'The Little Mermaid' - Disney's 'meh-made' remake

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday May 30, 2023
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Halle Bailey in Disney's 'The Little Mermaid'
Halle Bailey in Disney's 'The Little Mermaid'

Disney's Oscar-winning 1989 animated adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" launched a whole new era for the studio. With songs co-written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, "The Little Mermaid" initiated many young viewers into the world of Broadway-style musicals.

However, in recent years, some of the flagship features of that golden animation period, such as "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," and "The Lion King," have been remade as CGI-enhanced live-action movies with meh results (with perhaps the exception of "Beauty and the Beast").

Helmed by Rob Marshall, whose 2014 movie adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's "Into The Woods" ranks among the worst movie musicals ever made, the director's clunky touch is felt throughout this new version of "The Little Mermaid."

Already a subject of buzz for the casting of Halle Bailey, a young, virtually unknown Black actress and singer in the lead role of Ariel, there ultimately doesn't really seem to be an actual reason for this movie other than the profits that come from vault-raiding.

Melissa McCarthy and Halle Bailey in Disney's 'The Little Mermaid'  

Almost an hour longer than the 1989 edition (meaning it's at least 35 minutes too long), "The Little Mermaid" does make good use of technology in the colorful and dazzling underwater sequences. But it's almost as if its intention is to distract you from the movie itself being as hollow as coral.

Ariel (Bailey), the beautiful and free-spirited daughter of King Triton (a completely miscast Javier Bardem), the ruler of the ocean kingdom of Atlantica, is fascinated by humans and their belongings, many of which she collects following shipwrecks.

Triton has forbidden Ariel from making contact with humans (smart move!) but that doesn't stop her from trying, causing grief for Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), a crab who has been tasked with watching after her.

An encounter with Prince Eric (hot Jonah Hauer-King), a land-based royal whose rebellious nature comes close to matching Ariel's, leads to a life-changing deal for the mermaid.

Closely observed by the wicked Ursula (a marvelous Melissa McCarthy, who has credited drag queens and Divine in particular as the inspiration for her portrayal), the vengeful sea witch sister of Triton is obsessed with retribution. In an opportunity to take advantage of Ariel's attraction to Eric, Ursula offers Ariel the chance to briefly experience what it's like to be human in exchange for her siren's song. As you may recall, this involves both romance and regret, resulting in an epic battle.

That epic battle is the film's lowest low point (trust, there are others), in which Marshall forgot he was making a Disney movie and decided to dabble in some Marvel mayhem. This may also explain why "The Little Mermaid" now has a PG rating.

In an effort to find something nice to say, Bailey holds her own, and both McCarthy and Awkwafina (as clueless seabird Scuttle) provide necessary comic relief.

Perhaps the most disappointing part is the way that the music, both the original songs by Menken and Ashman (including "Part of Your World" and "Poor Unfortunate Girl"), as well as the new (yawn) contributions by Lin-Manuel Miranda, feel like afterthoughts in a way they weren't in the cartoon. Rating: C

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