by Halle Bailey, an African-American, and that fans of the original film who don’t like the color change are being called “racists” by the Woke and wonderful.


Allow me to retort…

1. Fans of originals are always prone to be annoyed when the characters are cast differently from how the fans have seen them in their minds. I really liked the first Tom Cruise “Jack Reacher” film, but many of the Reacher books’ hardcore fans hated the idea of the diminutive actor playing the giant, muscle-bound hero of the Lee Child novels. I understand. I usually have that problem with real life characters, like when Tom Selleck, of all people, played Dwight Eisenhower. If you’ve grown up thinking of Ariel as a white redhead, of course its jarring to see her portrayed as a different color fish-woman. It’s not racist.

2. Nonetheless, the argument that Ariel is “white” (whitefish?) is ridiculous. She’s not even human; she’s a mermaid. She could be green, or scaly. Of all fictional characters to be picky about skin colors, the Little Mermaid has to be one of the silliest.

3. Is Disney doing its latest woke pandering with this non-traditional casting? Oh, sure, of course it is. As always, however, the only thing that counts is whether the casting, the concept and the film itself “work.” I admit to being a great admirer of the animated “The Little Mermaid,” and also to finding the flagrant exploitation by Disney of such properties both greedy and lazy. First “The Lion King” is an animated feature, then it’s a Broadway musical, then it’s a live action version, with the same journey being followed with “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and now “The Little Mermaid” (I assume a live-action “Frozen” is on the way). How about some new ideas? I don’t care that the blue genie in “Aladdin” was played by Will Smith (at least he didn’t slap Aladdin), any more than I thought having Brandi play “Cinderella” hurt the musical one bit.

The controversy does point up just how incoherent the whole “diversity, equity, inclusion” fad is when it involves casting, and what a miserable job Hollywood and Broadway have done explaining what the considerations are, if indeed they can be explained. But casting a talented black singer/actress as Ariel the Mermaid? Nobody should be complaining.

Unless, of course, it doesn’t work.

19 thoughts on “Stop Making Me Defend Disney!

  1. Disagreeing here.

    The Little Mermaid follows a slew of Live-Action/CGI re-makes of its works.

    The first, I believe, was The Jungle Book, which you neglected to mention. I thought that one was very well done, but it seemed to establish rule, for lack of a better word. These CGI re-makes appear to be (I have only watched one of them) an attempt to faithfully re-produce the original work. At least, that is what I have gathered from the shots I have seen of some of the other works you mention

    If that is the case, the casting of Ariel fails that measure.

    This is a different matter than, say, casting Will Smith as the genie in Aladdin, as they turned him BLUE, just like in the original cartoon.

    Had they made Will Smith GREEN (like the jealousy he feels for Jada) or RED (like the rage he felt toward Chris Rock), you might have heard the same complaints, even though, like Mermaids, genies could be whatever color you want them to be.

    But, Disney made the genie BLUE, and it did it for several reasons. Those reasons likely include: 1) faithfulness to the original; and 2) audience expectation.

    And, they probably had reasons for casting Halle Bailey, reasons that include: 1) she is talented; 2) she is black; and 3) Disney wants to demonstrate its progressive bona fides.

    To some extent, you are right: the real test is whether it works. I just don’t like being pandered to by the self-righteous.

    I probably won’t see it, but not because I am racist. I just am not interested. I was never a big fan of the animated version (The Lion King was the one that first caught my attention –and I have not even watched the re-make of THAT), and these re-makes seem, for lack of a better word, derivative.

    You should check out The Jungle Book, though, if you haven’t already.


    • For better or worse, I gave “The Jungle Book” a pass because the original was so long ago, in the post Walt’s death wandering in the wilderness stage for Disney animation (1967) so I don’t think of it in the “here’s an animated hit we can recycle” category. But of course you’re right.

      Don’t you think genies and mermaids are in the same general non-human category where race is irrelevant? I know Will was blue, but the original genie was all Robin Williams, and his color was secondary. Changing from Robin Williams to ANYONE else was a much bigger change than the racial issue, and despite the general quality of that remake, a fatal one in my view.

      (The sequel to Mary Poppins really pissed me off. Not a single good or memorable song in the whole thing, just lazy knock-offs. Lin-Manuel was phoning it in that time.)

      • Yes, genies and mermaids can pretty much be whatever you want.

        My point was simply that, if faithfulness to the original was a goal (as it appears to have been), this is a deliberate deviation from that.

        And, I was going to contrast Williams and Smith. Williams cannot be duplicated, but Smith seems like he would make a good fit. Kevin Hart might work too, as far as energy goes, but just has the wrong voice. Albert Brooks could probably match either of them for the ability to improvise, but probably lacks the energy for the role.


        • Yeah, I was trying to think of performers who could have gotten away with stepping into Williams’ shoes. Jonathan Winters, of course. Martin Short. Jim Carrey definitely. Going back farther, Danny Kaye and Jerry Lewis. Red Skelton. Sid Caesar. I think Smith was picked more to be “diverse” than because of his skill set: he’s never been an improv guy. Wayne Brady is black and a gifted improv comic, but not a big enough name.

          • Jim Carrey would have been good, and closer in line to Williams’ style.

            I don’t necessarily care for Smith, but he does have the bravado to spout off.

            Maybe I should watch the final product, out of curiosity, if nothing else.


      • “Lin-Manuel was phoning it in that time.”

        What if – what if – Lin-Manuel isn’t that good of a musical writer?

        I know… gasp.

        What if – Hamilton was really just a flash in the pan? (Hamilton – which I still can’t figure out how it’s supposed to be good – but only popular because it was so “bold” to portray the founders with minority casting – wooooooo – such bravery! such groundbreakingnessness!!! Though in fairness I was already half asleep before the 2nd song was over ((after a full night’s sleep even!)) and never made it through the whole thing so I can’t even be complete in an evaluation)

        I think that’s a very real possibility.

        • Like – I muscled through the recent Les Miserable redo with the aid of much wine. I already could tell it was going to be awful by the end of the first song and scene. By the end of that slog-fest which makes the recent Russian collapse in Kharkiv look like ballet, I promised myself, when it comes to musicals – I can’t judge one by it’s cover – but I can have a *very very* clear picture by the end of the first song. So I still trust my judgment on Hamilton.

  2. Ariel being black is no more racist than the Orcs in LOtR movies being dark. Yet we have people claiming both are racist.


  3. I have noticed that, once the few overt racists throw an overtly racist fit about a person of color being cast in a role, it serves to short-circuit all other criticism about that production’s casting, indeed about that production in general. Legitimate criticism of casting or performances can be tarred by association with the racists, other criticisms on the grounds of story, pacing, or anything else can simply be ignored by allowing the racism to suck all the oxygen out of the room. All the good, liberal critics who want to continue to be employable, and continue getting invited to the best parties, are obliged to come to the production’s defense and sing its praises. All its flaws must be set aside because otherwise, the racists win.

  4. While there is no doubt a tiny percentage of viewers who are actually angry that Disney, Netflix and others are changing traditionally white characters to non-white characters – it would seem that for the vast majority of people complaining about the reboots – that in reality – the big movie makers are really writing just really crappy modern versions of the story and the major movie makers are using the tiny percentage of racists to pretend like that’s what everyone is actually complaining about.

    No – if 95% of the people are bored, uninspired, or generally let down because of dullard and incompetent writing, the problem is in fact *not* because you changed the race of the main character.

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