THE LITTLE MERMAID review by Mark Walters – Disney remakes another animated classic into live action

THE LITTLE MERMAID review by Mark Walters – Disney remakes another animated classic into live action

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Disney isn’t slowing down when it comes to producing live action versions of their animated classics, and one of the next big ones is THE LITTLE MERMAID, starring newcomer Halle Bailey (of singing group Chloe x Halle) as Ariel, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian the crab, Awkwafina as Scuttle, Art Malik as Sir Grimsby, and Jacob Tremblay as the voice of Flounder. Some of the early trailers met with mixed response, and a certain faction of the “anti-woke” denizens of the internet really seemed put off by the casting of Ariel… particularly the actress’ race. Thankfully, the end result is quite well done, the Bailey’s performance should quickly shut the naysayers up.

The story elements are mostly the same from the original animated movie, Ariel hopes to experience the world of the humans on land, but her father King Triton warns her to stay below the water. When Prince Eric’s ship crashes ashore, Ariel saves him, and becomes an obsession for the young man. Triton’s evil Sea Witch sister Ursula wants to defeat him by stealing Ariel’s voice, and concocts a plan to do so by convincing her she’ll get everything she wants and can exist on land, only it’s a trick, and after three days Ursula will win and Ariel will be helpless as will her father. Only a kiss of true love can save Ariel, and it may take some crafty work from her deep sea friends to make it happen.

This effort comes from CHICAGO director Rob Marshall, with Lin Manuel Miranda produces, and Alan Menken returning as composer, and the film featuring original songs by him and new tunes written by Miranda. While much of the movie is the same as what we’ve seen before, there are some new sequences and songs that pad it and make it feel a bit bloated at times, although the expanded back story on Price Eric is a welcome add. The two hour and 15-minute run time comes dangerously close to overstaying its welcome, but fortunately the content is so fun and entertaining that it’s forgivable. The cast really seems to be having fun and giving it their all. I particularly liked seeing the underrated and criminally underused Art Malik as Grimsby, and Melissa McCarthy is fantastic as Ursula, almost feeling like she’s channeling a performance from early Disney-era animation. But the major strength in this film is Halle Bailey, who is very endearing and ridiculously adorable as Ariel. Even when she’s spending a bulk of the movie without “her voice” and having to use facial expressions and body language to sell the story, she’s a revelation and extremely fun to watch. Awkwafina and Daveed Diggs are amusing as Scuttle and Sabastian, though some of the new songs they take on aren’t terribly great or memorable. Only Javier Bardem seems like a misplaced casting choice here, even if you can tell he’s doing his best with the material.

Let’s face it, there’s almost no way to top the original animated version of THE LITTLE MERMAID released in 1989, but this new version is a great way to introduce a new generation to the material, and show a more diverse and inspired cast. And the new movie looks stunningly beautiful, masterfully shot and edited, and really selling the more fantastical elements. I was very impressed with this production, and I hope people give it a chance. These live action versions of Disney animated classics may not seem terribly necessary or desired, but I’m still happy to be entertained by them when they’re done with this level of enthusiasm.

Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID opens May 26, 2023

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.