Disney’s The Little Mermaid remake has a couple of winning performances, but ultimately feels unnecessary.
PLOT: Young Ariel (Halle Bailey) yearns to explore the world beyond the sea but is forbidden by her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem). When she meets a handsome prince (Jonah Hauer-King), she hitches a plan to explore dry land but makes a deadly bargain with the evil Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), which could imperil the undersea kingdom.
REVIEW: I’ve never really been down with Disney’s decision to take all their best-animated films and make them into live-action. To me, it’s never made sense. Would you make Toy Story live-action? What’s worse is that, typically, these live-action movies run at least half an hour longer than their animated counterparts and are bloated with extraneous musical numbers and plotting, making them an altogether less fun experience than the classics we grew up with. Have any of them been good? I suppose Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book comes the closest. Still, I must admit to preferring Andy Serkis’ more provocative (and demented) take on the material for Netflix – Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle.
Despite two inspired bits of casting, The Little Mermaid is more of the same. Running a whopping fifty or so minutes longer than the original, it’s padded out with Lin Manuel-Miranda songs which, while good, aren’t as catchy as the late Howard Ashman originals. In a poor bit of timing, Disney Plus almost scuttled a documentary on his life only to reverse course. The people behind this movie treat him with more respect, leaving most of his classic tunes intact. Directed by Rob Marshall, who made Mary Poppins Returns for Disney, like the other live-action versions, this is a decent movie. Still, it’s unlikely to replace the animated original in anyone’s heart.
However, I will give them this – two main roles have been inspiringly well cast. Halle Bailey was a controversial (for some) choice to be Ariel, but it’s hard to imagine even the most reluctant critic not being won over by her charming performance. She plays the part very much in the tradition of what was done in the animated movie. Many people thought this version of The Little Mermaid would be too modernized, but Ariel is just how she was in the cartoon, naive, headstrong and lovable.
Melissa McCarthy was the other smart choice, with her having a whale of a time as Ursula. She brings just the right amount of camp to her portrayal, and she can belt out a show tune with the best of them, doing a terrific job with “Poor Unfortunate Soul.” When McCarthy and Bailey are on-screen, the movie works.
The rest of the cast is more of a mixed bag. Javier Bardem’s King Triton winds up being a pretty thinly conceived part, and he’s probably too grounded of an actor for it. McCarthy injected her role with a ton of camp, and Bardem should have done the same. Leading man Jonah Hauer-King, while handsome (his shirt tends to get ripped open by waves regularly), doesn’t have the charisma to make us believe Ariel would give up her undersea kingdom for him. However, the same was arguably true of the cartoon…
Of the animated critters Ariel calls her friends, I did find how photo-realistic they were a touch creepy. I loved Daveed Diggs’ voice work as Sebastian, but he looked too real. I wish they had made him more cartoony – and the same goes for Jacob Tremblay’s Flounder. The character who’s the least faithful to the cartoon, Awkwafina’s Scuttle, actually fares the best, as the actress has a great voice for roles like this. But there’s one bizarre scene where Scuttle eats a fish in front of a Flounder, and it’s laughed off. Wouldn’t Flounder be terrified? Why is he the only fish that can talk? Again though, that’s the problem with going the live-action route and still using the cartoon critters.
I also found the film way too dark in the underwater moments. While I was lucky and saw the film on a premium format screen, the “poor unfortunate souls” that see this on a conventional screen may have a rough time deciphering what’s happening underwater. It’s in vogue to make things dark, but does The Little Mermaid need to look so murky?
Overall, Rob Marshall and Disney’s The Little Mermaid remake is decent enough, thanks to Bailey and McCarthy, but like Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and other live-action remakes, it feels unnecessary. The animated version holds up fine, but if they had to give it a live-action upgrade, they did a decent enough job.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-little-mermaid-review/