The Little Mermaid
The Disney live-action conveyor belt rolls onwards and this time it is the turn of 1989 animation The Little Mermaid, inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, to get a reboot under the guidance of experienced director Rob Marshall. Ariel (Halle Bailey) is a beautiful mermaid with a desire for adventure. She longs to find out more about the human world above the waves, but is restrained by her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem). After visiting the surface and rescuing Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from a deadly storm, Ariel falls in love and longs to be with him. Following her heart, she makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), exchanging her voice for three days on the mainland to try to unite with Eric, but it soon becomes a race against time as Ursula has other plans for her.
From the word go, there is a surprise in store: during the opening scenes, the visuals look absolutely awful. Seriously, what on earth happened…? Thankfully, just as you think your eyes are about to be subjected to another excruciating experience like Tom Hooper’s 2019 Cats, the CGI drastically improves.
Casting is everything in this movie. Halle Bailey is utterly superb as Ariel and, as we know already, has the voice of an angel. It is the ultimate requirement for the character, but she truly is a siren herself with an incredible range and tone that fully delivers one of the finest renditions of Part of Your World to date. Daveed Diggs is inspired casting as the voice of Sebastian the crab and the Under the Sea sequence is not too dissimilar to the Be Our Guest number in the Beauty and the Beast live-action remake, with the screen bursting with colour, imagination and enchantment.
Eric throws himself about a little too much, although it does feel like we get to learn more about this Prince Charming than in the 1989 animation. McCarthy also delivers as the sea witch, Ursula, and channels her past as a female drag queen (or hyper queen), but one can’t help but wish that the role was portrayed by a current queen in this adaptation, given the original character was inspired by the renowned Divine. Bardem proves to be strong, powerful and resilient in his role as Triton, ruler of Atlantica, although we never really get to witness the full extent of his powers.
So, what new scoring is there? Well, Lin Manuel Miranda has certainly had his say, and it does elicit a bit of an eye roll: it’s getting tiresome hearing another shoehorned rap number that is clearly his doing, but Alan Menken, the original composer has stuck around to keep everything in check. Our Disney prince also finally gets to have a little sing – a continuing trend in these latest live action remakes – with a wonderful new song entitled Wild Unchartered Waters.
The world-building is exciting to behold, albeit saturated in CGI, and the costume design also ticks all the boxes. It is interesting when a much-loved Disney animation is repainted with a brush of reality, as you begin to see aspects from a slightly different perspective. Although not relevant to the story, in this adaptation featuring real humans one starts to relate to the characters’ circumstances, and see how fortunate it is for Ariel that there is a prince and a queen willing to let a complete stranger stay in their castle. It is entertaining to consider whether Ariel would be so keen to become human if, like one character suggests, she had to slave away all day in the fishing ports to put food on the table like everyone else.
This, of course, takes nothing away from the magical feeling we get from the film and, while it still doesn’t quite live up to the 1989 original, Disney may treat The Little Mermaid as a success. Roll on Snow White in 2024…
The Little Mermaid is released nationwide on 26th May 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Little Mermaid here: