The Chloe x Halle singer is the first woman of color to be cast in the role of a traditionally white Disney princess in one of the studio’s live-action remakes. It’s a move that is already garnering praise from stars like Zendaya, who recently broke barriers as the first woman of color to play the traditionally white role of M.J. in the new Spider-Man films.
With her new role, Bailey joins a small but impressive roster of women who have gone under the sea to portray Ariel, the rebellious mermaid obsessed with life on land and struggling with her overprotective father and preordained, sheltered life of underwater royalty. Read on to see who else wanted to be part of Ariel’s world in the past, from movies to TV shows to live musicals and more.
The original Ariel made the character a household name by voicing her back in 1989, in Disney’s animated The Little Mermaid movie, but she didn’t stop there. Benson stayed a major part of the Disney family, reprising the role of Ariel over and over again for the past 30 years. First there was The Little Mermaid animated prequel TV series in 1992, then the film sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea in 2000, then completing the film trilogy with another prequel, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning in 2008 — as well as all Ariel’s appearances in the Disney Princess music albums, DVDs, and videogames. Most recently, Benson lent her voice for the Disney Princesses scenes in Ralph Breaks the Internet.
The actress and singer originated the role of Ariel in The Little Mermaid musical on Broadway, which opened in January 2008. The role was later played by Chelsea Morgan Stock and Michelle Lookadoo.
While Moore never actually played Ariel in a movie, TV show, or other production, she did become the iconic character for Annie Leibovitz’s 2008 Disney Dream Portrait Series, along with Michael Phelps as a merman. The underwater photoshoot, which placed celebrities in the roles made famous by classic Disney animated films, turned out otherworldly and instantly sealed Moore’s place in the Ariel hall of fame.
Joanna Garcia Swisher
When Once Upon a Time decided to put its live-action spin on Ariel back in 2013, ABC turned to Garcia Swisher. She ended up returning many times over the years, for a total of seven episodes. One twist: She never sang.
The Broadway star took on the role of Ariel for The Little Mermaid Live! at the Hollywood Bowl in 2016, showing off her vocal chops (along with that iconic red hair) on stage alongside Darren Criss, John Stamos, Rebel Wilson, and Titus Burgess. However, when a prior commitment with the Tonys meant she couldn’t perform on the last night, Benson (the OG Ariel) ended up taking over for the final performance.
The Hollywood Bowl went under the sea once more this May to celebrate the upcoming 30th anniversary of the original movie, this time with Glee alum Michele as Ariel. She performed along with Cheech Marin, Peter Gallagher, and Harvey Fierstein.
Fans will have to wait a little longer to see how Bailey will stack up against her predecessors, as Disney’s The Little Mermaid life-action remake won’t start production until early 2020.