Its has been rumored that Ursula, the villainous sea witch of The Little Mermaid, in the original 1989 movie was inspired drag queen, actor, and singer Divine.
Director John Waters told Time,
Ursula was an outsider. She was magic. She had a style that some people might not understand.
But she was proud of herself. She was confident. She never questioned her look. She never felt—as other people might have—that she looked weird or anything.
She looked beautiful on her own terms.”
Melissa McCarthy plays the campy sea witch in the new live-action movie with over-the-top raspy relish. At the film’s premiere in early May, she said,
I’ve watched The Little Mermaid more times than any other movie.
I was a nanny, and we used to watch it every night. And I always was like, I know for a fact—but I couldn’t prove it—that she had to be based on Divine. She just had to be. I was like,
‘the makeup, the look, the attitude.’
And now we know that yes, she was of course based on Divine.
I just hope to do every incredible drag queen proud, and Divine proud.
Just to give it that same—to give it your all, to throw it out there, no apologies, do it your way. Do no harm, but back up a little.
I wanted to give her everything that she was due.”
Melissa McCarthy on embodying Ursula in #TheLittleMermaid pic.twitter.com/U4agTfvTgo— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) May 9, 2023
Ursula came to animated life through Howard Ashman, the famed Disney writer and lyricist from Baltimore who borrowed from the drag culture of his hometown. Composer Alan Menken, who co-wrote the music with Ashman for the original animated Little Mermaid, also worked on the live-action movie and confirmed in April that Divine WAS the inspiration behind Ursula.
McCarthy corroborated this on the blue carpet in May, and said that she’s a
huge fan of drag.…
It’s just so fun, it’s irreverent, you can poke fun and pay homage to someone at the same time. It’s all delicious things wrapped up in one.”
But McCarthy’s performance has not gone without criticism. When Disney released a featurette of Ursula’s live-action transformation, some queens roasted the uneven makeup application.
RuPaul’s Drag Race star and trans activist Kerri Colby tweeted,
Absolutely why we should hire up and coming queer artists with a pulse on the present and a vision for the future more often,”
– absolutely why we should hire up and coming queer artists with a pulse on the present and a vision for the future more often. Yes I agree, this is that.— Kerri Elyse Colby (@kerricolby) May 17, 2023
The drag community has asked for years for an actual drag queen to be cast in the iconic role. Ginger Minj said in 2019 that playing Ursula was her biggest goal,
If you’re gonna have a drag artist do it, I’m probably one of the most qualified to do it.
I can sing and I can act it, I love that role and I cherish it, it’s a huge part of my life. I think that I should at least be given the opportunity to fight for that role.”
Divine died a year before the original Little Mermaid came out, but Schwarz and Waters agree that HE would have wanted to play Ursula himself in the live-action movie.
He didn’t want an homage, he wanted to be it.
I’m sure he would want to play that part.”
Ursula returns today in Disney’s live-action Little Mermaid, May 26.
(Photos, Disney, YouTube; via Time)