Someday I'll be part of your world.
The Little Mermaid is a 2023 romantic musical fantasy film directed by Rob Marshall, written by David Magee, produced by Walt Disney Pictures, DeLuca Marshall, and Marc Platt Productions, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film is based off of Hans Christen Andersen's 1837 fairy tale of the same name and acts as a remake of the 1989 film of the same name. It stars Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King This is the fourth film in the Little Mermaid franchise. It was preceded by The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning.
"Look at this stuff. Isn't it neat?" - Ariel
Adventurous young mermaid Ariel longs for the world beyond the sea. Bound by her strict father, Ariel sneaks around her father and eventually falls in love with a prince on the land. Knowing her father will never approve, Ariel turns to a mischievous sea witch to give her a chance at true love.
The Little Mermaid is one of Disney's best live-action remakes to date.
While that is a low bar, this is a solid re-telling of the animated classic. I am glad to say that Halle Bailey is the best part of this film. She does a fantastic job as the titular princess. She has the naive, child-like energy that Ariel is known for while adding a few fun quirks to the character that makes it feel different enough to stand out. She does an especially good job when Ariel loses her voice. She is able to emote without speaking in a fun, adorable way that feels entirely natural. And, of course, she is an incredible singer. Her voice is just beautiful. There is no other way to say it. It is plain and simply beautiful.
Daveed Diggs is another standout. When I first saw Sebastian in the trailer, I was very concerned, because he looked too realistic to a point where it was creepy. Once I adjusted to that in the film, I was able to enjoy a great vocal performance from Diggs that is incredibly funny and charming. It lives up to Samuel E. Wright's original performance, and that is a tough bar to meet.
And the award for most improved character goes to Prince Eric. Like most Disney princes, Eric is pretty generic in the original film. He has some elements of a real character, but he's mostly just a handsome face for Ariel to fall in love with. This movie definitely expands on his character. He has a little more going on. They show a parallel between him and Ariel that I appreciated. This improved character also allows for Ariel and Eric's romance to become much more compelling. The movie spends time showing them together instead of just having them immediately fall in love. I was more invested in this version of Ariel and Eric than I was in the animated film. That impressed me.
Like most of these Disney live-action remakes, this film nails one thing: the nostalgia. Sure, that's the whole gimmick of these movies. They are all about nostalgia, but they do a good job with the nostalgic elements. The iconic shots. The songs. The memorable quotes. All of them are in here. When Part of Your World starts playing, it's hard not to get chills. Of course I wish that Disney would leave the original animated films alone, but these remakes hit the right notes in terms of nostalgia.
This is a bit of a weird praise, but the film doesn't do anything to ruin the original. I was going to review Peter Pan & Wendy, but I couldn't get through it, because it changed so much of the original and sucked all the fun out of it. The Little Mermaid has the energy and spirit of the original. It has the Disney feel to it that I love so much, and, although it feels much cheaper, it is still effective. It manages the iconic elements of The Little Mermaid very well, which I really, really appreciated.
This film is too long.
This remake is almost an hour longer than the original, yet there isn't really any added story. They develop Eric a lot more and make Ariel and Eric's relationship a lot more compelling, but that doesn't merit an extra hour of movie. They stretch scenes out and just try to pad the runtime in the most unnecessary ways. There are three new songs, and, while one of them is fun, the other two are long and not good. They are forced. They don't add anything. You will just be rolling your eyes.
The few story beats and changes that the movie does add really don't work. They make these tiny changes to Ursula and Triton's characters that, like all of the additional things in this movie, just feel unnecessary. It doesn't really make the story better. It isn't different enough to make you re-interpret something about the characters. It's just there to be slightly different than the animated movie, but different doesn't always mean better.
The underwater part of the movie also looks...rough. I don't know how they made this movie, but the CGI doesn't look good. The mermaids look awkward. The sea creatures look fake. The movements are incredibly unnatural and weird. The lighting in the underwater sequences is dark and murky. If odd visuals easily distract you, you might have a tough time with this film. I went with my mom, and she couldn't get past the awkwardness of the underwater sequences, and that is valid. Know that going in.
Before this next criticism, let me make something clear. I think Javier Bardem is one of the best working actors. He is fantastic. From No Country for Old Men to Skyfall, he nails almost every role. Almost. So I just want to preface this paragraph with that, because I am about to tear him to pieces. He is HORRIBLE. I don't know why. This is the most boring and awkward performance I have seen in a while. He sleepwalks through this entire film. Every line is delivered with this monotonous, lame energy. He seems completely out of it. I don't know why he was so awful, but he absolutely took me out of the movie.
Final Thoughts and Score
The Little Mermaid isn't fantastic, but it has a great central performance and all of the fun and energy you'd expect while not coming close to the heights of the animated classic.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 4+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
"The Little Mermaid"
Fun Factor: 8.5/10
Directed by Rob Marshall
Rated PG for some violence and action, disturbing themes and images
Released on May 26, 2023
2 hours and 15 minutes
Halle Bailey as Ariel
Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric
Daveed Diggs as Sebastian
Melissa McCarthy as Ursula
Javier Bardem as King Triton
Awkwafina as Scuttle
Jacob Tremblay as Flounder
Noma Dumezweni as Queen Selina
Jessica Alexander as Vanessa
Art Malik as Grimsby