Little Mermaid character designs have fans up in arms

Live-action adaptations of much-loved animated films always risk being divisive, but Disney probably wasn't expecting the upcoming Little Mermaid remake to become the most controversial film of the year (maybe). We've already seen the fallout from some dodgy editing in the posters, but now new designs have given us our first glimpse of some of the more minor characters – and fans are not happy.

Disney’s latest posters show Sebastian, Flounder and Scuttle, and some people think they look disturbingly realistic, and nothing like what they did in the classic animation. Maybe they needed to see our character design tips.

We've already seen the internet questioning the design of posters for Disney's new Little Mermaid adaptation, but now it's the characters themselves that are causing dismay. New posters reveal Flounder the fish, voiced by Jacob Tremblay, and Sebastian the crab, voiced by Daveed Diggs and Scuttle (Awkwafina).

They look very, very different from the characters in the 1989 animated film. Scuttle has even changed species and is now a northern gannet rather than a seagull. Meanwhile, Sebastian looks a lot more like an actual crab with eyes sticking out of his shell. Realistic lions in the Lion King was one thing, but some people are finding a (kind of) realistic-looking crab hard to take.

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“The small yellow shade is all the soul left in Flounder after Disney tried to suck the soul out of him,” one person wrote, on Twitter. “Hey Disney… maybe there was a REASON all the fish were animated…” someone else suggested. 

“I feel bad for the animators when they told them to humanise a f***in’ crab AND make him realistic, Disney set them up for failure," was another comment. Even the City of Southlake Department of Public Safety has got involved, calling the poster of Flounder a "crime", while someone else hurled the ultimate insult: "This looks like it was generated by AI." Ouch!

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Now, there's no reason why the live-action version Little Mermaid should necessarily maintain the look of the 1989 animated film. After all, the story originates in a 19th-century fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that's seen many different interpretations over the years (Flounder, Sebastian and Scuttle don't exist in the original story). On top of that, a live-action version by definition requires a certain amount of realism – the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? approach might not appeal to today's audiences.

Nevertheless, I can see why people are so dismayed. Animation wasn't used only because it was the best that could be done in 1989. Realistic-looking talking animals with human personalities are just strange. Even with today's technology, trying to make such far-fetched fantasy look real can actually end up plunging it into an uncanny valley deeper than the Pacific's Mariana Trench.

The Little Mermaid will be released on 26 May. Until then, feast your eyes on these controversial character designs from last year.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.