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Fancasting older men for the role of The Little Mermaid’s Eric needs to stop

Contributed by
Oct 17, 2019

Disney studios made quite the splash this past summer when it unveiled Grown-ish star Halle Bailey as its lead musical mermaid, Ariel, in the upcoming The Little Mermaid live-action adaptation. With rumors of funny woman Melissa McCarthy playing the eight-legged sorceress Ursula, it was open season in the Twitterverse on who would round out the role of Prince Eric, Ariel's love interest and her main reason for leaving the sea behind her.

Almost immediately, fans (doing what they usually do) took to social media with fantasy casting for the ship-sailing prince, adding some iterations of the phrase "Hear Me Out" to each post. In record time, Twitter timelines were filled with pictures of actors in side-by-side images of Eric, with some including reasons on why their casting choice is a great choice.

Though a few of the choices were fair at best, I wasn't too happy with some of these posts, because, well, some of the selections were — to be frank — too damn old.

Before you call me a hater: I would never attempt to be ageist and/or discriminatory, but Hollywood has a tendency to cast much older men in roles opposite their female counterparts — and we've come to accept this as a norm. We've seen it time and time again, and a 2015 study on the difference in age between men and women in romance films showed that in the past 30 years the average age discrepancy between the lovebirds was four years. Of course, that doesn't seem like a huge gap, but this average accounts for minimal differences like the four-year age difference between Colin Firth and Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Diary and the almost 20 years between Maggie Gyllenhaal and co-star Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. (And to think, at the time, Maggie was deemed "too old" to play Jeff's lover. Yikes.)

Credit: VCG

It's also important to remember Ariel is only 16 years old when we first meet her in the 1989 animation. Though she says she's not a child anymore when Daddy Triton tries to talk some sense into her, the fact is she's young. With that being said, actors like Ian Somerhalder and Jake Gyllenhaal, though smoldering, would be slightly inappropriate since the Vampire Diaries star and MCU character actor are 40 and 38, respectively. I mean, I'd absolutely welcome to give Henry Cavill a peek at what's beneath my seashells, but he still wouldn't be a top pick for the dashing Prince Eric.

While there are those who would love to say it would be "historically accurate" for a much older male to marry a younger woman, the fact of the matter is the film is being rebooted for a newer generation with newer sensibilities. As its highly plausible Bailey won't be playing a 16-year-old mythical sea creature, her love interest shouldn't be an actor old enough to be her father in real life.

Realistically, it shouldn't be hard to find an Eric that works. Talks of 25-year-old Harry Styles being tapped for the role made sense, and even though he reportedly turned down the role, Disney needs to follow in that direction. Dacre Montgomery of Power Rangers and Stranger Things comes to mind, or even Noah Centineo, who is making himself out to be quite the romantic lead of Netflix YA movies. In fact, Centineo might be able to make Eric lovable and comical, which would be a step up from the original film.

And since the film appears to be heading toward a color-blind casting route, there are many talented young actors able to snag the role, like Disney's own actor-singer, Roshon. If he were cast for the role, we'd finally have an Eric who could sing — and maybe get his own solo song! (Hey, if Jasmine could get her own song in Aladdin, why can't Eric?) It would be even more refreshing if this film would be an opportunity to debut a new face, so long as he is closing the age gap and changing the archaic formula of being a much older man.

Come on, Disney. Hear me out on this!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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