The original The Little Mermaid (1989) is, obviously, a widely beloved classic. The now 34-year-old film with its timeless soundtrack is still a favorite for nostalgic overgrown Disney adults and school-aged children alike. So of course, it was only a matter of time before Disney added Ariel and the gang to their growing list of live-action remakes. Every 2023 Little Mermaid review I’ve read so far has been more of a referendum on the concept of Disney live-action remakes. Everyone has the same boring, tired takes about why they don’t need to exist or how the animals don’t convey the same levels of emotion as animated originals or whatever.
If you come into the 2023 version of The Little Mermaid looking for ways to confirm all your Disney live-action priors, then you’ll probably find them. No, Sebastian doesn’t look exactly as sassy as you remember in the original. No, this movie isn’t as bright and colorful as your technicolor nostalgia trip. Yes, there’s a lot of CGI. And yes, Disney is going to make a lot of money on this and keep making live-action remakes whether you want them to or not. But going in to a movie (or anything, really) only looking to confirm or deny your pre-determined takes is very whack to me. So if you’re here to find out whether you were right about some more general question about Disney live-action remakes, I don’t really care. I’m here to write a Little Mermaid review, not opine on the death of creativity in Hollywood or whatever. There’s plenty of things in Little Mermaid worth talking about on their own. So, let’s do that.
The Little Mermaid Review: A Star is Born
Halle Bailey‘s casting as a Black Ariel was a source of controversy – or, better said, racism was the source from which racists made a controversy of Halle’s casting. But Halle Bailey’s performance in The Little Mermaid should drown out all that noise. Her singing voice is obviously phenomenal, a couple of notes on Part of Your World notwithstanding. But beyond that, her performance really shines for me once she gives up her voice, finds her legs, and Ariel becomes human. That’s also where the live-action version of The Little Mermaid actually separates itself from the original for me.
Looking back on the 1989 original movie, much of the love and nostalgia I feel for it is in the musical numbers and not much else. The romance between Ariel and Prince Eric, which is supposed to be the driving force of the fairy tale, is almost entirely unmemorable aside from the Kiss the Girl scene, an all-time banger. However, making the movie live-action and inserting Halle into the lead role makes the story much more romantic. Halle plays Ariel with a great mix of naivety, curiosity, and smarts. It reminds me of the way Gal Gadot played Diana in the first Wonder Woman. But without speaking. As a result, Ariel and Eric are given a much better love story in the live-action that becomes more of a rom-com. And I’m a sucker for that kind of carrying on.
The original movie has a few detractors who, correctly, point out how ridiculous it is for Ariel to give up her voice for a man and then for that man to fall in love with a woman who doesn’t speak. But the transition to live-action, and Halle’s performance as the curious and headstrong Ariel took away all of those concerns for me.
Supporting Cast Notes
Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric really works for me when he’s talking. The couple of moments he has where he’s singing, including a new song written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Wild Uncharted Waters), are not great. Speaking of Lin-Manuel Miranda, as one of the normie liberal losers keeping him employed, I did enjoy the other new songs he wrote for Little Mermaid. Especially Awkwafina and Daveed Diggs getting to rap on “The Scuttlebutt”. I thought both Awkwafina and Daveed Diggs acquitted themselves well in their voice roles, getting a lot of laughs out of Diggs especially.
The biggest standout of the supporting cast is definitely Melissa McCarthy as Ursula. As a big Melissa McCarthy truther who thinks she is a fantastic actress (and the 2 Oscar nominations back me up on that), I was really looking forward to her performance here and she did not disappoint. McCarthy as Ursula is appropriately camp, funny, and, thanks in part to the live-action setting, fucking terrifying. She was, in my opinion, a perfect choice for the role.
Little Mermaid Review Final Thoughts & Grade
Like I said, if you’re coming into the live-action The Little Mermaid looking to confirm your prior general misgivings about Disney live-action remakes then you’re going to have a bad time. And that’s okay. But I think people genuinely looking to enjoy this movie will find themselves having a great time and, perhaps, even appreciating more of the story than they did in the original film.
Worst case scenario, take your kids and they’ll have the time of their lives. The kids in my theater cheered and clapped at the end of every single musical number and also in the final kiss. So they were having a great time.
Recommendation: See it in a theater with an open mind.
Thanks for reading all that, and as always