The Little Mermaid: It could have been better, but it could have been so much worse

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The little Mermaid is the latest live-action remake of a Disney animated classic. This new version is directed by Rob Marshall, whose credits include the Academy Award-winning chicago and recently from Disney mary Poppins Returns, with a screenplay by David Magee, a screenwriter twice nominated for an Oscar for Finding Neverland and The life of Pi. Featuring music by original composer Alan Menkin and popular musician Lin-Manuel Miranda, 2023 Little Mermaid It’s pretty close to the Disney classic. The goal here is obviously to bring back the magic of the original, as the creative team seems to have a genuine love for it, leaving this remake a relatively unambitious but entertaining film.

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1989 The little Mermaid it was a defining moment in Disney history. It was a return to form for the company and marked the beginning of The Disney Renaissance. Many of the hallmark elements of the Disney Renaissance were featured in that film, including legendary songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menkin, which brought a Broadway musical sensibility to many subsequent Disney musicals, from The Lion King to Frozen, would follow. The songs, the characters and the message of The little Mermaid they are iconic all these years later.

The remake also comes at a critical turning point in the studio’s history, but the 2023 remake is unlikely to have the same impact as the original. While Disney has experimented with live-action remakes before, the trend really took off in the 2010s, which saw Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beastand The Lion King they all get the live-action treatment and gross $1 billion worldwide. The little Mermaid is one of many. Plus, it’s another massively expensive blockbuster at a time when Disney is phasing out mid-budget movies and TV shows from its streaming service.


the big change

little mermaid poster
walt disney images

Although The little Mermaid being the first movie of Disney’s Renaissance, ironically it’s one of the last to get the live-action treatment. The trend is no longer new; it is expected, and it comes with its own clichés and assumptions. One is how Disney remakes, while being extensions of the brand, are also used to address story elements of the original.

The little Mermaid it was both one of Disney’s most iconic films and one of its most prominent due to a common criticism that the movie’s lesson was to “give up who you are for a man.” Now, that criticism was always perfunctory, as the film showed Ariel’s fascination with the presence of humans long before she saw Prince Eric, and “Part of Your World” arrives before her first meeting.

Eric was the catalyst for her to make the trip, but her desire was beyond him. This is why The little Mermaid It has been seen as an allegory for identity and can be read as a body image story or a transparent parable, as her central drive is to change her body and pursue a life in which she feels more at ease; the message of hope is reinforced by her strict father figure who accepts her for who she is.

Related: Every Live-Action Disney Princess Movie, Ranked

The remake wants to address the “change who you are for a man” angle, but doing so could reinforce the original misreading. The film decides to strengthen the relationship between Ariel and Eric, since they are now both children of strict parents with prejudices. While Ariel’s father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), doesn’t trust humans because they killed Ariel’s mother, Eric’s mother fears sea monsters and legends because she sees them as a threat to the people. her. Both Eric and Ariel are the children of parents with overwhelming prejudices, and are very much Romeo and Juliet figures, two young children whose love could break down barriers.

It’s an effective change, as Eric is fleshed out more than his animated counterpart, and in a nice way to connect him and Ariel, he has a secret room filled with treasure from the ocean that reflects his collection of human artifacts. These are two people who have a passion for each other’s worlds. The romance between Ariel and Eric is compelling, as both Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King have great chemistry with each other. The love story is an improvement, but by reinforcing it, the movie ironically makes Ariel’s story more rooted in romance than the original, which was an element they wanted to change.

Halle Bailey is the most outstanding of the cast

The Little Mermaid Halle Bailey singing
Disney

Halle Bailey is the clear standout performance of the film. This is a rising star moment, with the best recent comparison being Rachel Zegler in West Side Story. Bailey has acted before, most notably on the TV show. Grown upbut this will probably be the first time many audiences have seen it, and if The little Mermaid it works at all, it’s thanks to her. Both her rendition of “Part of Your World” and her retaliation are impressive numbers that will bring the house down. Jonah Hauer-King also does a good job as Prince Eric, giving him a bit more personality than his animated counterpart.

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Jacob Tremblay and Daveed Diggs are good choices for Flounder and Sebastian, respectively, but both performances seem a bit off. It may be the contrast to the hyper-realistic features of the animals they depict, but both do a solid job with what they’re given. Awkwafina plays Scuttle, which may seem out of place to some, but she’s in the spirit of playing the original Scuttle with a comedian like Buddy Hacket. The remake actually gives Scuttle a lot more to do and is changed from a seagull to a diving bird to allow him to appear in underwater scenes, and the character gets a good laugh.

