Like most teenagers, Jacob Tremblay doesn’t remember the first time he watched The Little Mermaid.
The 16-year-old actor wasn’t born when the original film was released in 1989, but the iconic Disney movie was embedded into his childhood anyway. Even before being cast as Ariel’s best friend Flounder, he knew how to sing the score because he grew up with it.
Tremblay was only 13 when he was handed a lead voice acting role in Disney’s latest live-action reimagining. He stepped into Flounder’s shoes — or rather, fins — to tell the tale of a young mermaid, Ariel, who makes a deal with an evil sea witch to grow legs and live on land in order to fall in love with a prince, all at the cost of her voice.
Alongside stars like Halle Bailey as Ariel, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Awkwafina as Scuttle and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, the performances by Tremblay and his castmates will make audiences everywhere yearn to be part of their world.
Tremblay gave Global News insight into the magic of making The Little Mermaid, and lauded the film for catering to nostalgia while telling a whole new generation of kids they shouldn’t have to silence their voices in order to be heard.
Was it intimidating to play a role as well-known as The Little Mermaid‘s Flounder?
Jacob Tremblay: Yeah, it was definitely pretty intimidating to recreate a character, but the thing about this film is that everyone in the movie was on-set at the beginning. So, getting to work with Halle, Daveed and Awkwafina… all these people were really nice and really, really friendly people who made you feel welcome. Rob Marshall is a fantastic director and he made me feel really confident in myself on set. So, it was a great experience.
You’ve already voiced an animated sea creature once in Disney’s Luca, but was it different playing Flounder?
Very different. The thing about Luca is that I was recorded in a booth, and that’s what I was used to. But for this one, we were all together, and they had it set up like a stage. It was me, Daveed and Awkwafina and they had cameras that would capture our expressions so they could implement that into the animation. Then Rob Marshall was there to direct us, and Halle was there to deliver her lines. So we could really riff off each other, and there’s actually surprisingly a lot of improvisation involved, which I was not expecting at all.
The Little Mermaid is the first time you’ve sung in a film. Did your castmates give you any pointers?
I was quite nervous going into it, but everyone was just so kind for me. I felt nervous because obviously having all these people around, you want to make sure that you give it your 100 per cent, and you can keep up with them. I remember actually getting to hear Halle sing for the first time in person, and it gave me goosebumps. It made everyone in the room tear up. It made my mom absolutely bawl her eyes out because she grew up with the original one. To see that in person was really special. It was just like one big family at the end of the day.
Flounder looks much more like a real-life fish in the reimagining. Some people have even said he looks a little scary. What did you think when you saw the character design?
I liked it because this was at the time where The Lion King had come out recently, so Disney was going for that realistic portrayal in their live-action. I think the designs actually genuinely worked well together. When the animals pop out of the water and are talking to Ariel, I think that it suits it very well. I’m not sure what it would look like if it was different. I think the whole point of this film is to make the animals look real. In a way, that kind of makes the ocean seem so familiar. In Under the Sea, they have these beautiful creatures and they’re so beautifully choreographed. It’s hard to believe that each of these animals exists in real life. It’s just crazy.
This version of The Little Mermaid changed a few song lyrics and shifted the overall message of the story. Did you approve?
I like it a lot. The change to the original songs, the tweaks, are so minor that I didn’t even realize that there was a difference. There are new characters too, which is great. They’ve gone even into further depth into characters like Prince Eric, who has his own song now. The performance of that song, and even the romance between Prince Eric and Ariel, is really cool because they actually make it just as much of a friendship between them as there is a romance. That wasn’t really there in the original.
What can dedicated fans of The Little Mermaid expect from the new film?
They can expect the characters that they love in even more depth, and new songs, new characters to help them with their development. I’m really excited for original fans to witness it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
‘The Little Mermaid’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.