Connect with us

Movie Reviews

The Little Mermaid ★★★



Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Halle Baile, Melissa McCarthy, Jonah Hauer-King, Javier Bardem

Release: May 26, 2023 

Released in 1989, The Little Mermaid is often considered the first film in the famed Disney Renaissance period, where throughout the 90s, the House of Mouse enjoyed cultural defining success with classic animation hit after hit. Thirty-three years later, and in keeping with their unrelenting march to adapt their most beloved gems into sprawling live-action/CGI remakes, Director Rob Marshall takes the helm of this new rendition.

Disney’s first major break with the original came with the landmark casting of Black R&B singer Halle Bailey as Princess Ariel. Predictably, a torrent of racism followed as various trolls piped up with the assertion that a mermaid (a mythical creature) couldn’t possibly be Black and any altering of their red-headed fictional icon (despite Bailey still sporting auburn red locks in the film) was tantamount to erasure. Bailey proves to be the strongest asset to The Little Mermaid. Her otherworldly vocals produce a stirring take on ‘Part of Your World’, and she also succeeds in capturing the longing, wonder and innocence that defines the young mermaid audiences know and love. 

There are a host of narrative updates present within the film. The story is now framed around a long-established hatred between merpeople and humans, which feeds into the expansion of Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and showcases his blossoming relationship with Ariel as stemming from the pair relating to being unafraid of those unlike themselves and relishing the opportunity to expand their horizons beyond their kingdom boundaries. Some more questionable tweaking includes three so-so new songs and a geographically confusing run of accents both above land and below – not least between King Triton (Javier Bardem) and Ursula the sea witch (Melissa McCarthy), who are now siblings despite not sounding like they come from the same continent let alone ocean. 

The film runs into unavoidably troubled waters, however, by its very design. Months before the film’s release, the CGI-constructed underwater kingdom was called out by fans less than impressed with dull and washed-out images that circulated online. This eye-straining darkness is certainly present in portions of the film, but for the most part, the sea bed is shown to be bursting with vibrant colour. Yet, the most ambitious piece of necessary CGI, the giant Ursula required in the film’s final act, is so unsightly it appears purposely poorly lit out of shame for the final product. 

Even when the CGI is done well, it works against the film. As learned with the thundering disappointment of 2019’s remake of The Lion King, authentic-looking animals just cannot fill in for their animated counterparts. Tied to making hyper-realistic CGI versions of Ariel’s animal companions Sebastian (accent terrible, still quite enjoyable Daveed Diggs), Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) and Scuttle (Awkwafina), inevitably, some of the magic and warmth is lost. One gets the feeling Flounder is shunted off-screen much more than in the original so as not to force viewers to examine the disparity between the cute humanity of his voice and the glassy stare of the actual fish they’re confronted with. 

Ultimately, if you’re still critical of the existence of Disney’s spate of CGI live-action remakes, The Little Mermaid will certainly not convince you otherwise. But there’s still fun to be had. Marshall keeps much of the recognisable iconography that’s truly enjoyable to see, and Halle Bailey’s endearing sweetness, combined with the undeniable impact of her role, keeps this adventure afloat.

Just For You