‘The Little Mermaid’ Is A Magical Win For Disney – Review
The Little Mermaid becomes part of our world as one of the best live-action adaptations to come out of Disney.
The late 1830s tale by Hans Christian Andersen that was turned into a 1989 animated film is now a live-action adaptation coming to a silver screen near you. Beyond merpeople made real in the film, so is racial diversity among them, making the beloved little mermaid, Ariel (Halle Bailey), Black, and we love to see it. But that’s not the only refreshing part of the film.
The plot remains the same, a young mermaid wants “to be where the people are”, collecting curiosities from the world above water, much to the chagrin of her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem). When she comes across a shipwrecked Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), her interest in being a part of that world strengthens. Desperate to learn more about him and the land he comes from, the young mermaid consults the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), who makes a deal to exchange Ariel’s voice for human legs.
So, with the help of her sea creature friends, Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), an uptight crab, Flounder (Jacob Tremblay), an anxious but endearing tropical fish, and Scuttle (Awkwafina), a dimwitted seabird, Ariel takes control of the life she wants to live. But there’s a price that Ariel, and her father’s kingdom, will pay if the deal doesn’t pan out they she thinks it will.
While most of the plot from the animated film remains the same, other elements, including Ursula’s relationship with King Triton, Eric’s connection to his kingdom, and Ariel’s damsel in distress archetype, have changed. Additionally, racial dynamics in the film are similar to Netflix’s Bridgerton or 1997’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Don’t ask questions; just live within the fantasy.
Naysayers were up in arms about Bailey’s casting as the red-headed mermaid (whose red locs are a gorgeous element to film). It seems that the racial dynamics of a film are only a problem to viewers when actors of color are given prominent roles. Interestingly, prejudice and its effects on communities play an important role within this Disney film that has a racially diverse cast, both under the sea and on land.
This fantasy is brought to life with stunning visuals of Prince Eric’s and King Triton’s kingdoms. The CGI shines in depicting vibrant underwater life, save for a few important sea creatures (sorry Flounder). As viewers get adjusted to the appearance of some of the underwater friends, not all of them make the cut.
The jewel of the sea is Bailey. Her angelic vocals are paired perfectly with her curious and determined depiction of Ariel. Her version of “Part of Your World” is the clear standout song within the film, followed by the Sebastian-led “Under the Sea” and the Ursula solo, “Poor Unfortunate Souls”. Speaking of, McCarthy’s performance has big cabaret energy all over it.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alan Menken, the composer of the animated film, are in charge of the music. The duo revamped the film’s classic songs, making various changes to ensure certain songs have a more feminist-centered narrative, and added new material to the film’s soundtrack. Not all of the new material, like Prince Eric’s solo track, seems needed for the film, but the new Caribbean elements, and the Miranda-tinged “Scuttlebutt” (which will win over child viewers), are lively additions to the film’s soundtrack.
Many of Disney’s live-action adaptations of their classics haven’t rekindled that sense of wonder and magic found within their animated films. However, The Little Mermaid finally brings all of that to the silver screen. This is largely in part to Bailey’s ethereal performance, the music within the film (regardless of superfluous songs), the electric chemistry between Hauer-King and Bailey, and the film’s gorgeous imagery.
That said, there are some pain points within the magic of it all. The inclusion of new music increases the run time of the film, making it longer than it needs to be. While Prince Eric’s kingdom is diverse, so are the accents, split between British ones and Caribbean ones. The inconsistencies with how the accents sound may not throw off child viewers, but it will take adult viewers briefly out of the fantasy.
Also, it would’ve been nice to have seen more on the dynamics of King Triton’s family and the underwater kingdom. Instead of only seeing how diverse his Merfolk kingdom is, let’s see how it functions too.
Still, The Little Mermaid is a win for Disney. It’s probably the best live-action adaptation out of their studio. There’s still room to grow with future live-action adaptations, but the formula was right with this one. Disney fans and casual moviegoers will enjoy the magic that The Little Mermaid brings to the big screen.
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