The Little Mermaid
Halle Bailey’s stunning performance as Ariel elevates this adaptation of the 1989 animation into one of the more watchable live-action Disney remakes we've seen.
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Over the years we’ve been treated with the barrage of live-action remakes from Disney, whether or not we think they’re entirely unnecessary. Yet, even when not all of them are outstanding when withholding that nostalgia, they still get audiences to flock to them, making millions of dollars (five of which reached the billion-dollar mark).
They do have a way of bringing their most popular princesses with their transitions with "Cinderella," "Beauty and the Beast," and, to somewhat underwhelming results, "Mulan."
Though in 2016, news of plans to travel back under the sea with "The Little Mermaid" wasn’t much of a shocker to make this underwater fairytale come to life. Even if this doesn't change the way we look at remakes in the future, it was a tremendous moneymaker this summer, if not the biggest movie of the year.
We all know the story by heart. But if you don’t, here’s a refresher: Underneath the ocean lies the kingdom of Atlantica lives a mermaid named Ariel (Halle Bailey), the youngest daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem), who is always fascinated with the human world and life above the water. Her father forbids any merpeople from exploring the surface.
When she spots Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and saves his life from a shipwreck, Ariel falls head over heels for him, leading her to the determination to go above the water to be with the man she loves. To make this happen, she reluctantly makes a deal with the banished sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) where she can exchange her beautiful voice for human legs where she’ll have three days to get true love’s kiss and permanently become a human before it’s too late.
Anyone who was a Millennial or grew up in the late 1980s or ‘90s will recall watching the original “Little Mermaid,” directed by John Musker and Ron Clements and released in 1989, on repeat. For an animated movie that took a lighter approach to Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 story, it’s an all-around charming fantasy everyone can rightfully consider a childhood favorite. It still looks fantastic after watching it for the first time since I was a kid.
The original was one of Disney’s biggest hits after a string of commercial and critical flops, launching what many remember as the Renaissance era for the company over the next decade or so.
In the approach of them bringing this adaptation to a new light, the fatigue with these remakes has been very apparent recently. But something about the story surrounding “The Little Mermaid” made it possible to have that enjoyable, magical feeling some of these movies have been lacking lately. Though it won't be named one of the best of the year, I walked out of this a bit surprised.
Let's start with the aspect of this adaptation that everyone will admire the most: Halle Bailey as Ariel. And it comes as no surprise that she delivers an outstanding performance. I never doubted her when she was cast since she nailed the character she must've wanted to play since she was a child, and she became this lovable princess.
The stupid outrage she received online because a Black actress couldn't portray Ariel was absolutely unnecessary (we obviously forgot Brandy played Cinderella). Even when she couldn’t speak, she perfectly conveyed the emotions that Ariel is longing for the excitement she’s been searching for, easy enough to carry this movie on her shoulders alone. So we can rightfully put her performance on the same podium as Lily James in "Cinderella."
She’s a great singer (she is also one half of the duo Chloe x Halle with her older sister) with her vocal work similar to Jodi Benson’s. You cast her in more musicals, like the upcoming "The Color Purple,” to show off her range, and I’ll be happy with life.
Director Rob Marshall is no stranger to working with musicals or Disney. Not only did he hit it out of the park with his directorial debut "Chicago," which was the last musical to take home Best Picture, but he’s also combined the two when he worked on 2014’s "Into the Woods" and the delightful 2018 sequel "Mary Poppins Returns."
I’ll be honest, the first half of the movie mostly follows beat-for-beat the same when coming from David Magee’s screenplay, making it slow to start out. But once it started making some changes in expanding the original and keeping the heart of the story intact, it made for a surprising experience I didn’t expect going in.
These remakes can be worth making if they add anything to their animation counterpart. In this case, this does where something like "The Lion King" failed. "The Little Mermaid" is the remake destined to be shown in theaters instead of dumping it on Disney+, where the quality might be lesser, as Marshall’s recreation of its memorable scenes made good use of their budget by making them colorful. And with those changes to make it more cinematic or use its runtime wisely, I didn’t mind most of it.
Most of that time is used to give needed development for Jonah Hauser-King’s Prince Eric. I feared this would make him a bland love interest, just like in the animation. However, this allowed a character like him to be fleshed out more and how he also wants more out of the world and focuses on the love story I found myself invested. Some might think Hauser-King’s performance wasn’t all there, but he made it work, and it made his and Bailey’s romantic relationship pretty cute when this provided more time to find a deeper connection with each other.
As for the rest of the cast, Daveed Diggs's vocal performance as Sebastian the Jamaican crab surprised me. His look wasn’t grabbing me at first, which I think we’re at a time where the realistic animals in these Disney remakes can pause to realize they need emotions, but I got used to his, Flounder's (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), and Scuttle's (voiced by Awkwafina) appearances. Most of the funniest moments came from him.
Melissa McCarthy as Ursula gives one of her best performances in forever, where she’s channeling her animated counterpart by being frightening for young viewers and adding a bit of her comedic style that, thankfully, never came across as annoying. There isn't much of her and an underutilized Javier Bardem as Triton, but they make the most of her time.
Except for two tracks, the renowned songs we know and love by composer Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman are still here (carried by some exhilarating musical pieces that had life to them). You will most likely feel goosebumps when Bailey sings "Part of Your World," my favorite song from the original. The best came from the "Under the Sea" sequence, which I worried would be the dullest, but I was proven wrong when it brought the Oscar-winning song with even more enthusiasm. There were even a few new songs from Menken and co-producer Lin-Manuel Miranda that were a little on the forgettable side, but two out of three weren't too bad.
Does the movie have a lot of emotional impact? No, it does not. However, where things were more mixed was the visuals. Sometimes film looked better than the trailers, and other times it's obvious it's a CGI creature in the aquatic setting, paired with the fact that the on-land scenes don't look too real. Not everyone will be pleased with the underwater cinematography, which isn't even comparable to what we saw in “Avatar: The Way of Water” months ago. And if you recall the third act, that sequence took me out.
Do I still think this was a necessary movie to redo? I don’t think so. However, this movie isn't for those who desperately wanted it to be bad. This will appeal more to kids, especially young girls, who will love watching this like their parents did when they saw what came before.
Overall, “The Little Mermaid” isn’t perfect by any means and doesn’t try to hold a candle to the original's greatness. Still, it’s one of the better live-action remakes I’ve seen from Disney in a while, with Rob Marshall turning this cherished classic into a whimsical, albeit familiar story that’s pleasantly fun for all ages. Maybe it’s not one I’ll watch again, but it’s entertaining.