THE LITTLE MERMAID, Melissa McCarthy, 2023. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

‘The Little Mermaid’ Makeup Artist Responds to Criticisms of Drag Influences: ‘Why Can’t I Do Just as Good a Job as a Queer Artist?’

Every time Disney announces a new remake of a classic animated film, it provides an opportunity for adult fans to revisit the property with a critical perspective they may have missed as children. When it came to Rob Marshall’s new take on “The Little Mermaid,” much of the talk revolved around the influence of drag culture on the original film. Many fans were quick to point out the fact that Ursula’s character was modeled after iconic 20th century drag queens like Divine—something Melissa McCarthy happily acknowledged when she signed on to play Ursula in the remake.

“There’s a drag queen who lives in me,” McCarthy said. “I’m always on the verge of going full-time with her…Keeping Ursula’s humor, sadness and edginess is all I want in a character — and quite frankly, all I want in a drag queen.”

When the movie hit theaters this weekend, a few fans and influencers taken to social media wondering why the film didn’t take more steps to include the drag community in the character design process. Many felt that makeup artist Peter Smith King should have been outsourced to a queer artist. But in a new interview with InsidersKing made it clear that he disagrees with those criticisms.

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“I find that very offensive,” King said. “Why can’t I do a good job as a queer makeup artist? It’s ridiculous. He’s trying to reclaim it and that’s fine, if that’s what they want to do. But don’t put people down because they’re not what they want them to be.

King also clarified that while he’s a fan of drag culture, he didn’t draw directly from any existing artists when designing the live-action Ursula.

“We discussed everything. I mean, we both laughed about how much we love drag queens and drag makeup and stuff like that,” King said. “It wasn’t based on any drag act at all.”

While Marshall’s remake topped the box office this weekend, reviews were generally critical of the film’s inability to establish its own aesthetic and recapture the magic of the original.

“So, does it look real? Sometimes, sure, but it’s a strange concern for a story that is – again, Still – about mythical sea creatures,” IndieWire’s Kate Erbland wrote in her review. “Disney’s obsession with turning some of its most beloved properties into live offerings simply for, what, realism? technology? THE money? it stumbles across both flashes of brilliance and moments of sheer absurdity (the latter was more of an issue with the studio’s recent “Lion King” remake than this Marshall joint). This trend will likely continue to hold true for the foreseeable future, but until House of Mouse fixes the real problem, these movies will never become classics in their own right.