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This Small Change in ‘The Little Mermaid’ Is Actually Pretty Significant

Halle Bailey in the little mermaid

If you’ve already had a chance to see the new live-action remake of Disney’s beloved classic The Little Mermaid—which many are calling one of Disney’s best live-action remakes yet—you’ll have noticed that director Rob Marshall made a series of changes to the story and lore that we all know from the 1989 animated movie.

Some of these changes include the different appearances and roles that Ariel’s six older sisters have within their father King Triton’s underwater kingdom, for example; or that Ariel’s pact with Ursula isn’t finalized by her signing a contract, but instead by ripping one single bloody scale from her tail. And speaking of Ursula, the way she deals with those who couldn’t uphold their end of the bargain with the sea witch is way more brutal than it was in the animated version—which already gave me nightmares as a child.

Another change that might not be immediately as noticeable as others is also one that actually really impacts our main characters: their age. Both Ariel and Eric’s ages were pretty well-defined in the original animated version of The Little Mermaid, and while it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, this remake does make a slight tweak.

So how old is Halle Bailey’s Ariel?

Ariel is famously 16 years old in the animated version of The Little Mermaid, a year older than the titular mermaid in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, the literary fairytale on which both Disney versions are based. 

In Andersen’s story, the little mermaid is 15 years old—the age at which members of the underwater kingdom are permitted to go to the surface of the sea. It’s during her first time above water that the little mermaid sees the human prince and falls in love with him. It’s actually a detail that Marshall’s The Little Mermaid upholds, since “his” Ariel has clearly never been to the surface before.

The choice to make Ariel a 16-year-old in the animated version is clearly a winner. Impulsive and headstrong, she’s the poster child of teenage experience, misunderstood by her father and capable of seeing the world differently than he does.

Ariel looking at a book in the animated 'The Little Mermaid'
“I’m 16 years old! I’m not a child anymore!” (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Obviously, even though Halle Bailey herself is in her early 20s, her version of Ariel couldn’t be much older than her animated counterpart. In fact, all of Sebastian’s original lines about how teenagers need to be controlled at all times have been kept for Daveed Diggs’ version of King Triton’s crustacean majordomo—leading us to believe that Ariel is still a teenager in the live-action version.

A production note by Disney, reported by Yahoo!, describes Ariel as a “spirited 18-year-old.” It actually makes perfect sense: 18 brings her closer to Bailey’s actual age, keeps that youthful rebellion believable, and also relatively lessens the potential “ick” of her very quick marriage to Eric.

Image of Halle Bailey as Ariel in a scene from 2023's 'The Little Mermaid.' Ariel is a Black mermaid with red hair wearing a purple seashell bra and has a green fish tail. She is smiling with one arm in the air as she leans on some coral where a red crab, Sebastian, is standing. They are "Under the Sea."
Halle Bailey’s Ariel is already of age in the remake of The Little Mermaid (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

And how old is Prince Eric?

Speaking of Eric, his age has also been raised slightly for the live-action remake. In the original animated movie, we know that he’s celebrating his 18th birthday the night he falls into the sea and gets rescued by Ariel—the statue in his likeness commissioned by Grimsby is specifically meant to mark such an important age. As we all know, Eric couldn’t be more delighted.

The context in this new The Little Mermaid is almost the same: Eric has been at sea for weeks, gathering goods and curiosities from the waters that surround his island, but he’s still celebrating his birthday the night a terrible storm hits his ship and he “meets” Ariel. The difference here is that the birthday in question is the prince’s 21st rather than his 18th, as Grimsby notes while encouraging Eric to act more regally and take his place in running the affairs of his mother’s domain. 

Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King as Ariel and Eric during the "Kiss the Girl" scene in the 2023 live-action remake of The Little Mermaid
The two main characters are slightly older in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid than their animated versions (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

This is a choice that once again brings the character slightly closer to the age of the actor who portrays him, Jonah Hauer-King, who is himself in his late 20s—and also helps in making the wedding that closes the story a bit more acceptable to modern audiences.

(featured image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

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Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.