'The Little Mermaid': Daveed Diggs Heads Under the Sea to Play Sebastian

Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid already has Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on board as a producer and writer of new songs, but now Miranda will be writing for one of his original Hamilton cast members. Daveed Diggs, who broke out in the dual roles of Thomas Jefferson/Marquis de Lafayette in Miranda’s mega-hit Broadway musical, has been cast as Sebastian in the new remake. I’m guessing “Under the Sea” is going to involve a rap breakdown in this version.

Variety has the news about Diggs joining the cast, which already includes Halle Bailey as Ariel, the mermaid princess who yearns for a life above the ocean; Melissa McCarthy as the evil Ursula, who tricks Ariel into giving up her voice in exchange for a pair of human legs; and Javier Bardem, who is still in talks to play Ariel’s father, the strict King Triton.

In the 1989 animated film, Sebastian was a Jamaican-accented crab who worked for Triton as the kingdom’s royal composer. As Ariel spins off into her adventure, Sebastian tags along to try to keep her out of trouble, singing two of the film’s most famous songs in the process: the full-fledged banger “Under the Sea,” and the sultry ballad “Kiss the Girl.”

Diggs, a talented musician with a knack for delivering wicked fast raps, catapulted from his Grammy and Tony Award-winning Hamilton fame to co-write and star in one of last year’s most acclaimed indie films, Blindspotting. He’s also appeared on shows like The Get Down, black-ish, Undone, and more. Putting aside the fact that these live-action Disney remakes are almost never great (at best, they’re better than expected; at worst, they’re creatively bankrupt), I must reluctantly admit that Diggs is a pretty great choice to play a new Sebastian. Reuniting with Miranda may result in some magical new songs, but even without the musical component, he has the versatility to be able to slide into this role with ease. I just wonder if Disney finds themselves interested in taking any big swings with these live-action remakes in terms of altering the story to make things more contemporary, or if they’re always going to be content with making incremental changes that often don’t amount to much.

Rob Marshall (Mary Poppins Returns, Into the Woods) is directing this film, which frankly doesn’t give me a lot of hope for it. But maybe writer David Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland) is interested in changing things up a bit, and I guess if all else fails, at least the musical numbers (featuring songs from the 1989 classic, as well as those new tunes from Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda) could be worth watching on a plane one day.

Filming on the new remake is expected to begin sometime in 2020.

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