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The Little Mermaid Review

May 26, 2023 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
THE LITTLE MERMAID Image Credit: Disney
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The Little Mermaid Review  

Directed By: Rob Marshall
Written By: David Magee, Rob Marshall, and John DeLuca; Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen and the 1989 film by Ron Clements and John Musker
Runtime: 135 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG for action/peril and some scary images

Halle Bailey – Ariel
Jonah Hauer-King – Prince Eric
Melissa McCarthy – Ursula
Javier Bardem – King Triton
Noma Dumezweni – Queen Selina
Daveed Diggs – Sebastian
Jacob Tremblay – Flounder
Awkwafina – Scuttle

Disney continues to mine its classic animated feature library in the new live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. The new live-action entry is quite momentous because the original film effectively kicked off the Disney Renaissance and a new era of big-screen animated ambition that generated some of Disney’s best and most beloved animated features. However, director Rob Marshall fails to elevate the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale to new heights with his dull, lifeless and deadened take on classic source material.

The Little Mermaid follows much of the same sequence of events as the original. Young teenage mermaid Ariel (Bailey) has come of age, but she only grows more curious about the world of the surface and humans; a world she wants to experience and learn more about. However, as a mermaid and daughter of King Triton (Bardem), Ariel is forbidden from breaching the surface and interacting with humans. Despite her father’s rules, Ariel becomes smitten with a young Prince Eric (Hauer-King), an adopted prince of his isolated island nation in the Caribbean. Prince Eric seeks to explore new lands, fearing his home’s isolation could harm their development. After saving Eric’s life from a shipwreck, Eric seeks to reunite with the fantasy girl who saved his life and has an enchanting voice. Ariel’s father rejects her desires, and the sea witch, Ursula (McCarthy) manipulates Ariel to make a veritable deal with the devil in an attempt to live her dream.

Director Rob Marshall’s execution of the Disney version of The Little Mermaid is tepid at best. Life under the sea doesn’t look wildly vibrant, beautiful, and imaginative. Rather, it appears very sparse, dead, and fairly lifeless. Even attempts to showcase the underwater kingdom are executed half-heartedly.

There are still talking animals and underwater creatures in The Little Mermaid, but they have been whittled down to a bare minimum. Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle are the only creatures who talk throughout the film. Furthermore, since the characters’ designs have been grounded to make them appear more realistic, they no longer look cute, appealing, or charming. None of the other animals or sea creatures speak throughout the film. Even Ursula’s minions, Flotsam and Jetsam, are rendered mute.

For a movie that is so heavily padded, the whittling down of King Triton’s undersea kingdom to make it appear more realistic is one of the film’s most egregious errors. There’s a failure to immerse the audience in the undersea world, a magical kingdom made of mere people and talking underwater creatures.

While the underwater kingdom of The Little Mermaid never truly comes alive, the same can be said for many of its iconic classical musical numbers. Of course, it’s nice to hear the classic songs on the big screen again, but the live-action versions have lost something in their translation. The songs now lack a significant amount of impact, and they play in a deadened, lifeless manner, merely going through the motions. Case in point, when it’s time for “Kiss the Girl,” there is no magical lagoon that comes alive, with all the birds and creatures joining in for a grand, romantic serenade. It’s simply Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle joining in on their own, with no one else getting into the spirit of the moment. The execution, like many of the musical numbers throughout the film, lacks verve.

The new songs that were added to the film, courtesy of Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda, are adequate, but they do not match the tone of the rest of the movie. The new musical numbers only pad out the film’s runtime, making this live-action endeavor an unneeded two-hour-plus slog. Scuttlebutt, the one character who can’t sing well, yet is given a new song exemplifies that adding songs, and one that’s not even particularly memorable, was unnecessary.

Javier Bardem delivers one of the most underwhelming performances of his career as King Triton, who appears cruel and uncaring about his daughter’s feelings in this version. All that quiet devastation and guilt when he realizes how badly he has hurt Ariel is nowhere to be found and only serves to make Triton unlikable and distant rather than understandably empathetic. The effect is that he comes across as hurtful for no reason.

Performance-wise, there are some bright spots throughout the film. Halle Bailey does a fine job as Ariel. She has a charming sweetness and innocence that are very believable and work for the character. Bailey holds her own for the singing sequences. Overall, she has the best arc out of anyone in the film. Melissa McCarthy is also clearly in her element as the tentacled sea witch, Ursula. One of the few changes that works well for this adaptation is that Ursula is referenced as the long-lost sister of Triton and relative to Ariel. This idea could have used further exploration if the filmmakers desired to flesh out certain characters. Ursula works because she is one of the only characters in the film who does not hold back, and McCarthy is game to have a good time as the all-time classic Disney villain.

Another issue is the script lazily reuses large swaths of John Musker and Ron Clements’ original screenplay. But while many lines of dialogue are identical, the context and actions surrounding the dialogue exchanges have changed, resulting in rather clunky dialogue executions. Similarly, the problem is evident in the lyrics of “Under the Sea,” where the depiction onscreen no longer matches the lyrics.

The Little Mermaid as a remake fails to justify its existence, but its biggest crime is the removal of the original film’s vibrant warmth, imagination, and humorous charm. In translating Ariel’s tale to live-action, the emotional resonance, humor, and the life the story once had are gone.

The final score: review Poor
The 411
The Little Mermaid is a dull, tepid remake. It lacks impact and imagination. There are some bright spots with the performances of Halle Bailey's Ariel and Melissa McCarthy's entertaining take on Ursula. Unfortunately, Rob Marshall's execution fails to bring this fairy tale to life. Down here, it's definitely not better and wetter.