Javier Bardem and Melissa McCarthy as King Triton and Ursula, respectively, seem the most out of place. Bardem is giving a surprisingly low-energy performance, which is shocking given how big the actor has come. Crocodile Lyle Lyle and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and that same kind of energy is required here. It seems like he’s looking for a sense of seriousness and a sad father, but it clashes with the rest of the movie.

Melissa McCarthy is fine as Ursula, but she feels like she should be doing more. She’s a cast that looks good on paper, but feels more like an embodiment of the animated version than putting her own spin on it, as Cate Blanchett did for The Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella or even what Emma Stone did in cruella. It’s a performance that needs a little more.

Under the sea, it’s clearer in a theater, take it from me

Halle Bailey's Ariel during the musical Under the Sea in The Little Mermaid trailer
Disney

The little Mermaid it’s one of a long line of films that have gotten caught up in the discourse about enlightenment, or more accurately, the lack of it. Screenshots shared online of the movie from trailers or clips look flat, muddy and dark where it’s almost impossible to see. There was certainly cause for concern, given that the last time director Rob Marshall shot a water-based film for Disney was Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and it was a murky mess. Thankfully The little Mermaid It’s not quite as flat as some clips have made it seem, and this could be down to viewers’ phones having too low lighting or the nature of YouTube and social media compression dulling the image.

If something, the one with the little mermaid the images are too bright in some scenes, specifically the water sequences. The little Mermaid is the last of a succession of underwater stories, from Disney himself Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Avatar: The Path of Water to Warner Bros. aquaman films. All of these movies have visualized being underwater in different ways. Avatar: The Path of Water it was for a clean and pristine alien ocean of wonders. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever it showed an underwater civilization that had adapted to being deep in the ocean without natural light. aquaman went for a big bombastic fantasy that has more in common with animation The little Mermaid than the 2023 remake, down to an octopus playing the drums.

The new The little Mermaid he has gone for a bright, diluted, almost watercolor aesthetic that feels like a classic painting. This is certainly different from the others, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a unique aesthetic; Going for a painterly look can sometimes feel contrived, but that’s a creative decision rather than a technical flaw.

Related: The Little Mermaid Fan Theory: Did Captain Hook Kill Ariel’s Mom?

As in all Disney remakes, visual realism is opted for when representing animals, which, as has been pointed out with The Lion King remake, it tends to dull the expressions of the characters that are supposed to be speaking. The movie makes the decision that the only animals that can talk are Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle, but that also makes for one of the weirder creative decisions. In the original film, “Under the Sea” is performed by a variety of marine life with different voices. Here, only Sebastian can sing, so not only is Ariel doing backing lyrics to a song that’s meant to go against her wants and needs, but the rest of the sequence is envisioned more like an interpretive dance number, with real appearance. underwater creatures that are more alien than anything seen in the oceans of Pandora.

As for the music, the original songs are all classic and are performed well by everyone. The new songs are a mixed bag. Eric’s song “Wild Uncharted Waters” is the best, even if it’s clear they wrote a new song instead of using “Her Voice” from the Broadway show, because this now gives them a shot at an Academy Award nomination. for Best Song. Ariel’s internal monologue song, “For the First Time”, is a good use of Bailey’s voice, but naturally compares unfavorably to “Part of Your World”. Meanwhile, the rap “Scuttlebutt” sticks out like a sore thumb. Lin-Mauel Miranda is a great songwriter, but his style doesn’t quite mesh with that of the late, great Howard Ashman.

middle ground remake

Melissa McCarthy in The Little Mermaid
Walt Disney Studios

After more than a decade of Disney live-action remakes and more than fifteen classic Disney animated films remade, it’s safe to say. The little Mermaid falls in the middle. It certainly doesn’t reach the heights of Cinderella, the jungle bookor even the recently launched and quite amazing peter pan and wendy. However, it is better than Alice in Wonderland, pinocchioand mulan. is justified more than The Lion King either Beauty and the Beast and it is up to 2019 Aladdinwhich, oddly enough, was a remake of a John Musker and Ron Clements Disney movie, like The little Mermaid.

The little Mermaid It’s not spectacular but it’s not a flop. It’s okay, and sometimes that’s good enough. The film’s cool aquatic Caribbean setting makes it a good choice for a summer movie on a hot summer day, and for many young children it could be their first big live-action movie. The film’s bold visuals, coupled with the incredible chemistry between the two leads and a stellar performance by Halle Bailey, make it well worth checking out.

The little Mermaid is a production of Walt Disney Pictures, DeLuca Marshall and Marc Platt Productions. It will have a theatrical release on May 26 from Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

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