“MerPeople” to “The Little Mermaid”: Mermaids in Film, TV, and Media

June 13, 2023

Mermaids have long since fascinated storytellers, with the first mermaid appearing on film in 1904. This film, simply called The Mermaid, was just four minutes long and featured an unnamed actress. Since then, mermaids and merpeople have appeared in hit films and television shows, including the various Peter Pan films, Splash (1984),  Mermaids (1990), Aquamarine (2006), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2015), Aquaman (2018), and even the quirky 2019 drama The Lighthouse.  Mermaids have also appeared on television shows such as Fantasy Island (1997), H2O: Just Add Water (2006), Baywatch (1989), and Charmed (1998). Mermaids and merpeople are also the focus of many comic books, graphic novels, and video games. 

Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid (2023). Image via Digital Spy

Of course, the most famous depiction of mermaids is the 1989 Disney film The Little Mermaid, a family-friendly version of the Hans Christian Andersen classic. In 2023, a live-action remake starring Hailey Bailey was released, to the delight of mermaid enthusiasts everywhere.

The Little Mermaid (2023): Learning The Skills to Bring Fantasy Characters to Life

Bringing a dynamic character like Ariel to life in a realistic way is no easy feat. For filmmakers, screenwriters, and producers, a story such as The Little Mermaid requires bringing audiences into a magical, yet convincing world. Learning how to create fantasy worlds and establish strong and charismatic characters is crucial for aspiring storytellers, and can make a huge impact on their growth as visual artists.

The importance of these skills is why many of NYFA’s Screenwriting programs have students complete a range of projects that teach them the essentials of world-building and character development in film. With this experience, filmmakers can create their own dynamic stories, whether it be about a famous mermaid or a character of their own.

Remaking and Reinventing a Classic

The filmmakers behind the 2023 version of The Little Mermaid did an exceptional job at casting and creating a live-action version of Ariel. Alongside the star-studded cast and captivating music, The Little Mermaid truly highlighted the beauty behind a mythical creature many of us grew up to know and love. When it comes to mermaids, Ariel is usually the first character that comes to mind. We think of her beautiful red hair and how she gave her voice to the Sea Witch so she could be a part of the human world. Halle Bailey did a remarkable job of embracing such a beloved character and making audiences absolutely fall in love with Ariel once again.

Many may see this story as your regular “Happily Ever After” story. However, it is so much more. We see more of Ariel’s true reason for wanting more for herself captivated in the new Rob Marshall live-action. One thing about Ariel that always enamored young girls was her determination to go after what she wanted despite what anyone had to say. She did end up finding love along her journey, yet it was her pure curiosity and need for something more that inspired her decision.

The new take on such a beloved character made this new live-action a true masterpiece! From new songs composed by Alan Menken & Lin-Manuel Miranda to revamped classics, we are taken through Ariel’s journey with subtle nods to the original classic written by Hans Christian Andersen. 

The Little Mermaid (2023) also brings a familiar voice to the screen. NYFA Musical Theatre alum Audre Louise Beauséjour voices Ariel in the French version of ⁣the film. Ariel, Halle, and Audre all emanate the true essence of standing in your power and not allowing the misunderstanding of others to dictate your own dreams.  

Diving Into Reality With MerPeople on Netflix (2023)

We also see this drive and determination within the individuals we meet in the Netflix docuseries MerPeople. MerPeople, a four-part documentary series on Netflix, provides insight into mermaid culture like never before. This series shows a behind-the-scenes look at aspiring professional mermaids and merpeople, diving into the history and the billion-dollar industry of mermaids.

Following the stories of everyone from Hannah Fraser, one of the first professional mermaids, to aspiring mermaids, including Brittany Sparkles, The Blixunami, as well as a number of other mermaid influencers, entertainers, and entrepreneurs. 

While the world of professional mermaiding may seem like a dream, the docuseries shows a competitive world where performers struggle to make a living from their art. Relying on events such as birthday parties, renaissance festivals, and appearances at aquariums and casinos, MerPeople must be endlessly creative, innovative, and charismatic. Additionally, like any other aspiring performer, MerPeople must find ways to promote themselves and build a following through Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and more. 

A shot from MerPeople. Image via People.

Merpeople also depend on pageants and competitions, as shown in the series. They must develop and enhance their “mersonality” or merperson personality. This provides an opportunity for each individual to carve out their own unique approach. For some, this includes using materials recovered from the ocean to build their costumes, and for others, it can even involve the creation of their own original song. 

Blixunami is a non-binary mermaid. Image via Netflix.

MerPeople also has connections to NYFA, as NYFA Photography Instructor Andreanna Seymore served as an Executive Producer. Current NYFA Cinematography student and Photography alum Odinger Mitchell and Photography alums Aashish Chandratreya and Alexandra Schaefer also all worked on the series.

Bringing Stories to Life at NYFA

Many students use their experience at NYFA to learn how to tell their own magical and captivating stories. Whether it’s a documentary film, fictional television show, or graphic novel, the possibilities for telling an engaging story are endless! Learn more about NYFA and our programs by requesting more information today.