Sofia Coppola has a darker vision in mind for Universal's adaptation of The Little Mermaid, before she left the project. The filmmaker made her name as a director by doing small-budget movies that look amazing, feature fine performances and bear her distinctive filmmaking stamp. Though Coppola has largely shied away from tackling big-studio projects, at one time become attached to Universal's Little Mermaid (not the same as the planned Disney musical Little Mermaid with music by Lin-Manuel Miranda) that would have seen her taking on a bigger budget for the first time.
However, Coppola eventually left Universal's The Little Mermaid after she and the studio experienced some of those dreaded creative differences. In a recent talk, Coppola addressed the Little Mermaid movie she walked away from and revealed what sort of movie she had in mind (obviously it was a very different movie than Universal was envisioning).
During the New York Film Society's "An Evening With Sofia Coppola," the director said that when she approached The Little Mermaid, she saw it as something much less kid-friendly than the Disney animated version that became so popular (via JoBlo):
It wasn’t the Disney version, it was actually the original fairy tale, which is much darker. I thought it would be fun to do a fairy tale, I’ve always loved fairy tales, so I was curious about doing that.
Coppola also revealed that she intended to shoot the entire film underwater, which obviously would have introduced a ton of very difficult technical challenges. Ultimately the film's scale started to expand and that was when Coppola and Universal decided to part ways. As Coppola put it, "when it’s smaller, you can have exactly what you have in mind." Sticking with a small budget may limit what you can do technically, but it does allow you to maintain creative control, something Coppola obviously values above everything.
Now with Universal launching their Dark Universe, it's fun to imagine what might have happened had Coppola stayed on-board The Little Mermaid and continued developing it along the darker lines she envisioned. Could the Dark Universe have ended up with a non-Disney Little Mermaid character alongside Dr. Jekyll, Frankenstein and the Wolfman?
Though Coppola ultimately bailed on what could have been her first big-budget studio film, she has not entirely ruled out the possibility of doing a big-budget movie down the road, perhaps even a superhero movie. In the meantime, Coppola continues to receive critical acclaim and big awards for her modestly-budgeted films, including this year's Cannes Film Festival favorite The Beguiled which is set for an American release on June 30th, 2017.