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Review: The Little Mermaid (2023)

The Little Mermaid (2023)

Directed by: Rob Marshall

Premise: A live action remake of Disney’s 1989 film. The mermaid Ariel (Halle Bailey) yearns to explore the human world after a chance meeting with Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). She makes a deal with sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) exchanging her voice for a pair of legs.

What Works: 2023’s The Little Mermaid is one of the more artistically successful of Disney’s live action remakes. The original picture serves as a template but the filmmakers come up with just enough new ideas to justify retelling this story. The movie looks great. The undersea world is vibrant and colorful and The Little Mermaid merges the realistic style with the fairytale fantasy much more successfully than The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Like its predecessor, this version of The Little Mermaid features talking and dancing animals but the performances are more convincing than in other live-action styled features. The human world is also created credibly. The villages of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin looked artificial, as though they were shot at a Disney theme park attraction, but the island locations of The Little Mermaid merge with the style of the rest of the film. The Little Mermaid benefits from some excellent casting, namely Halle Bailey as Ariel. She’s a terrific singer but she’s also impressive throughout the middle of the picture in which Ariel cannot speak and Bailey emotes with her gestures and eyes. Also notable are Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Daveed Diggs as Sabastian the crab. McCarthy is both comic and villainous and Diggs offers a lot of comic relief.

What Doesn’t: Among the additions to 2023’s The Little Mermaid are a few new songs authored by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The new songs do not fit with the preexisting music and “The Scuttlebutt” is downright terrible. The least convincing aspect of The Little Mermaid is not the talking animals but the romance. The live action style highlights the incredulous parts of this story and how bland Prince Eric is as a character. Most Disney princes are flat and one note but in live action the character is really boring and actor Jonah Hauer-King does not inspire adventure or romance. This version of The Little Mermaid is nearly an hour longer than the 1989 film and it sometimes feels that way. Everything is bigger but not necessarily better. Some aspects of the new version of The Little Mermaid don’t make sense and the film ends on a double deus ex machina resolution that cheapens the drama.   

Bottom Line: The Little Mermaid is one of the better Disney live action remakes. The original is still a better movie but this version is beautifully executed and the filmmakers pay homage to fan’s memories of the 1989 picture while innovating enough to justify the remake.

Episode: #951 (June 4, 2023)