Disney’s Live Action remake of The Little Mermaid tries it’s best to recapture the magic of the original 1989 Animated Classic.
While I, Dragon Movie Guy, have NOT seen the original to this day, I have seen clips and heard many of the songs over the years, and appreciate the attention to detail given to this version of the story.
The Plot — The Little Mermaid
Ariel, played by Halle Bailey, comes of age as a mermaid who has been there and done that for pretty much everything her underwater kingdom has to offer.
A mermaid ‘Princess’, as her Father is King Triton, played by Javier Bardem; Ariel wonders about the world around her, curious to what the above-water world has to offer. Ariel knows of humans, since she’s seen plenty of shipwrecks; and occasionally sneaks off to observe people on nearby ships and islands.
One particular human grabs her eye. A certain Prince Eric, played by Jonah Hauer-King, from the nearby island kingdom; actively hones his skills as a sailor on his family’s boats.
Ariel, known to steal a glance, or two, of Eric; finds him fallen overboard during a storm, and saves his life. Secreting away before he regains consciousness to protect the secret of her mermaid existence; Ariel longs to be human, so she can be with Eric.
Ursula, her Father’s Sister, despite being half-Octopus; sees her niece’s longing, and offers her a deal. Ursula, played by Melissa McCarthy, offers Ariel a magical trade.
Three days on land, with human legs; in exchange for Ariel’s singing and speaking voice. Find true love, and all is good. Fail, and the bad things start to happen.
The Good — The Little Mermaid
Halle Bailey as Ariel
Halle Bailey shines as Ariel, both in her acting, AND her mastery of Broadway style singing.
Bailey channels the ingenue part of Ariel, exploring the world around her in this coming of age tale. She perfectly embodies that curiosity and optimism, ignorant of and ambivalent to the dangers around her as she steps out into the bigger world around her.
Bailey’s singing voice gives us a fresh take on the classic Broadway singing style of the original film; doing probably the hardest thing possible with her performance — doing a similar style performance to the original, while still making it her own.
She doesn’t try to compete with the original songs, or even try to change styles in a *NEW* interpretation. She creates a new performance of the old style, that simultaneously channels the original performances by Jodi Benson, without mimicking her individual performances.
That is an unbelievably hard needle to thread, and she does it with such a natural ease that adapts Ariel from hand drawn animation to a live action, high tech CGI world. And, Bailey does it seamlessly with the success or failure of the entire film resting on her shoulders.
As alluded to above, adapting a hand drawn cartoon into an underwater, Live Action feature film is not an easy task. And with the exception of Sebastian The Crab; Director Rob Marshall and his team hit it out of the park.
The underwater scenes perfectly match the above ground world, while also recreating/channeling many of the animated shots from the cartoon.
Both the underwater environment and the character design/animation work together beautifully. Ariel’s floating hair and animated mermaid tail look real, and you can’t see where the live action stops and the CGI begins.
The above water scenes look great, too. From the set extensions to fully build out the castle, to the character design and animation of Scuttle, as Voiced By Awkwafina, the above ground world’s aesthetic matches the underwater world.
Melissa McCarthy as ‘Ursula’
A Heroine is only as good as her Villain; and the pure glee and mischief Melissa McCarthy exudes as Ursula jumps off the screen.
By the way… WHO KNEW MELISSA MCCARTHY COULD SING?
McCarthy’s Ursula is simultaneously the cat who swallowed the canary, and the evil-enough presence to scare little kids, but not TOO much.
Similar to Halle Bailey and Jodi Benson; McCarthy threads the eye of the needle with her interpretation of Ursula — paying homage to Pat Carroll’s performance from 1989, but not straight up copying it or deviating from it by too much.
The Bad — The Little Mermaid
Sebastian The Crab
I want to be perfectly clear. Daveed Diggs does yeoman’s work in his Vocal performance as Sebastian. My critique and outright repulsion for the character of Sebastian is 100% the CGI character design and animation.
Sebastian The Crab’s animation in the 1989 film was humanized and cute-i-fied. The attempts to make Sebastian look ‘Photo real’ in CGI, not only fail — they’re kind of creepy and off putting.
Sebastian’s snail/slug style eyes, especially, just don’t look right. While sea crabs do have eyes that stick up out of their bodies, like antennae; the CGI programmers/’Digital Artists’; try and FAIL to give human like expression to those antennae-eyes. EPIC FAIL.
Two hours and fifteen minutes.
That’s how long the 2023 Live Action The Little Mermaid version is, compared to the one hour and twenty-three minutes of the original animated classic. And, that 52 minute difference for telling the same basic story drags on for way too long.
135 minutes may not sound like that much more than 83 minutes, especially when you consider there are three new songs added to this movie. But, when you stretch out the same story over a longer run time, you FEEL it.
I nodded off twice during our screening, as did a couple of kids in the row in front of me. The pacing of The Little Mermaid is just too slow to keep the attention of little kids for that long. And, even as an adult, I found my mind wandering in the second act.
The Review — The Little Mermaid
There’s a reason most family films tend to be right around 90 minutes long — it’s long enough to distract the kids, but not too long that it loses their attention.
This 2023 version of The Little Mermaid is just too long.
The music is great, both the singers and the orchestration. The CGI Production Design and animation is great. The Casting/Acting is great.
And, even the new songs written by Lin Manuel-Miranda and Alan Menken fit perfectly next to the original songs written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken 30 years ago.
As a film fan and critic, I, Dragon Movie Guy LOVE four hour Director’s Cuts, Deleted Scenes, and Extended Release movies. And I even think this movie is way… too… long…
The Little Mermaid is finely crafted, visually stunning, and tonally dialed in. But, be forewarned to avoid buying drinks when going to this movie… Or you will be doing two to three bathroom breaks during this way too long movie.