The Little Mermaid (2023) Review

Friday 26 May 2023

Plot: A young mermaid makes a deal with a sea witch to trade her beautiful voice for human legs so she can discover the world above water and impress a prince.
Film: The Little Mermaid

Director: Rob Marshell 

Writer: David Magee

Starring: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy

The Little Mermaid follows the journey of Ariel (Halle Bailey) who is desperate to be a part of a world that isn’t hers, and to be with Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) who is equally desperate to see more of his own. When Sea Witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) offers her a magic spell to make her dreams come true, Ariel must go against her father’s wishes and follow her heart as it leads her on land. 

Starting with performances, Halle Bailey was perfect as Ariel. The voice, the childlike wonder at every new human invention she discovers, the chemistry with co-stars particularly Jonah Hauer-King; I really have no notes, she really took the brief of a fish out of water and brought it to life. Jonah Hauer-King’s Eric was also so much more fleshed out than in the original, they gave him his own wants and emotions and I really believed the relationship between him and Ariel, both longing for freedom from the life they’ve been given, wanting to explore the world -it’s a believable and compatible love connection. Another improvement was the character of King Triton, Javier Bardem really added depth to the role and hinted at a potentially darker side to his story through the conflict between him and his sister (plot twist), Ursula -what happened between them to have him banish family? Dare I ask for a villain origin prequel? Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula was truly a highlight for me, her mannerisms and facial expressions were perfect villain, I would love to see more. 

The new songs were a much welcome addition for me. For The First Time performed by Halle right after Ariel loses her voice was a clever way to get around the character not being able to speak, we get to hear Ariel’s first thoughts about the human world as an inner monologue and it was so beautifully performed. Eric also gets his own song, I’m always hear for a Disney prince number, I was a big fan of the addition of Evermore to Beauty and the Beat. Wild Uncharted Waters is an emotionally charged ballad that captures Eric’s desperate search to find the girl who saved him but also his love for the sea, obviously without knowing how closely those two things are connected. Lastly, we have The Scuttlebutt performed by Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), which is the most Lin-Manual Miranda song, if you are a fan of Hamilton or In The Heights you will hear Lin in these lyrics so clearly. As a huge fan of his, this song is the one I walked out of the cinema singing to myself, a great balance of comedy and storytelling told through a rap but trust me, it works. 

The only big thing the film was really missing for me was the big transformation at the end where Airel is given back her legs by Triton but given that the CGI was a little spotty in the initial transformation scene -this may have a been a conscious choice. One smaller gripe is that I would have like to have seen more of the other daughters of Triton, I think they really missed a trick not having an opening number when the sisters are all gathering, showcasing each one of them in their own ocean -but as the film was already two hours long there isn’t another scene or song, I’d want sacrificed so I will remain content. The character of Chef Louis and his song Les Poissons didn’t make the cut for this adaptation, but it didn’t detract from the story, Scuttle and Sebastian brought plenty of comedy to the film on their own.

Overall, I think this live action remake captures the perfect balance of realism and whimsy, I was sceptical of the CGI for Scuttle, Sebastian and Flounder but once the film started those thoughts left my head and the character design just worked. I’ve never been overly attached to the original version of The Little Mermaid beyond the music, it’s not one of my go-to Disney films so I was indifferent to the idea of a remake, which I think helped with how much I enjoyed this film and I think there has been enough added to the story to warrant its existence. Disney fans will be divided but this Disney fan had a lot of fun and I’ll be watching it again before long. 

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