Explore under the sea and out of the water in the home release edition of Rob Marshall’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.”

Over the last several years, Walt Disney Studios has made a point to adapt one of their well-regarded animated films into live action. Appreciation for each one ultimately comes down to two things: what relationship the audience has to the original and what approach was taken to the live action adaptation. In the case of Pete’s Dragon (2016), a personal favorite, the script changes the location, the time period, and removes facets that don’t age well while keeping the spirit which makes the original beloved. Then there’s The Lion King (2019), which is mostly a scene-for-scene recreation that, with the exception of one scene/song, changes very little to make the adaptation worth it. So where does director Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid fall? By making a series of small changes and using his experience in adapting musicals (Chicago/Into the Woods), Marshall crafts a story we know and gives it an entirely different vibe, for better or worse. Now fans of this latest adaptation can own it with a bevy of bonus features which not only invite you to go exploring the depths the cast and crew went to in order to make this adventure come to life, but also enable you to experience the film in the way you most desire.


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

Along with all the sea creatures known to man lives an entire society that’s kept secret under the protection of King Triton (Javier Bardem). Of his seven daughters, his youngest, Ariel (Halle Bailey), longs to connect with the humans who live on land and is so curious about them that she decides to intervene when one of them nearly drowns. Upon finding out, her father forbids her to go above the waves again, unknowingly setting Ariel toward Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), Triton’s venomous sister, a sea witch who can give Ariel the chance to tread on land. To do so will come with a price that may not just cost Ariel her siren’s song of a voice but the safety of all who live below and above the waves.

If you’re interested in learning about The Little Mermaid in a more spoiler-free capacity, head over to EoM Contributor Gabe Lapalombella’s initial theatrical release review. Moving forward, we won’t hesitate to explore any aspect of sunken treasure we find of interest.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: there’s no need to get into the “did this need to get made?” question because the answer is “no.” This applies to all art. No piece of art “needs” to get made. Instead, the better question to ask is whether or not there’s value in the adaptation beyond the name recognition. To that, the answer is “somewhat.”

The script by David Magee (Mary Poppins Returns/Life of Pi) largely follows the original Hans Christian Anderson tale from the 1989 Ron Clements and John Musker-directed adaptation. Except there’s a very noticeable 53-minute difference between the two. Why? There’s more of an emphasis on Jonah Hauer-King’s (A Dog’s Way Home) Prince Eric to the point that his character begins the film, not Ariel; there’re new scenes to help flesh out the world in which Ariel inhabits (below and above); a new song; and a shift in the way the film’s ending is executed. For all of this, what I think is worth noting are two changes related to the connection between Ariel and Eric. For this version, both of them have lost parents to the world of the other. Ariel’s mother also possessed an affinity for the surface world and the humans killed her in circumstances we’re not informed of, but this establishes Triton’s emotional reasoning for not wanting Ariel to engage humans outside of stereotypical parental control. For Eric, he was orphaned by the ocean and adopted by the royalty of the island he lives on. His adoptive mother, Noma Dumezweni’s (Mary Poppins Returns) Queen Selina, is reluctant of his passion to traverse the ocean because she fears he’ll suffer the same fate as his parents. If Ariel and Eric weren’t already a bit Romeo-and-Juliet, this certainly cements it. But this choice to shift their backgrounds addresses the “white boy rules in the Caribbean” that gives one a bit of ick to consider in the animated adventure, as well as makes their shared passion for each other’s worlds a reason for them to connect when Ariel is unable to speak. She’s as curious as he, establishing a foundation from which first friendship and then attraction can grow. Then there’s the shift in the relationship between Ursula and Triton. Making them kin explains why Ariel might be more comfortable to engage the sea witch (she’s naïve enough to trust family) and adds a little something more than just villainy as to why Ursula wants control. However, for all the extra it provides, sometimes less is more, and just being a bad guy is fine without there being a connection, correlation, or prior history. In the parlance of the day, Ursula’s a baddie and rocks all on her own. Crafting a connection to Triton reduces Ursula into another female character whose perceived value is based solely on the decisions of a man.


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

On the bright side, the set and production design give one a sense that Marshall and company were trying to capture the staged musical films of yesteryear. At least, that’s the feeling they give as too few of them look like on-location sets, with many of my suspicions confirmed by the featurettes that show off just how much was computer-generated. One might see it as being kind that neither the below or the above look particularly tangible at times, but the other side of that is it also captures that feeling of watching a production, thereby conveying a theater-esque experience. This may be being kind where kindness isn’t needed, especially when in-camera magic is my preference over overused green/blue screen. A story like this one kinda needs a little computational help in order to make the magic happen, to try to achieve any sense of fantasy, and it mostly works.


