The Little Mermaid

May 26th, 2023




We are only a few weeks removed from Peter Pan & Wendy and now we get Rob Marshall’s live-action dive under the sea with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Early trailers indicated that this was going to be quite a messy interpretation, where the CGI creatures and underwater cinematography looked as murky as a polluted ocean. The worries were legit, considering the unbelievable breakthrough we saw in Avatar: The Way of Water just last year. Any viewer could dislike the visuals or be bitter because of the rehashing of movies that were already good in their animated form. What won’t be denied, however, is the incredible talent of Halle Bailey. Without her, this version of The Little Mermaid would be without a voice and instead, it takes a story we know to great depths. I was happy to be a part of this Little Mermaid’s world.

The tale is known by most now. We meet Ariel (Bailey) the mermaid with the voice of an angel, swimming amongst the wreckage of old ships, along with her friends Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), keenly watched by Sebastian the crab (voiced by Daveed Diggs), and asking her friend Scuttle (Awkwafina) to tell her that an eating utensil is still a dinglehopper. Her father is the ruler of the sea King Triton (Javier Bardem), but he can’t seem to get a grasp on Ariel’s adventurous spirit, her longing for something more. We then of course meet Ursula (played by Melissa McCarthy), the sea witch, who catches Ariel in a vulnerable spot and grants her a trip to the surface with legs for her beautiful voice. The goal becomes to fall in love with Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) or lose it all forever. Not exactly a good deal.

One thing is for sure, it’s a good thing I’m not as well acquainted with the 1989 version of The Little Mermaid because director Marshall and writer David Magee are not changing much. Plus the new songs added are not very good. What is good is that the visuals under the water are not as cloudy as one would believe and the compositions of the classic musical numbers are quite good. The rendition of “Under the Sea” adds in Bailey’s backup vocal to harmonize with Diggs, which adds a wonderful layer. The other positive is a longer and stronger arc for Ariel, where it’s not just about the falling in love part, but truly about a woman who has been deprived of what life can offer. It’s easy to compare a movie such as Splash or any film where a woman is held back by society, but Bailey’s vibrant energy cuts through comparisons, radiating as she learns what life on land can offer.

Inside my head it feels like a scale, measuring the pros and cons that are in this version of The Little Mermaid. The first and obvious positive is that the entire cast is having fun- especially McCarthy who wraps her tentacles around every moment she’s on screen. Tipping the scale the other way is that this Little Mermaid fails to elevate above its reason for being. Whereas the animated version delivers brighter colors and lovable characters that we adore because of their painted textures. It’s essentially why nearly every Disney live-action remake ultimately has a hollow core. On the outside there is a brightness that shines, which was the same for Mulan, Pete’s Dragon, and The Jungle Book, but at every center is the greed of major corporations hoping to make money off something that already exists.

But it all goes back to Bailey, who shines bright like a diamond, with her smile and voice whisking us away into the magical sea. That’s what makes it so hard to rate The Little Mermaid, it deserves recognition for the things it does right, but I would still suggest the animated version. Just while I was writing this I changed the rating from a 2 ½ to 3 back to 2 ½ and then landed on 3. If I could settle on giving Halle Bailey 4 stars I would. This version of The Little Mermaid is still just another treasure sinking into Disney’s bottomless ocean of content, but I guess it could be worse. We get to witness the rise of a star and The Little Mermaid becomes more swim than sink.



Written by: Leo Brady

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