Monday, February 8, 2010

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Casting Coup: The Little Mermaid

We begin Casting Coup Month with an unusual challenge.

The Little Mermaid is credited with bringing Disney Magic back to theaters. Although there are a few recommendable films, the studio hadn't had a significant hit since The Rescuers in 1977. The Little Mermaid was a return to form in many ways. For one, the studio had all but abandoned musicals; with the success of Oliver & Company the year before, it was time to commit to the old standard. It was also fairy tale with a princess at the center, the first since Sleeping Beauty in 1959. The success of the film led to a Renaissance Period for the studio that lasted ten years.

It was not, of course, just a financial success. The Little Mermaid was (unless someone corrects me) the first animated feature to be nominated for the Best Picture Golden Globe -- for Musical or Comedy, of course. More importantly, it was the first of a long period of Disney-dominated music nominees at the Oscars. Alan Menken won his first of three consecutive Academy Awards for Original Score, and would be nominated once more in the same category. Its two nominated songs, written by Menken and Howard Ashman, were the first of fourteen Disney songs nominated in twenty years. The dreamy "Kiss the Girl" lost to show-stopper "Under the Sea" -- it's not quite a choice worthy of Sophie, but it's a tough one, surely.

Also a tough one, as pointed out by TomS, is casting an animated film. What does one do, just recast voice-over work? A worthy question, indeed.

Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron and Peter Jackson have changed the landscape of film forever. The blending of motion-capture performance, animation, and live-action performance is becoming increasingly seamless. The Little Mermaid would be one of those productions, one that, yes, would rely heavily on green screen effects and mo-cap technology -- but would never lose the heart at the center of the story. I mean, hopefully. The animals would be a mix of CG and Babe-style robots. The people would be live! Real! People!

And how would one make the people mermaids? The musical version actually helped me with this. See, to create the illusion of swimming through water on stage, the actors playing merpeople and undersea creatures perform on roller skates, with tails attached to their backs. Now, if Guillermo del Toro can make a satyr, I see no reason why we can't make a mermaid. Use green screen to do away with the legs and CG to add the tail, and we're home. And I know there's a difference between photography and motion picture, but this image reassured me that we are halfway there:

Al. Most. There.

And who would I deem worthy of filling these two-dimensional shoes?

Who is He: The chef of Prince Eric's household, he is always eager and ready to serve up fish, crabs, seafood in general. He tries to cook Sebastian, which results in a ca-razy fight/chase sequence.

Song: "Les Poissons"
Les poissons, les poissons
Hee hee hee, haw haw haw

With a cleaver I hack them in two

I pull out what's inside

And I serve it up fried
God, I love little fishes, don't you?

Originally played by:

Rene Auberonois (M*A*S*H, The Patriot)

My Choice: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Frida, An Education) and SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Frida) and Best Ensemble (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Chocolat, An Education)

Alfred Molina (Identity, Spider-Man 2)
He can sing well enough, as evidenced by appearances on stage in both Oklahoma! and Fiddler on the Roof. He can do a French accent. It's a fun cameo, one of the most memorable roles of the film. My sisters and I used to sing "Les Poissons" all the time. You know he would love to be part of the tradition.

Who is He: Prince Eric's majordomo, a loyal and caring subject who runs the day-to-day operations of the household. Prone to seasickness, Grimsby can be humorless at times.

Originally played by:

Ben Wright (The Sound of Music, The Jungle Book)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Babe), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (L.A. Confidential, The Green Mile)

James Cromwell (Spider-Man 3, W.)
I mean, look at that. Cromwell is one of our finest character actors, and would be a worthy addition to any cast.

Who are They: Eels under the bidding of the sea witch Ursula. In the Broadway version, there is some, shall we say, tension? A mo-cap/CGI performance.

Songs: "I Want the Good Times Back," "Sweet Child"
Sweet child
Poor child

So, tragic
So misunderstood

Dear child

Sad child

Life’s looking
Shall we say
Not good

Originally played by:

Paddi Edwards (Ghost Busters, Hercules)

My Choices:

Nathan Lee Graham (Zoolander, Hitch) as Flotsam, Graham Norton ("So Graham Norton", "The Graham Norton Effect")

Who is He: Ariel's best friend, a young fish that follows her on her adventures. One of them mo-cap/CGI things.

Songs: "She's in Love"
She acts like she don’t see me
She doesn’t even speak

She treats me like sashimi

Left over from last week
You see her late at night

Tossin’ in her ocean bed

Originally played by:

Jason Marin (Back to the Future, Rock-a-Doodle)

My Choice:

Lurie Poston (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Step Brothers)
An old picture, but that doesn't stop the fact that he's a talented young star. It's not just his amazing rendition of "Sweet Child o' Mine" in Step Brothers; he also performed in the original Broadway cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Who is He: A seagull, Ariel's connection with the world above. He teaches her about people stuff: for instance, the dingelhopper that people comb their hair with. Well-intentioned, but let's face it, the guy knows nothing! Nothing at all! One of those CGI/practical/robot animal (what are those called?) performances.

Songs: "Human Stuff," "Positoovity"
It gives me the zam
And the zow

And the yaddle laddle laddl
That’s why I walk

With a wiggle in my waddle

Cause once you’ve heard that word
There aint nothing you can do

So let that positoovity

Work for you

Originally played by:

Buddy Hackett (The Music Man, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World)

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Ghost World), Indie Spirit Award Winner for Best Supporting Male (Reservoir Dogs, Ghost World)

Steve Buscemi (Armageddon, The Messenger)
Fast-talking character actor who excels at these roles. I mean, I don't know if he can sing, but let's just take a risk on it, eh?

