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New ‘Little Mermaid’ overtakes Disney classics in big box office surprise

The new version of The Little Mermaid, which was released over Memorial Day weekend, has proved to be a huge success, surpassing a number of Disney classics in box office earnings.

Starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, the live-action remake of the 1989 animated classic has grossed a colossal $569 million worldwide since its release. More than $298 million of that total has come from audiences in the U.S. and Canada.

The impressive tally sees the fantasy musical wedged in sixth place of top-earning movies in the domestic market, one spot ahead of Avatar: The Way of Water with $283 million from North American earnings and a single placing behind box office juggernaut, Oppenheimer, which has racked up $322 million.

By comparison, the original animated version of The Little Mermaid, which features the voice of Jodi Benson as Ariel, grossed over $211 million internationally, with $111 million of that total coming from audiences in the U.S. and Canada.

Of course, with the Oscar-winning animated version having been released some 34 years ago, inflation adjustments and budgets have to be taken into account. The 1989 movie was made with a budget of $40 million, while the 2023 version had a $250 million price tag. With more money comes bigger budgets for promotion.

When compared with other Disney classics, the newer version of The Little Mermaid, which earned more than $95 million on its opening weekend, stands head and shoulders above a decidedly lucrative pack.

The animated version of Aladdin, which was released in 1992 and features late comedians Robin Williams and Gilbert Gottfried among its voice actors, has grossed $504 million at the global box office in the three decades since it was released.

Enduring animated favorite Beauty and the Beast, which debuted in 1991, has grossed just under $425 million globally on a budget of $25 million.

Pocahontas, which is one of the few classic Disney animations not to have been given a live-action remake, has earned $346 million in the years since it was released in 1995. Featuring the voices of such stars as Mel Gibson and Christian Bale, the movie was made on a budget of $55 million.

Like the newer incarnation of The Little Mermaid, remakes of the classics have outperformed the original versions.

A 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin, starring Mena Massoud in the titular role and Will Smith as Genie, has edged past the $1 billion mark since its release. The live-action 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast, which stars Emma Watson, has pulled in $1.2 billion globally on a budget of $160 million.

Before and after the release of The Little Mermaid, a wave of critics across social media spoke out against the movie, with many taking aim at Bailey’s casting as Ariel because she is Black.

The hashtag #NotMyAriel trended in 2019 after Bailey’s casting was announced. The social media furor was not dissimilar to the conversation surrounding the diverse casting of House of the Dragon and Rings of Power.

There was also a wave of positive social media posts up to and following the release of The Little Mermaid. Daryl Hannah, who played mermaid Madison in the 1984 classic romantic comedy Splash with Tom Hanks, was among those who spoke out in support of Bailey’s casting.

When Bailey was cast in the role back in 2019, the movie’s director, Rob Marshall, said that after an extensive search, it was “abundantly clear” that the singer and screen star was the perfect choice.

Discussing the role in an interview with Variety, published in August 2022, Bailey said: “I want the little girl in me and the little girls just like me who are watching to know that they’re special, and that they should be a princess in every single way.

“There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be. That reassurance was something that I needed.”

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