Ariel, a young mermaid, is fascinated with the human world, though she is forbidden by her father, King Triton, from interacting with it. After witnessing a shipwreck, Ariel disobeys the rules to save Prince Eric, infuriating her father. Desperate to experience life on land, she makes a deal with Ursula, the Sea Witch, to give up her voice in exchange for legs. The caveat is that she must obtain Eric’s true love’s kiss within three days, or she’ll become a mermaid again and belong to Ursula.
Disney’s constant live-action remakes of their classic animated films made it a no-brainer for The Little Mermaid to follow suit. The animated movie is one I can distinctly remember watching over and over when I was younger. While not my favorite, I was excited to see if I would enjoy this as much as I did Beauty and the Beast (2017).
Maybe I didn’t enjoy it as much, but I came pretty darn close! A certain something is needed to play such an iconic Disney princess and keep audiences engaged, and Halle Bailey definitely has that something. While her casting was divisive to some, I found Bailey perfectly embodied Ariel’s youth and wonderment. At the same time, she made the character her own, and I found her performance charming.
Director Rob Marshall and screenwriter David Magee also did an excellent job staying true to the original while taking steps to improve it. Ariel’s time on land is expanded, and it’s not all about chasing Eric.
Ariel’s infatuation with the human world is on full display. She gets to do everything she dreamed about while under the sea. Experiencing fire and dancing, for instance. Her curiosity is what drives her, and it certainly helps that Prince Eric is her guide. This allows the audience to spend more time with the two and understand what Ariel was drawn to when she first spotted Eric on the ship before it sank to the ocean’s bottom. This added a lot to the film, making the romantic angle more intriguing and enjoyable. Let’s face it; most Disney princes are rather bland and forgettable. But Jonah Hauer‑King brings plenty of personality to Eric, and he and Halle Bailey have lovely chemistry.
I loved the rest of the cast as well. Daveed Diggs got the biggest laughs as Sebastian, and Melissa McCarthy absolutely ate it up as Ursula. I would have loved seeing more of her – Ursula is one of my favorite Disney villains. If I had to pick a weak link in the cast, it would have been Javier Bardem. Great actor but sorely miscast as King Triton. He was so subdued in the role and lacked any authority to believe he was really the King of the Seven Seas.
Based on the trailers, I was worried the film would be a bit too desaturated for my tastes, but it was as bright and colorful as the original, especially the underwater scenes. If I had any criticisms, it would be the visual effects. Seamless one moment and noticeable the next. It wasn’t jarring enough to take me out of the movie, but they certainly could have been improved. At two hours and fifteen minutes, yes, I worried this would be bloated with unnecessary filler, but I had no reason to fear. The movie doesn’t feel that long, and the added material only strengthens the story.
I do think The Little Mermaid is one of Disney’s more successful reimaginings. It’s exactly what I want to see when Disney tosses out these live-action remakes. Give me the feel of the original, but please give me something new at the same time. The Little Mermaid pays homage to the animated feature but improves upon it so that it doesn’t feel like an unnecessary scene-by-scene rehash. Otherwise, what’s the point?