Are you ready for a live-action Little Mermaid? With the success of Maleficent, Alice and Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella, Ariel will be soon be following in the footsteps of other Disney princesses with a big-budget and star-studded live-action adaptation of her animated adventure. Fans of the 1989 film are already singing out about who they want cast as the iconic and villainous Ursula.
Recently, a rumor emerged that Disney was eyeing Lady Gaga for this role. But this seems to be onlya rumor. Nonetheless, this potential news sparked a debate about who should play the part of the powerful sea witch. Which got FANGRRLS thinking, what do we want for a modern Ursula? Below we run down the most popular fan suggestions, plus a string of our own to contemplate who has what it takes to play the baddest witch of the seven seas. But let's begin with a recap of what we do know about the live-action Little Mermaid.
First up, it will be a movie musical, and Disney's doing it up right by bringing in some heavy hitters behind the scenes. Hans Christian Andersen's beloved fairy tale will be adapted by Jane Goldman, the savvy screenwriter who has had a hand in creating sensational movie adaptations for Neil Gaiman's Stardust, Mark Millar's Kick-Ass, and Susan Hill's Woman in Black. At The Little Mermaid's helm will be Rob Marshall, best-known for bringing the razzle-dazzle of Bob Fosse to the big screen with his Oscar-winning Chicago. And to bring some catchy and kinetic songs to this fantasy-musical, Disney has made a dream team. Alan Menken, whose created tunes for a slew of Disney gems including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the '89 Little Mermaid, will be joined by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the charismatic creator of the Broadway hit Hamilton and Oscar-nominated co-writer of Moana's "How Far I'll Go!"
With all this intense talent behind the camera, The Little Mermaid demands a larger-than-life Ursula performed by a top-notch diva. So here are the contenders as we see it:
Chiefly known as a pop star with an army of awards, Gaga has been gaining acclaim as an actress with her Golden Globe-winning performance in American Horror Story: Hotel and her raved-about turn in A Star Is Born. With the latter spurring Oscar talk, the Ursula casting rumor seemed plausible. After all, this lady is world famous, so would be a great get for the production. Her voice could handle whatever big bad jam Menken and Miranda put before her. And she's got plenty of bravado to bring to the part of this elegance-oozing octopussy. What's working against Gaga is that the casting rumor also sparked complaints, because many fans feel this live-action Ursula should be plus-sized, just as she was in 1989.
Once the Gaga rumor kicked off the conversation, musician Lizzo was quick to throw her hat in the ring. As a cheeky "audition tape," she tweeted a viral vid of herself gleefully cackling. Then for Halloween she went all out, painting her skin purple, and piling a white wig high to bust out a few lyrics from Ursula's "Poor Unfortunate Souls." She's got the big girl glamor and sea witch swagger down. Plus we know Lizzo's hit "Good as Hell" proves she can turn out a banging anthem to being badass. But working against her is her filmography...or lack thereof. Lizzo's only acting gigs to date is voice work on cartoons like Adult Swim's trippy Brad Neely's Harg Nallin' Sclopio Peepio. Which might make her too big a gamble for Disney.
Another vocal fan campaign has risen around this self-proclaimed "glamor toad." Ginger Minj is the drag name of Joshua Allan Eads, who appeared on the seventh season of RuPaul's Drag Race and fast became a fan favorite thanks to her sharp wit and glitter-drenched fashion sense. It might seem outrageous to consider a drag queen in the role of Ursula. But actually, it's pretty fitting as her design was modeled after drag legend Divine, down to the generous curves and high high eyebrows. Working in Minj's favor is that she's a comedy queen with a powerful singing voice, who could totally crush "Poor Unfortunate Souls" (and has in her stage act). Minj also has movie experience, as she's appearing in the upcoming Jennifer Aniston comedy Dumplin'. Working against her: is Disney going to want to risk tying their family-friendly movie to a drag star whose stage name is a dirty joke?
She's a living legend who has brought overwhelming energy to song numbers in Mamma Mia and Into The Woods. And you know who made the latter of these? Disney and Little Mermaid director Rob Marshall. It's easy to imagine a reteaming, especially since Streep's been popping up in other Disney properties like Mary Poppins Returns. Plus, we know she relishes the opportunity to play a deliciously devilish woman! She's done it divinely in She-Devil, The Devil Wears Prada, and the greatest film of her illustrious career, Death Becomes Her. (That is not opinion. It is fact. Do not @ me.)
But Streep isn't the only musical-rocking diva in Marshall's Rolodex. Queen Latifah earned an Oscar-nomination for her beautifully brazen performance as the corrupt warden Mama Morton in Chicago. And she dove into camp with the Hollywood adaptation of Hairspray, based on the Broadway musical based on John Waters' cult classic which co-starred Divine! So there's a sort of circular charm to this could-be casting. But most of all, Latifah would positively rock Ursula's silver shock of hair and nail the bust-wiggling bite of the line, "You'll have your looks, your pretty face. And don't underestimate the importance of body language, ha!"
Disney loves casting Broadway stars to bring musical theater oomph to the big screen. From the '89 version, both Jodi Benson and Pat Carroll, who voiced Ariel and Ursula, came from the Great White Way, as does the new version's songwriter, Lin-Manuel Miranda. And if Disney wants a singer who can captivate, they need look no further than Tony and Grammy-winner Cynthia Erivo, who blew audiences away as Celie in 2015 The Color Purple revival. But this English actress has more than stage presence. This year she made her film debut in Drew Goddard's Cabin In The Woods' follow-up Bad Times At The El Royale, and snatched that movie right away from bigger names like Jeff Bridges and Chris Hemsworth. Next, she'll appear opposite Viola Davis in the upcoming Steve McQueen thriller Widows. And the buzz is good, which could mean great things for Erivo's chances at living a sea witch fantasy.
Disney did Midler wrong with Hocus Pocus, and here's their chance to make it right. Did you know the original script had way MORE of the witchy Sanderson Sisters in it? Then they did reshoots because apparently, kids were just clamoring for more of Max The Virgin shenanigans! Nonetheless, this star of stage and screen shined so brightly that she enchanted generations with "I Put A Spell On You." Sure, Carroll's seething and sensual spin on '89 Ursula leaves big shoes to fill. But I have no doubt Midler would make a feast out of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" or whatever new tune Menken and Miranda might dare brew for this slinky sorceress.
What if singing isn't essential to playing this new Ursula? I know I know. But hear me out. "Poor Unfortunate Souls" is my karaoke jam of choice, and I am not a good singer. You don't need to be to pull off that song! You just need to have showmanship. I can do. And so can McCarthy. Not only is she a hilarious leading lady and a plus-sized diva who could superbly sink into the sneers and snark of this side-eying sea witch, she's proved that she's a grade-A showman when she took on the Lip Sync Battle against Jimmy Fallon. And she's obvi a Disney fan.
Let's say Disney would be so bold as to cast a drag queen as Ursula, as a loving nod to Divine (or just because it's about damn time). Minj might be too risqué a choice. They'd want someone sweeter, like candy. Enter Peppermint (aka Agnes Moore) a runner-up on season nine of RuPaul's Drag Race. This trans star was a ray of sunshine on the show, but knew how to sneer for the gods when the runway challenge called for it. She's got body-ody-ody plus a Broadway-certified voice, as she's currently killing it in the Head Over Heels, a jukebox musical inspired by the music of The Go-Go's. Giving this queen such a big role in major movie would make great strides for representation in a number of ways. And it would give us an Ursula who could be so seductively sweet we'd totally understand why Ariel could be coaxed to sign away her voice.