I was in the cinema when the news Harry Styles had been cast as Prince Eric first blew up. Stepping out of the screen I flicked through my phone, turned to my friend, and promptly jumped to conclusions. It turned out I wasn’t the only one.
AMC and Regal theatres in the US had tweeted it as ‘breaking news’ sending 1Directioners into a crazy spiral as they freaked out at the prospect of their fav as Prince Eric. Then, just as fast as it had begun, it was over. Not only was Styles not playing The Little Mermaid’s love interest, he had actually turned the role down.
You could hear fans wailing and crying into the night, but while they mourned what could have been Styles had just gone up in my estimation.
Styles as Prince Eric is a distraction
I have nothing against the singer, that’s not what this is about. I was pleasantly surprised by his turn in Dunkirk, which I expressed at the time only to be lynched by 1D fans. I’m sure I’d have been pleasantly surprised again if Styles had taken on the role, after all, he played a man drowning so well in Nolan’s epic war drama I’m sure he could nail…a man drowning at sea. Talk about typecast.
The truth is Styles – drowning skills aside – would have become the focus of the film. Can he really act? Was he the right choice for Prince Eric? 1D fans would have ensured a box office hit but playing into the Harry mania would have restricted the film to a specific musical era, one where sheer celeb hysteria reigns.
Disney loves casting celebrities
That’s not to say it can’t work. Aladdin cast Robin Williams letting him improv his way through the movie chucking out pop culture references every minute he was on screen and we still love him even if some of the jokes have dated badly. But look at the cast around him. Does the wider cinema-going public know who voiced Jasmine? (it’s Linda Larkin) or Aladdin (Scott Weinger).
The star status of the Disney animated heroes has always been an ever-changing game. Some names are more ‘timeless’, take Matthew Broderick as Simba or James Earl Jones as Mufasa. Others, not so much… Tony Goldwyn in Tarzan probably was on a smaller scale.
There’s no point pretending Disney hasn’t used star pulling power before. Michael Eissenberg deliberately signed up big names, like Bette Midler, on long contracts. Then there’s Danny de Vito in Hercules, Williams in Aladdin, Eddie Murphy as Mushu, but these guys are the comedy and don’t detract from our main star. There was a time when musical stars were the voices we loved, Jodi Benson as Ariel or Paige O’Hara as Belle.
Unknown actors hold the power
Disney has always played the casting game well, but recently it’s swayed the other way. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the idea of Beyonce as Nala alongside Donald Glover but sometimes it’s nice to have an unknown or lesser-known star embrace a part to avoid the tirade of analysis and baggage.
Take Emma Watson. She is Hermione to most of us and while she’s a good actress as seen by her many other roles, you couldn’t help but think you were watching bookish Hermione planted in France in Beauty and the Beast.
It’s also why Halle Bailey is such a great casting decision as Ariel. Despite a few #notmyariel trolls, most people are curious and happy about a black woman playing a white animated mermaid. The main racist tweet that started the social backlash was fake anyway showing how ridiculous it all was.
Forgetting the racism and nostalgia, aside from her role in Grown-ish and her YouTube team up Chloe x Halle, Bailey is relatively unknown. Google search peaked after the news she’d been cast with “Who is Halle Bailey?” while the other half of the population was left scratching their heads trying to understand why Halle Berry would’ve been cast.
Bailey will always be Ariel, Styles will always be Styles
As things calmed down people started to realise the wide-eyed 19-year-old is pretty much a blank slate, that means she’ll be a whole generations Ariel. She actually stands a chance of remaking The Little Mermaid and winning fans of the 1989 film over. Styles not so much. Everyone knows the former 1D singer and that would only be a distraction.
It’s not just about the audience. This is a good move for him too. The whole idea behind him choosing Dunkirk as his breakout role was for him to be taken seriously as an actor. Styles could have easily become the next Troy starring in a dozen romcom, teen bopping, High School Musical movies, but that’s clearly not what he wants. He doesn’t even need a movie career, he wants one. Having that choice and knowing your own mind enough to turn down a sure-fire billion-dollar box office hit takes guts.
I’m just as shocked as you are, Harry Styles has pleasantly surprised me again.