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

If you’re the sort who enjoyed the live action adaptation, then you’ll be happy to know that, in addition to the regular theatrical release, there’s also a sing-along version you can select. This review is based on a digital review copy accessed via iTunes and I found the alt-version via a “Movie Experience” subheader after clicking on “play” in my library. It appears between “play” and “extra” on the film’s iTunes display page, so you can either start the film or opt for the sing-along version and belt your heart out. As for the extras, you can check out the full listing below, but be advised that there are three featurettes, four song breakdowns, and a blooper reel. On the digital version, you can select to watch the 26:16 minute “Hotter Under the Water” as one full behind the scenes experience or you can watch it in segments, opting to jump to your preferred of the five chapters as you please. The other two, significantly shorter featurettes, offer insight on the new song and the inclusion of original Ariel voice actor Jodie Benson in the symbolic passing of the torch that takes place in the film. The iTunes version also includes a song selection option where you can jump into any one of 10 songs at the touch of a button.

Given the choice between the two, I’m going to pick the animated version over the live action because it’s (a) the one I saw in the theaters in 1993 as a kid and (b) it’s significantly shorter. However, if this version, if Halle Bailey’s performance as Ariel is the one that children attach themselves to, there’s nothing wrong with that either. The changes made to the larger story only empower Ariel further, even as it sort of moves her off the center to make room for the other characters to be explored more. Bailey’s Ariel is strong, independent, and willing to fight for what she believes in. It’s no different than the animated version in that respect. So, ultimately, it all comes back to the aforementioned two things, and for those who claim Bailey as “their Ariel,” the scuttlebutt is you’re going to dig it.

The Little Mermaid Special Features*:

  • Sing Along Version – Sing along with your favorite songs while watching the movie with on-screen lyrics.
  • Bloopers – Laugh along with the cast as they have the time of their lives making The Little Mermaid. (2:00)
  • Hotter Under The Water – Discover how director Rob Marshall and his team brought the story of The Little Mermaid to life with this documentary in five chapters:
    • A Tale Of The Bottomless Blue – Join Rob Marshall on the set of one of the most ambitious and challenging films he’s ever directed. (2:31)
    • I Know Something’s Starting Right Now – Join cast members Halle Bailey, Melissa McCarthy, Jonah Hauer-King and more and learn how they were cast in the film and what it was like to bring director Rob Marshall’s vision to life. (3:07)
    • Down Where It’s Wetter – Dip your toes into the virtual ocean and learn about how the breathtaking underwater world was created with visual effects, imagination and a lot of talented artists. (7:13)
    • Explore That Shore Up Above – From Prince Eric’s castle to the beach, explore the above-the-sea locations and the elaborate production design behind them. (6:10)
    • Do What The Music Say – Discover how legendary composer Alan Menken teamed up with Lin- Manuel Miranda to write new songs to accompany the original classics (7:21)
  • Featurettes
    • The Scuttlebutt On Sidekicks – Dive in and meet Sebastian, Flounder and Scuttle, who not only have their own song, “The Scuttlebutt,” but also fresh looks as they work hard to make sure Ariel and Eric kiss before Ursula’s deadline. (6:49)
    • Passing The Dinglehopper – Ariel met Ariel when Halle Bailey worked with Jodi Benson — the voice of Ariel in the original animated movie — who appears in a clever cameo in the live-action film. (3:56)
  • Song Breakdowns
    • Wild Unchartered Waters – Prince Eric, played by Jonah Hauer-King, gets his own song, written by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Go behind the song, from the writing to the recording, to the filming on a practical ship. (4:17)
    • Under the Sea – Get a first-hand look at how professional dancers helped bring director Rob Marshall’s vision to life as they stood in for the various animated sea creatures that sing and dance in this showstopping number. (5:19)
    • Kiss The Girl – Float along and get a frog’s-eye view of the beautiful set built to film the live-action version of this classic song. (6:03)
    • Poor Unfortunate Souls – Join Melissa McCarthy (Ursula) as she takes us on the journey of making her character’s signature song. (6:42)

*Bonus features vary by product and retailer

Available on digital July 25th, 2023.
Available on Disney+ September 6th, 2023.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD September 19th, 2023.

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

Final Score: 3 out of 5.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

TLM Blu-ray

Categories: Home Release, Recommendation

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1 reply

  1. I just can’t muster the interest to watch this. I figure someday I’ll be watching it in my future.

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