What They Say:
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.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Another year, another live-action remake of a classic animated Disney film. I’ll give the studio credit though: at least there are live-action elements in this one (unlike “The Lion King,” which was an animated remake masquerading as a live-action film). This year they decided to tackle “The Little Mermaid,” an ironic choice considering the animated film almost single-handedly revived Disney Feature Animation and was the start of the Disney Renaissance. While the same likely won’t happen for their live-action division, it is, at the very least, a competent remake that does just enough right to be considered an entertaining film.
There are still flaws with the method of thinking behind the film as many of the problems from past Disney remakes rear their ugly head here as well; uncanny looking side characters, actors who are clearly standing in front of greenscreens, and changes to the source material that are more confusing than they are helpful (not to mention being bloated to more than two hours). Though much has been made of the fact that Lin-Manual Miranda was pulled in to pointlessly write certain song lyrics to include references of consent (and truly pointless those changes remain even within the new context), I think more people will be bothered by the fact that Sabastian, Flounder, and Skuttle look more scary than they do cute.
The underwater sequences – of which the first thirty minutes primarily take place in – are muddied and dark (a far cry from the bright colors of the animated film). The biggest sin the film commits is the musical numbers, which continue to remain lifeless and lack the energy that is needed to truly make this a good musical (why are Disney remakes opposed to having characters dance?). Beyond that though there are some pleasant surprises. I’m pleased to report that the new songs (save for one horrendous piece called “The Skuttlebutt”) are good and breathe new life into the story. Once Ariel hits the land the movie picks up steam by presenting a convincing love story that may be better than the original.
The characters retain their memorable personalities, and the actors bring their own spin on them which is a welcome change from previous casts who seem to be playing dress up rather than playing a part. Melissa McCarthy, in particular, seems to be having a lot of fun playing the sea witch Ursula, as she coyly injects some drag-inspired acting into the role. The MVP of the movie though is the Little Mermaid herself, Ariel, played with ease by Halle Bailey. There has been a lot of discourse on the internet from people who either praised her casting or condemned it for one reason or another (some of that condemnation comes from truly ugly people I’m sorry to say).
Whichever side of the debate you are on, Bailey was born to play this character and is just as good an Ariel as Jodi Benson was (who makes a cameo herself in a fun nod to her Dinglehopper scene). The best I can say about “The Little Mermaid ” is that it’s a fun film that does enough right to never be boring, and is usually a pleasant viewing experience. The worst I can say about it is that the movie is still nowhere near as good as the original, and it is destined to become another forgotten remake that no one wants to watch in a few years. The difference this time around is that audiences are likely to enjoy themselves before returning to the superior film. As tepid of a recommendation as that sounds, this is (believe it or not) progress after two decades of these rotten movies.