The Little Mermaid review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Disney’s retreads of transforming an animation classic into a nostalgic live-action remake have had a rocky track record. You don’t so much choose the ones you love or hate but the ones that are decent cover songs or lacking in having their flair. The Little Mermaid can safely be placed on the bearable side of those remakes. It has the same problems as most Disney remakes but also a better cast and a vibrant setting with a tone closer to the original film’s grand scale. It’s a cover song I do not mind.
The plot remains the same as the 1989 classic animated film, so don’t expect a film more faithful to the novel. There’ll be no Ariel transformation into sea foam before the credits roll. You will get a remarkable performance by Halle Bailey, who sings and acts her heart out to make the character her own. Her voice is so wondrous that it will quickly sell the audience why the evil sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) wants it for her own. That being said, McCarthy knows how to rock the diva inspiration of the character well and make the character her own.
Ariel’s underwater world is a decent mix of realistic depictions of a water kingdom and an imaginary realm bursting with color. The whole atmosphere is so engrossing that it’s a bit underwhelming how King Triton (Javier Bardem) comes more comforting, and his crab servant Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) is way too chill compared to the animated version. Both of these characters should have a more significant concern for Ariel in one way or another but seem a bit too passive, as though they’ve read the script and know that things will work out for this mermaid. The additions of Awkwafina and Jacob Tremblay as Scuttle and Flounder, respectively, add little more than one would be expected of these side characters, blending too much into the background that a baffling rap number is the only notable scene for Scuttle.
Outside the waters, Ariel’s wooing of the dashing Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) has some chemistry present. The film makes the wise call to give these two more screentime together, where they delight in maps and dance the day away at a Caribbean village. They also have songs of internal struggles about feeling like outsiders in their community. They’re not great songs, considering these are new additions, but they’re not bad, especially when compared to the rap number between Scuttle and Sebastian.
Despite the visual splendor and romantic chemistry present, this film runs a tad too long. It loses some of its momenta by elongating a handful of scenes that make the film bulkier than its trimmer animated counterpart. While some scenes are thankfully cut (Sebastian’s kitchen chase would be a horror movie in live-action), the additions don’t add as much as they should. Watching Eric find favor in Ariel’s grace is way more enticing than his musical sequence of singing about his feelings and a desire for adventure. We get all that in the sweeter scenes of him delighting Ariel with his aquatic treasures.
The Little Mermaid mostly works at forcing the 1989 animated film through the Disney remake machine. Director Rob Marshall is smart enough to shift the spotlight on a strong cast that sell the biggest draws of The Little Mermaid animated movie. There’s certainly a more original voice present, even for reprising nearly all the same scenes. There’s also great excitement in the ship scenes and wonder when Ariel is dazzled by the Under The Sea musical sequence. Will this film replace the animated classic? Absolutely not, but you probably already knew that. But as a diversion of cover songs, it could’ve been far worse and it’s one of the more passable Disney remakes, if not their best, for whatever that may be worth.