“The Little Mermaid” falls in line with the fun-but-underwhelming Disney Live Action remakes.

Disney’s track record of live-action remakes of animated classics has given mixed results. Certain live-action adaptations garnered praise, like Jungle Book (2016) and Cinderella (2015). Others, like The Lion King from 2019, were met with a more divisive response from critics and audiences. The varied reactions to these live-action films left audiences with trepidation about future installments.


Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid (2023) is yet another film leaving viewers concerned with the outcome. Similar to the 1989 original, the story follows Ariel (Halle Bailey) the youngest daughter of the Kingdom of Atlantica’s ruler King Triton (Javier Bardem). Fascinated with the human world, she is stuck in a society where mermaids are forbidden to explore it. When she saves human Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from a shipwreck, she is eager to learn more about their world. Determined to explore, she makes a deal with the conniving Sea Witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) to risk it all for a new life.

This version of The Little Mermaid works best with its incredibly talented ensemble cast. Halle Bailey’s (Grown-ish) portrayal of Ariel expertly conveys charm and warmth in equal measure. Her magnetic charisma and general sense of wonder make this version of Ariel an instant classic. That charisma allows Bailey to have infectious chemistry with anyone she comes across on-screen. The classic “Under the Sea” musical number serves as a visual feast for the eyes, offering a fun and joyous energy, unlike any other live-action Disney story.


Javier Bardem as King Triton in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Those elements allow the film’s songs to come alive and elevate the performances of others. Like the original film, Ariel gives up her voice when she ventures out into the human world, which allows Prince Eric to be given more depth than in the original film.  Bailey and Haur-King (A Dog’s Way Home) have a powerful chemistry that says so much in moments of pure silence. Those moments work well as a counterbalance to the film’s broader performances.

To call Melissa McCarthy’s (The Heat) performance as Ursula “broad” would be a disservice. McCarthy is chewing the scenery in ways that won’t work for everyone but had me smiling ear to ear. Her performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is simply electrifying to watch on screen.  The performance is darkly comedic and overtakes other supporting performances in the cast.


Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bardem (Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile) as King Triton offers a regal and heartfelt turn, but without any palpable depth. What we learn about Triton is incredibly simple, with his sole motive being his daughter’s protection. The same could be said for the supporting characters Flounder (Jacob Tremblay), Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), and Scuttle (Awkwafina). These characters are strictly there to provide audiences (particularly young children) with laughs. Some of those laughs are effective, while others left me rolling my eyes.

The cardinal sin of The Little Mermaid is its two-hour-and-fifteen-minute running time. Viewers who are most eager to see the film have almost definitely seen the original. If they are die-hard fans, then simply seeing this story in the “real” world might be enough for them. The problem is that the film does not do anything new to properly justify its existence. Director Rob Marshall respectfully follows the story beats of its animated predecessor. It’s that level of serious respect that makes the finished result feel underwhelming.


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.

Certain songs created for the film feel underwritten, while other new comedic moments land with a thud. In these moments, one might wonder if those behind the camera even saw the original film. Such a frustrating thought detracts from what works well in the story overall.

Halle Bailey deserves a long and prosperous career after a star-making lead performance. She is magnetic as Ariel with a consistently engaging presence on the big screen. Her voice helps musical numbers come alive in ways that will leave audiences grinning long after the credits roll. The problem is that those moments eventually blend together in repetitive ways. Successful pieces keep the film enjoyable, but the finished result may leave you wanting more.

In theaters May 26th, 2023.

For more information, head to the official Walt Disney Studios The Little Mermaid webpage.

Final Score: 3 out of 5.


Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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