Who is He: Court composer and conductor of the Atlantica orchestra. Music is his life; he also is put in charge of Ariel. Though at times a little wimpy, he does take her side many times, and sings the best numbers.

Songs: "Under the Sea," "Kiss the Girl"
There you see her
Sitting there across the way.

She don't got a lot to say
But there's something about her.
And you don't know why
But you're dying to try.
You wanna kiss the girl

Originally played by:

Samuel E. Wright ("The Little Mermaid", The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea)

My Choice:

Adrian Lester (Primary Colors, Love's Labour's Lost)
The man can sing, do accents, and has wicked comic timing. We wouldn't be able to witness his magnificent hoofing skills, but he's got the rest in spades.

Who is He: The King of Atlantica, Ariel's father. He can be a bit of a grumpy-shrimp from time to time, but the widowed merman is still a loving father. Triton may be strict and overprotective, but at least he cares.

Songs: "The World Above - Reprise," "If Only"
I’m still the king here – my word is law!
This filth you bring here is the final straw

And push, my daughter, has come to shove!

I’ll make you obey
‘Til you do as I say
I don’t care, come what may
But I’ll keep you away

From that cruel, harsh, cold, vile world above!

Originally played by:

Kenneth Mars (The Producers, Young Frankenstein)

My Choice:

Jesse L. Martin (Rent, "Law & Order")
A deep, commanding voice and a still-fit build are great assets to portraying Triton. Martin's also a great singer, as we have seen in Rent.

Who is He: The prince whom Ariel falls for, at first sight. He, in turn, falls in love with her voice, then the mute her when she is transformed into a human. Look at 'im.

Songs: "Fathoms Below," "Her Voice," "One Step Closer," "If Only," "Finale"
Somewhere there’s a girl
Who’s like the shimmer of the wind upon the water

Somewhere there’s a girl
Who’s like the glimmer of the sunlight on the sea
Somewhere there’s a girl

Who’s like a swell of endless music

Somewhere she is singing
And her song is meant for me

Originally played by:

Christopher Daniel Barnes (The Brady Bunch Movie, the episode "Feelings" of "The Golden Girls", where Dorothy refuses to pass a star football player, and he plays the football player)

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Brokeback Mountain), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Male Lead (Donnie Darko), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor and Best Ensemble (Brokeback Mountain)

Jake Gyllenhaal (October Sky, Zodiac)
Dreamy and a good singer, doesn't Jake look like a prince? He could bring the charm, the humor, the lovestruckity.

Who is She: Triton's sister, a sea witch who ruled half the sea until her black magic led to her banishment. Ursula uses Ariel's longing to experience the world above as a way to get revenge on her powerful brother. She is fabulous.

Songs: "I Want the Good Times Back," "Poor Unfortunate Souls"
Poor Unfortunate Souls,
In pain, in need
This one longing to be thinner

That one wants to get the girl

And do I help them?

Yes indeed!

Originally played by:

Pat Carroll (Songcatcher, Freedom Writers)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Chicago), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Supporting Female (Set It Off), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Chicago)

Queen Latifah (Hairspray, The Perfect Holiday)
Not only could she bring the brassy bad-assery of "Poor Unfortunate Souls", but she would have a damn good time with "I Want the Good Times Back". She can be baaad, and you'd still love her. And I love Ursula.

Who is She: The little mermaid, a girl with a beautiful voice who tires of living under the sea. She wants to go above the surface, live among the humans. And when she sees that cutie-pie Eric, she knows she's got to. Even at the cost of her voice.

Songs: "The World Above", "Part of Your World", "Poor Unfortunate Souls", "Beyond My Wildest Dreams", "If Only", "Finale"
When's it my turn?
Wouldn't I love
Love to explore that shore up above
Out of the sea
Wish I could be
Part of that world

Originally played by:

Jodi Benson (Flubber, Enchanted)

My Choice:

Leighton Meester ("Gossip Girl", Date Night)
She can sing, she can act, and she's beautiful. And I think it would be nice to see her play a virginal character exploring a new sexuality.

Anyone you would cast instead? Are there some here that you find repellent? Or is this just a wicked awesome cast list? Sound off!


Unknown said...

Grumpy Shrimp! Her Majesty! JAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!

There aren't words strong enough for how wonderful I feel about this Casting Coup. You're welcome for Leighton.

Alex Constantin said...

I am not feeling Leighton... ufff... all these newcomers look/feel so plastic.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I find Leighton to be a refreshingly feisty young actress, who always manages to color the bitchiness with actual pathos. But as everyone says, there's no accounting for taste. ;)

TomS said...

Interesting idea....I still can't warm to the idea of replacing beloved animated characters with human loses some magic in the translation.
Ah well..
In the spirit of the moment, why not try something really funny and unusual....for Ursula...John Travolta (a la "Hairspray)!
Looking forward to the rest of the movies, although I am terrified of how we'll change "Cabaret"...a perfect film....

Nigel Maruva Chikukwa said...

Interesting cast. I'm also not warming up to Leighton. I need to see something outside "Gossip Girl."

Anyway, are you going to be baiting Kristern Chenowith to lead "Caberet?"

She'd bring fresh energy to the role.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Nigel: We shall see. Allow me my little surprises...

Andrew K. said...

LOVELY!!!!! I'm late to the game but loving the choices, especially the main ones. Although I love Sherie Rene Scott's I want the Good Times back Queen Latifah would kill this, and Jesse L. Martin has the chops to pull off speaking and singing Triton. And I like Leighton Meester. Much. So no complaints. Loving this series.