The Little Mermaid Synopsis: The youngest of King Triton's daughters, and the most defiant, Ariel longs to find out more about the world beyond the sea, and while visiting the surface, falls for the dashing Prince Eric. With mermaids forbidden to interact with humans, Ariel deals with the evil sea witch, Ursula, which gives her a chance to experience life on land, but ultimately places her life – and her father's crown – in jeopardy.
Disney reignites the live-action remake trend again with The Little Mermaid. To be honest, I've grown weary of writing about the onslaught of mindless retreads the House of Mouse continues to dish out. I can only make the same sanctimonious speech about how these films eschew originality for a safe and easy-to-sell product before it becomes tiresome for me to write and you to read.
In many ways, The Little Mermaid comes from the same mold as its remake predecessors. Screenwriter David Magee repurposes the same narrative tenants without the same grace as the 1989 original. His adaptation is far more cumbersome, embracing an elongated and clumsy 135-minute runtime compared to the 89's compact while still impactful 83-minute length. You would think the added time would allow for more nuanced depictions of the film's reflections on cultural misunderstanding, but this film primarily finds itself treading water in that regard. If anything, the film's meditations feel far less effective than they once were.
Instead, 2023's The Little Mermaid utilizes its extra time to inject superfluous inclusions. Flatlining new songs stick out like a sore thumb compared to the resonant work of Alan Menken, including a Scuttlebutt rap song that finds Lin Manuel-Miranda sleepily regurgitating his songwriting shtick. Complimentary characters, like Eric's caretaker Grimsby, are awarded more screen time, although their impact on the narrative is not enriched because of it. In addition, several elements of this remake seemingly strive just to recapture the original's charms in a competent fashion. None of Melissa McCarthy's distinct talents are utilized in her adequate recreation of the wicked Ursula, while Jonah Hauer-King and Javier Bardem lack presence in their interpretations of Prince Eric and King Triton.
For all my misgivings, I still found myself charmed by The Little Mermaid, and it's mostly a testament to star Halle Bailey. The gifted singer commands the screen in a star-making performance. Her soaring vocals imbue vitality into each signature track; she opens with an earth-shattering interpretation of "Part of Your World" that instantly communicates the wistfulness and angst motivating Ariel in her journey. Bailey's radiant charm and poised dramatic chops consistently breathe new purpose into the material, with the actress' sheer ability carrying much of the uneven film on her shoulders. I also credit co-star Daveed Diggs, who delivers a fresh Caribbean take on King Tirton's loyal sidekick, Sebastian, for finding a new perspective within familiar confines.
The stewardship of Chicago and Into the Woods director Rob Marshall is another feather in the film's cap. Marshall's vast experience coordinating showstopping musical numbers is felt throughout; his smooth camerawork and keen eye for expressive framing often unburden the aching emotions behind each musical number. Going into the film, I was concerned from pre-release marketing materials that the visuals would look too dim, particularly with its seemingly dreary underwater sections. Fortunately, Marshall and his creative team establish lavish production values that effectively mask some of the film's occasionally questionable CGI.
2023's The Little Mermaid is an acceptable yet entirely unspectacular reboot. While the film falls into the Disney formula trap, it does so with panache and an adequate understanding of what made its source material work so well in the first place.
The Little Mermaid is now playing in theaters.