Disney’s 1989 hit “The Little Mermaid” swept theaters with bubbly musical numbers, chatty animated sea creatures and the movie giant’s quintessential princess plotline. But UM alumnus Armando Gutierrez Jr. hopes to bring audiences back to the original Hans Christian Anderson story with a live action retelling.
Gutierrez’s film, also titled “The Little Mermaid,” follows reporter Cam Harrison (William Moseley) and his sick niece Elle (Loreto Peralta) to Mississippi, as the pair investigates rumors of miraculous healings surrounding a traveling circus.
“Everyone grew up with the classic little mermaid tale, and I’m excited for everyone to see a different version of it, with a twist where the little mermaid doesn’t end up in a fairy-tale castle,” said Gutierrez, who graduated from UM with a master’s in public administration.
The actor-producer has worked on a number of films since breaking into the business in 2014, but said this project marks the first time his team has taken on such a familiar story and sought to make it their own.
“We have an interpretation of the story, just like Disney did, but Disney made theirs animated, with a talking crab and all that,” said executive producer Rob Molloy. “Ours is a little more realistic, but we still keep the magic.”
Part of that magic comes from a cast and crew who love what they do, “Family Matters” star Jo Marie Payton said.
“When I got cast by Ed Arenas, I was the second choice,” said Payton, who plays housekeeper Lorene in the film. “But I went in and I was so happy to do it. And I’m even happier that I did it now because everyone was just wonderful, they’re so professional and they didn’t have one issue. I’m just very pleased that it turned out so beautifully.”
Payton said she was also glad to join the Florida-based project because of her lifelong connection to Miami.
“I was raised here, went to school here, did all my education here: elementary, middle school and high school.”
The actress from a family of nine eventually received a special scholarship to study at UM and then Miami-Dade College.
Gutierrez said much of the “Little Mermaid” team is at home in Florida, including 14-year-old Peralta, who was born in Miami and visits often when she’s not on a shoot or at home in Mexico City.
“There’s some actors in front of the camera and crew behind the camera that are Canes,” Gutierrez said. “You can look at one of the bullies that’s an actor—he’s a Cane—and the newspaper editor’s son, he was also a UM Cane.”
Besides actors James Bernstein (young Mr. Coleman) and Peter Groverman (Mick), writer and director Blake Harris and associate producer Chris Dosen also attended UM, Gutierrez said.
Family value, from that shared college experience to the crowded theater of parents and children at the movie’s premiere on Aug. 17, is a central theme for the film.
“You’ve got the love story, you’ve got a relationship with family and different circus characters which are sure to surprise everybody, and also the grandmother telling the story to her grandkids,” Gutierrez said.
Payton said in her 40-year career, she has seen very few casts and crews that bonded as quickly as the “Little Mermaid” team.
“I just feel so blessed that I was able to work with some people that are really wonderful, and that’s from the top to the bottom,” she said. “I still keep in touch with them, and it was my first time meeting them. But sometimes you meet people, and you stay with them for a lifetime.”
“The Little Mermaid” is now playing at theaters across South Florida, including AMC Sunset Place 24 at 5701 Sunset Drive. For showtimes and ticket prices, visit amctheatres.com
Update, 3:17 p.m., August 26, 2018: This article has been updated to include the full list of University of Miami alumni who worked on “The Little Mermaid.”