Surprisingly, The Little Mermaid (2023) is a beautifully animated live-action film that captures the heart of the first film, has original comedy that mostly works, and feels quick paced despite its longer duration. Overall, Disney did not mess this one up and it's one both adults and kids will enjoy. The new songs do mostly fall flat (outside of a song written for Scuttle) and a questionable character design for Sebastian raised an eyebrow, but I eventually warmed up to it.
In case you haven’t seen the 1989 classic for whatever odd reason, The Little Mermaid is about a mermaid named Ariel (Halle Bailey), who is fascinated by the human world but King Triton, her father (Javier Bardem), disapproves of having anything to do with humans (fearing they are a danger to their species). When a ship wrecks, Ariel saves Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and is immediately captivated by him. A deal is made between an evil sea witch named Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) and Ariel, which will allow Ariel to experience life on land in exchange for her voice.
Unlike some critics that have complained about Disney live-action remakes being pointless or a simple “cash grabs” I think there’s a valid reason for going out to see some of these. No one complains about The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast on broadway (in fact, those productions are wildly praised) and it’s because we like to see these admirable stories presented in new mediums and while some of these translations don’t quite work in live-action/photorealistic remakes, there’s a legitimate reasoning for wanting to see movies we grew up with presented in a new form of art. For me, I ask the essential questions regarding the plot, character development, technical achievements, etc. and The Little Mermaid delivers. In fact, I struggle to say that this rendition might be even better than the original…that’s a bold statement. Everyone loves The Little Mermaid, but this new film gives Eric more of a backstory than the original, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula is joyously sinister (delivering a chilling sea witch performance), and most of the other minor additions were well-received by me.
Singing and dancing underwater sea creatures naturally lends itself more to a traditional cartoon medium, but once you get past the awkward paradox of photorealistic creatures and them singing unrealistically there’s much done well. “Under The Sea” has a flattering burst of energy to match and maybe even surpass what we remember in the 89’ film; it’s the type of energy that I was sad to see couldn’t be replicated visually on The Lion King’s “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”. The rapid-cut editing and the beautiful expensive CGI underwater creatures made this sequence the most stunning from a visual standpoint. “Wild Uncharted Waters” is a new song that is designed to give Prince Eric more flesh, but unfortunately it was the most awful bland addition in the entire film from a visual and musical standpoint. There’s an edit where it cuts from a shot of Prince Eric’s back to another dutch-angle shot focused once again on his back and it simply felt poorly put-together. Although I would’ve been open to a better song, I think the screenplay alone gave Prince Eric the extra character development needed. All of the other classics; “Part of Your World”, “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, and “Kiss the Girl” are a pleasure to watch. The only new song that works is called “The Scuttlebut”; while it’s a little cheesy, Awkwafina as Scuttle gives an energetic rap-pop performance that’s both impressive and catchy.
The first hour focuses on the characters under the sea and the second hour focuses on the characters on land. I marked in my notebook, “1st Hour- Wonderful” because I was pleasantly surprised with how much I was enjoying this translation. And at that point I was hoping I would enjoy the second half as much as I did the first and luckily, I very well much did. The pacing is incredibly upbeat. There’s a new song called, “For the First Time” that I did not care all that much for, but it does something I did appreciate that the original film failed to do and that is allowing us to be inside Ariel's mind. Hearing Ariel’s thoughts is something that we occasionally get to hear throughout the second part of the film and I don’t think it needed a whole song, but similar to Prince Eric, the moments we just hear her thoughts worked on their own but if they had a better song I wouldn’t have necessarily minded.
Melissa McCarthy is a force to be reckoned with. Unlike the live-action version of Aladdin which had a non-frightening push-over weenie antagonist named Jafar, McCarthy’s performance is menacingly bold, full of disturbing passion, and you can tell she is having a ball with her ominous performance. Her undersea cavern looks wonderful, similar to the original film; it has hints of purple lighting to distinguish it from other parts of the sea.
If you don’t care for spoilers you may want to skip this section of my review, but I am going to talk about some minor differences from the original; you’ve been warned. This rendition has Ariel agree to Ursula’s proposal by blood and has her drop one of her mermaid scales into Ursala’s cauldron as opposed to signing a paper contract. Additionally, Ursula’s henchmen fish do not talk and the way Ursula lures Ariel into her cavern is by showing up herself via underwater Facetime; it’s like a portal or video display that shows up in Ariel’s lagoon and she essentially lures Ariel to her part of the sea by promising Ariel she can fix all her problems. And finally, one of the biggest changes is that Ariel’s memory of needing to kiss the prince by the third day is wiped. So she, without having this goal in mind, needs to naturally fall in love with the prince.
The original voice of Ariel, Jodi Benson, makes a quick cameo appearance as a simple townsperson in the market and her and Halle Bailey have a quick interaction with one another; I thought that was a nice way to honor the original voice actress who played Ariel.
Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Ariel’s close friend, was really sweet and I would’ve wanted to see more of his character do as much as Sebastion and Scuttle but I have loved virtually everything that Tremblay is in. He picks mostly great projects to work on. Keep it up Jacob.
Overall, if you’re a fan of the 1989 The Little Mermaid film, you’re going to love this one. It is faithful to the original and is mostly clever with its additions.
|Final Verdict:||The Little Mermaid (2023) is a beautifully animated live-action film that captures the heart of the first film, has original comedy that mostly works, & feels quick paced despite its longer duration. The new songs mostly fall flat, despite Scuttle's song.|