The youngest of King Triton’s daughters, Ariel is a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure. Longing to find out more about the world beyond the sea, Ariel visits the surface and falls for the dashing Prince Eric. Following her heart, she makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to experience life on land.
There is a lot of things wrong with Disney’s live action remake of The Little Mermaid. Despite the controversy, Halle Bailey casting is not one of them. She is the perfect embodiment of Ariel: bright, witty, independent in that new Disney Princess way, beautiful to the point of ethereal, and can sing like a choir of angels.
I prefer Bailey’s singing to Jodi Benson’s original. There is a soulful authenticity to it. This is her being , her essence. Bailey has an earnestness that is sweeter, more touching. When she sings to any of the worlds above her, whether it be to the land or the night stars, it’s a caress of love, a plea to grant the blessing of understanding to whomever hears. It’s never to Prince Eric. She is mute to him. He is easy. He will listen regardless. It’s for those deities and beings that misunderstand her. When she sings and essentially gives up her voice to the Sea Witch, Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) it’s much more than just ascending scales being sung. It’s her essence being sacrificed for the prospect of love. The tragedy is vanquished in the rising hope bubbling to the surface. And you hear every beautiful note of it.
Also, Ariel is a creature aspiring to exist between land and sea. She wants to live in both, and her skin tone reflects that state- not quite black or white but an inoffensive melange.
Bailey may be perfect for The Little Mermaid but the rest of the film is not a perfect adaptation, revision or even an upgrade from the 1989 original. It’s everything a Disney classic animated live action revival shouldn’t be, but always is: dutiful, defensive, desperate for approval, full of obligation and noble intentions. There are no witty Easter eggs for the now adult fans to point out to their kids, no irreverent updating of any character other than Ariel. Moving from 2D to 3D does nothing for this new version. Other than the underwater scenes, which have an Avatar sheen to them, it’s flat and dull plot, set, character wise . The cinematography, however, is so bright and shiny that it hurt my eyes. It’s as if the director, Rob Marshall wanted me to squint through all of it, hoping I won’t see the nothing that is there.
Sebastian the crab (Daveed Diggs) looks goofy, a squished bug-eyed version of the original animated version. There’s still the Jamaican accent, and the new version of Under the Sea, is still a kinetic crowd pleasure. It’s this Little Mermaid’s one thing that out does the 1989 version. The crab’s original annoying deflating obsequiousness is even more irritating in the update. I wanted him banished from the screen and my mind. Better yet, he should be boiled and served fresh with garlic and butter, for my wife’s dinner. She’s a lover of crab legs.
The same goes for Scuttle the seagull (Awkwafina)
Ariel’s father, King Triton(Javier Bardem) gets no real updating. He looks more muscly beach bum, a Ken doll that aged badly, and became seedy and natty. There is a disturbing satyr quality to his paternity. Ariel’s other sisters look as if they were all birthed through different mothers of different ethnicities, and since none of the mothers are ever seen, there is a latent Bluebeard aura to King Triton’s persona that truly bothered me. Are her sisters children of rape or regal philandering? This is diversity casting taking a serious wrong turn into creepy land. It’s just not a good look for a family film. I’m surprised the writers and director didn’t catch this.
Prince Eric (John Hauer King), Ariel’s love, is even more boring and made more irritating by the fact that he can barely sing. He’s suppose to be an echo of Ariel, but just duller. The writers have succeeded in wonderfully dumbing him down. I slept through his every appearance. At the end, I felt sorry for Ariel. She’s sailing away with the wrong man. Perhaps in the sequel he will be dumped, divorced or killed off, leaving Ariel to grow to her full Disney Princess potential in a kingdom of her own founding?
The worst character choice is made with Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula. The 1989 version was based on the drag queen Divine. In this politically charged climate drag queens are frowned upon, so the animators decided to make the drag queen echo of an echo and give her the bustiness of Mae West with the face of Melissa McCarthy. It’s just weird, casting off all kinds of unintended sexual echoes. (Did these people really think this through or are they just that dumb and naïve?) When McCarthy’s Ursula floats around, and the camera shoots her octopus lower half from underneath, she looks unintentionally (briefly) like an opening and closing vagina, particularly when she laughs and snorts with evil glee. I remember the controversy when the vhs version of the 1989 original came out and Disney had to put out a press release stating that one of the sea castle spires on the cover was not really a penis. But then, this could all be just me, seeing naughtiness because I’m just bored and my mind is wandering. Unlike Ron DeSantis, I have no desire to destroy the Disney Empire.
Ursula’s evil is pretty much second rate villainy, all over emoting and sarcasm. When she is blown up to Godzilla proportions in the climax, the bad CGI makes her look like a giant female sumo wrestler mixed with the Stay Puff monster from Ghostbusters. Weird just weird.
The human ecological updates really do very little to add substance except to provide shipwrecks for Ariel to hangout and play in. I can understand trying to save the world’s water, but does every drop need to be CGI? Instead of all interior sets it could have been shot on actual beaches.
When Ariel goes mute in the second half, the land part, this Little Mermaid goes flat. Marshall is not really asking Bailey to act much, but she does manage to do a lot with facial expressions and body movements. I was impressed with that aspect of her performance.
The Little Mermaid does manage to keep its fins, but not its land legs. It gets a 3.0 out of 5 or a B. It’s streaming on Disney Plus.
- Disney‘s The Little Mermaid
by Ron Clementsand John Musker
- Halle Bailey
- Jonah Hauer-King
- Daveed Diggs
- Jacob Tremblay
- Noma Dumezweni
- Art Malik
- Javier Bardem
- Melissa McCarthy
- Walt Disney Pictures
- Lucamar Productions
- Marc Platt Productions
- May 8, 2023(Dolby Theatre)
- May 26, 2023(United States)