The Live-Action Little Mermaid Needed Sofia Coppola To Be Part of Its World

By  · Published on June 2nd, 2015


Take your undersea ennui elsewhere. Toss out your whosits and whatsits galore. Reconsider brushing your hair with a fork.

It’s already been a bad few days for long-gestasting projects, what with the cancellation of Tron 3 and the sudden jettisoning of Bad Moms by Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann (via Deadline), but now fans of sulky teens and classic fairy tales are going to have to find another film to frown through (even as it totally speaks to them and they are then compelled to watch it ten more times in the theater). Deadline reports that Sofia Coppola has left the live-action retelling of The Little Mermaid, thanks to “creative differences,” the business version of “irreconcilable differences.” Cue choking on ocean water noises.

The outlet reports that the film is still very much on, though its script will now be getting a third draft, care of Caroline Thompson, who picks up after scripting attempts by both Kelly Marcel and Abi Morgan, all inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale of the same name.

Coppola was first attached to the project back in March of 2014, when Deadline broke the news of her involvement with the live-action retelling of the classic story. As they did then, the outlet notes that the story is not in line with Coppola’s past reliance on “adult themes” which, coupled with their insistence that Andersen’s last name is spelled with an “o,” highlights just how out of touch some people are with the classic story (and precisely why someone like Coppola needs to make it).

As I noted when the project was first announced, “the outlet does, somewhat strangely, report that ‘this is a departure for Coppola in that her projects are usually focused on adult themes. She’s got kids and it wouldn’t be shocking if she wanted to please them with a movie they can see and understand.’ A quick refresh of the original Andersen story should pretty handily dispel any notions that this next Coppola feature will be family friendly, despite the familiarity of the Disney project so loosely based on the source material.” Andersen’s tale – like so many of his gut-wrenching fairy tales – isn’t a story for kids, it’s a story for adults, especially the bored and dissatisfied kind, which Coppola so excels at putting on the big screen.

That Universal Pictures and Working Title Films set Coppola for the film in the first place – there had been some rumors that Joe Wright was considering the project, as well – prove that the film’s own producers know what makes it tick, and it’s heartbreaking that they couldn’t come to an agreement (apparently, of the creative kind) with Coppola.

Andersen’s stories, though classics of the genre, aren’t really for the faint of heart (The Little Match Girl still reduces me to a blubbering pile of tears, and we dare you to find a modern story about a dead homeless girl that has as much power while also being slightly geared to the younger set). His Little Mermaid is flush with the same kind of traits that marked Disney’s Ariel – that desire to be human, a pervasive disdain for undersea life, a profound curiosity – all wrapped up in a big, wrenching package. His Little Mermaid (she never even gets a name) doesn’t get her prince, doesn’t get to go back to being a mermaid, and kills herself out of pure despair (and because she rejects an offer from the evil Sea Witch to off the prince in exchange for getting her flippers back).

Andersen’s Little Mermaid isn’t even granted respite in death, as she soon discovers that she’s become sea foam, which is kind of a lovely idea, until you consider that in order to ascend to Heaven in a non-foamy state, she has to spend three hundred years doing good deeds for humans. For humans! Three hundred years! The Little Mermaid isn’t about childish crushes and awkward teens desperate to break free, it’s about a woman who makes a rash choice and has to pay for it beyond what could be expected by any reasonable being (mermaid, sea witch, or otherwise).

It’s a story about desire and consequences, but it’s also a story about a young woman who is compelled to leave her current circumstances by the promise of something better – precisely Coppola’s wheelhouse. From The Virgin Suicides to The Bling Ring, Marie Antoinette to Lost In Translation, this is what Coppola does (and does with style and flair that has only gotten better with time). That’s not to say that another director won’t be able to pull this off with style (and Coppola’s leaving certainly opens up the door for other filmmakers to really make this thing their own), but her attachment to The Little Mermaid represented a rarity: the right director, at the right time, with the right reboot.

Not every film gets legs like that, but we’re hoping this Little Mermaid will find another way to swim. (Also, any chance we can get Flounder in there? He’s not canon, but…)