Acclaimed Director Passed On ‘The Little Mermaid’ After Studio Asked Too Many Questions

in Movies

Halle Bailey gazing upwards as Ariel in The Little Mermaid

Credit: Disney

Academy Award-winning director Sofia Coppola was once the director of a new live-action version of The Little Mermaid but dropped out after studio executives started asking frankly bizarre questions.

Ariel gasping in The Little Mermaid
Credit: Disney

There have been numerous film adaptations of the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, but none more famous than the animated Little Mermaid (1989), the movie widely credited with kickstarting the Disney Renaissance and saving the legendary company.

However, because the original fairy tale is in the public domain, anyone who wants to can make a version of The Little Mermaid provided it does not infringe on any original elements created by the notoriously litigious Walt Disney Company. Accordingly, in the mid-2010s, Universal Pictures and Working Title decided they wanted in on the mermaid game.

Related: Disney Censors ‘Aladdin,’ ‘Bluey,’ ‘The Little Mermaid,’ and More for “Woke” Audiences

It seems that Universal Pictures and Working Title were determined to make their version very different from the Disney version. Caroline Thompson, best known for writing the Tim Burton film Edward Scissorhands (1990) and the story for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), was hired to write the script, and Sofia Coppola was attached as director.

Jack and Sally in 'The Nightmare before Christmas'
Credit: Disney

At the time, Sofia Coppola was best known for her moody drama films like The Virgin Suicides (1999), Lost in Translation (2003), and Marie Antoinette (2006), as well as being a scion of the illustrious Coppola film family, which includes her father Francis, her aunt Talia Shire, and her cousins Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman.

Coppola had won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Lost in Translation, a benchmark film in the careers of both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, and was only the third woman ever to be nominated for Best Director.

Scarlett Johansson resting her head on Bill Murray's shoulder in Lost in Translation
Credit: American Zoetrope

In other words, Sofia Coppola was quite the catch for a new version of The Little Mermaid. However, the Bling Ring (2013) director recently revealed that she stepped away from the film project because studio executives wanted her to figure out how to make the story appealing to adult men.

Sofia Coppola told Rolling Stone that she reached something of a breaking point with The Little Mermaid, saying, “I was in a boardroom and some development guy said, ‘What’s gonna get the 35-year-old man in the audience?’ And I just didn’t know what to say,” Coppola said. “I just was not in my element. I feel like I was naive, and then I felt a lot like the character in the story, trying to do something out of my element, and it was a funny parallel of the story for me.”

Related: Awkwafina Asked “Are You Sure?” About Her New Song in ‘The Little Mermaid’

Coppola exited the project soon after, though some test footage had apparently been shot. It is unlikely to ever see the light of day but makes you wonder how the director might have accomplished her goal of shooting an entire movie underwater.

Halle Bailey playing Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid' (2023)
Credit: Disney

More recently, Disney finally got around to a live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey, Javier Bardem, and Melissa McCarthy. The film was a box-office disappointment, which just makes it that much sadder that Coppola’s version never got made.

What might Sofia Coppola’s Little Mermaid have been like? Speculate how it could have been part of your world in the comments below!

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