The Little Mermaid Review: Halle Bailey’s Performance Keeps Disney’s live-action Woke Update On The Classic Afloat
‘The Little Mermaid’ Review: Halle Bailey’s Performance Keeps Disney’s Live-Action On The Classic Afloat

The remake stays so faithful to the original yet falls so short of recreating its magic that it ends up looking like a bad impersonation of a movie.

Director: Rob Marshall
Screenplay: David Magee, based on Disney’s The Little Mermaid by Ron Clements and John Musker
Cast: Halle Bailey, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy, and others
Rating: 2.5/5


The Little Mermaid is a story of a beautiful but rebellious teenage mermaid, Ariel (Halle Bailey), who is craving for newer experiences and trying to break away from the rigid rules enforced by her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), who otherwise spoils her silly. One day defiant daughter breaks her father’s most crucial diktat of not venturing out of his water kingdom and establishing any contact with the humans. Her curiosity-fuelled fin propels her to the surface where she wastes no time in falling madly in love with a handsome human, Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). Her zeal to explore the world beyond her home and her love for her prince makes her fall for the evil sea witch, Ursula’s (Melissa McCarthy) Faustian bargain whereby she gives up her mermaid qualities, including her most precious possession, her voice, for a pair of legs to fit into the human world.


(L-R): Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric and Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


In today’s world, it looks extra stupid to lose your voice and cut all ties with your own people and your own world to pursue romantic love.  It also doesn’t fit into the feminist standards of present times.  So, Arial’s original quest to be with her prince is here supplemented in the 2023 remake with a more pragmatic passion for exploring the unknown. But then in the process, the passionate love story of Arial and the Prince gets diluted (and it doesn’t help that Halle Bailey has zero romantic chemistry with Jonah Hauer-King and the two look like kids trying out fun activities at a summer camp). And this is the main problem with the live-action version of the 1989 animated Disney classic. In an attempt to appeal to the sensibilities of the newer and younger audience, it makes certain changes in the story that distances it from its old and loyal fans that have grown up watching the original in a world that was less ‘head’ and more ‘heart’.


Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


As for the performances, Bailey adds spunk to Ariel but misses the wide-eyed curiosity of the mischief-making mermaid that her animated counterpart had. Prince Eric, who was hardly ever an impressive Disney hero, is played by Jonah Hauer-King and there is nothing in his performance that helps Eric turn a new leaf.  Melissa McCarthy as drag legend Divine-inspired sinister with of the water world, Ursula, is fabulous and she gives the movie one of its better moments as she sings Poor Unfortunate Souls. But there are times she reminds one of Alfred Molina’s turn as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2. Javier Bardem has featured in my thought bubbles a million times as the hot Daddy but never did I imagine him to turn into Ariel’s dad. He is too dishy to be the aging King Triton; the hotness and acting prowess of this beautiful man are both wasted here.


The makers nonchalantly sacrifice the fulfilled fantastical world of Ariel and her friends on the altar of the woke. Although Daveed Diggs as the voice of Sebastian, one of the most-loved Disney sidekicks of all time, does a marvelous job proving his impeccable comic timing, with the National Geographicification of the magical fantasy world, Sebastian and Flounder lose cute and goofy and are transformed into a hyper-realistic crab and a hyper-realistic flatfish respectively. The fact that these very life-like creatures are then made to work on Disney logic and given voices just makes them creepy.


The original was one of the last animated features by Disney to be rendered in the hand-drawn style before CGI made the meticulous process redundant. While the old-world charm of the original animated movie is sorely missed, the CGI of the updated version especially in the underwater scenes, is so underwhelming that it feels almost like an amateurish attempt once you compare it with the ones we have recently seen in movies like Avatar: The Way of Water and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.


Disney’s original Little Mermaid was essentially a Broadway musical that was set underwater and was brought to life through animation. It had, in fact, heralded the unforgettable Disney Renaissance era marked by robust music and vibrant animation between 1989 and 1999. So, it was a good idea to reuse the superlative melodies created by Oscar-winning music composers Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and we have Melissa McCarthy’s powerful and fun rendition of Poor Unfortunate Souls, Daveed Diggs doing an Under the Sea, and Bailey belting out a rearranged version of Part of Your World and revised version of Kiss the Girl, the new songs don’t live up the stature of the classics and stick out like sore thumbs. This is especially Awkwafina’s screechy rendition of the rap song, The Scuttlebutt—it is such an assault to the ears it makes you want to put Ariel’s curse on the singing seabird and make it go mute forever.


(L-R): Halle Bailey as Ariel and Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina) in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.




The Little Mermaid is the latest in Disney’s growing list of Live-action remakes of their much-loved animated classics. While the Rob Marshall directorial banks on nostalgia and mostly stays true to the 1989 animation film replicating some of the iconic scenes and incorporating the original melodies by Oscar-winning duo Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, it is given a woke update. But by adding new layers to this fantastical but relatable story of love, longing, loneliness, and rebellion, and attempting to be ‘clever’, the emotional core of the original gets dislodged. In its live-action version, The Little Mermaid is far less fun and less magical, and often far too dark (quite literally). I really missed the goofy Jamaican-accented crab, Sebastian of the animated feature film.


It is interesting that Ariel was the only redhead Disney Princess. Now with Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel, the redheads have no representation in the Disney universe. Black representation makes you more woke than the representation of redheads.


Instead of tweaking the classics and casting black actors as traditionally white characters, in a bid to make them ‘diversity compliant’, how about creating a Disney princess who is black and giving her an origin story rooted in African mythology? We had got the first Black Disney Princess way back in 2009 in the form of Princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, but unlike a Jasmine or a Pocahontas or a Mulan, or Moana it was more about ticking a checkbox than celebrating the African-origin women.


To sum it up, this Live-action remake of The Little Mermaid is a movie nobody needed. In fact, it stays so faithful to the original yet falls so short of recreating its magic that it ends up looking like a bad impersonation instead of a movie.

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