The Little Mermaid is the story of Ariel (Halle Bailey), a burgeoning woman of the sea. As the youngest merdaughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem)—ruler of the oceans—Ariel feels stifled. As she’s grown, Ariel has become increasingly enamored by the strange creatures who live above her on land. Her father on the other fin hates humans. He resents their existence given the way they have previously treated merfolk and the oceanic destruction caused by their hands. After an argument with him, Ariel makes a deal with the possibly nefarious Ursula (Melissa McCarthy). The sea witch grants Ariel’s desire to become human, on the condition that she can make one of them fall in love with her before the sun sets on the third day. The only catch is that Ariel must forego her mermaid gifts, including her voice.
What works in The Little Mermaid is the vibrancy and charm. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Mary Poppins Returns) assembles a fantastic ensemble cast full of energy. Bailey is fabulous as Ariel, providing renditions of the iconic Disney songs that will give people goosebumps. In addition, Bailey’s childlike enthusiasm as she explores the human world is absolutely contagious. It helps too that the supporting characters are all-in on the fun. It’s almost difficult to pick an MVP, but Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) as Sebastian the crab is a strong contender. Diggs’ musical stylings for such numbers as Under the Sea and Kiss the Girl are show-stoppers. When he’s not crooning, Diggs’ wit and comedic timing will have people laughing out loud.
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This 2023 live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid from the 1989 animated classic makes several updates for the better. Instead of a straight rehash, Marshall has wisely expanded upon the lore and given depth to certain characters. For example, Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) is more well-rounded with clear motivations and admirable traits. This makes the romantic allure between Eric and Ariel far stronger as they find themselves attracted to the others’ way of experiencing the world. Critics correctly lambasted the original for implicit messaging that women should give up their gifts to be with a man they think looks cute. While there are some remnants of this theme, it’s definitely muted and altered in ways that feel like a step in the right direction.
People who are uninterested or over-saturated with the Disney princess movie formula won’t be won over by The Little Mermaid. While making some important updates to the story, the bones of the classic tale (and countless others) remain. Also, some patrons may find that the final act is oddly rushed. Marshall spends a lot of time constructing the complex relationships between Ariel, her father, and the humans during the 2 hour-plus runtime. But then it feels like Disney executives came into the editing room and told the filmmakers to “wrap it up!” As such, the ending feels slightly anti-climatic and plot devices seemingly emerge of nowhere for convenience. Related, while the majority of the visuals are stunning there is some admittedly poor CGI near the end that might take people out of the experience.
The Little Mermaid is a fantastic, fun, family film. While some live-action Disney remakes have had trouble justifying their existence, this experience has an abundance of fresh joy that will keep people smiling the whole way through.
Recommended if you Enjoyed: Enchanted, Encanto, Peter Pan & Wendy
The Little Mermaid is available exclusively in theaters starting on May 26th.