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The Little Mermaid (2023) Reviewing the New ‘Little Mermaid’: Is It Worth Watching?

The little mermaid

I haven’t been particularly fond of Disney’s recent string of live-action remakes of their beloved animated classics. While these remakes may make sense from a commercial standpoint, they often lack the artistic charm of their original counterparts. However, when I heard that The Little Mermaid, a personal favorite from the Disney canon, was receiving the remake treatment, I tried to approach it with an open mind.

Although this retread may seem unnecessary, it doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be enjoyable. With the timeless score by Alan Menken and the brilliant lyrics by Howard Ashman, I wondered how bad it could possibly be.

The verdict is in: it’s not that bad, but it’s also not that good. Similar to many of Disney’s remakes, The Little Mermaid often feels like a dutiful cover version rather than a truly inspired reimagining. The core story remains largely unchanged: King Triton, portrayed by Javier Bardem, forbids mermaids and mermen from venturing to the surface due to the perceived dangers posed by humans. However, his spirited and inquisitive daughter, Ariel, played by Halle Bailey, becomes captivated by the human world through her collection of shipwreck artifacts.

When Bailey’s casting as Ariel was announced, she faced unwarranted backlash online, with some criticizing the decision to cast a Black actress in the role. It was a sad reminder of how certain individuals become infuriated when a remake or reboot deviates from their idealized childhood memories, and how easily racism can be disguised as nostalgia.

As someone with a deep connection to the original Little Mermaid, I must say that Bailey’s casting is one of the few aspects in which this new adaptation displays some refreshing thinking. Her singing voice is as enchanting as the role demands, and although she may not always exude the same vividness in her non-musical scenes, she keeps viewers fully engaged in Ariel’s journey.

The other cast members present a mixed bag of performances. Jonah Hauer-King, portraying Eric, the handsome human prince whom Ariel saves and falls in love with, oscillates between charming and uninspiring. Despite Javier Bardem’s talent, even he struggles to bring much life to the solemnly bearded King Triton, burdened by the movie’s occasionally artificial-looking CGI. Melissa McCarthy injects a wickedly mischievous touch to Ursula, the sea witch with many tentacles, who grants Ariel her wish to become human at a steep price. However, she often leans more towards easy laughs rather than genuine menace.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect lies with Ariel’s loyal animal companions. Awkwafina’s portrayal of Scuttle, the boisterous seagull, becomes a bit grating with her exaggerated comedic style. Daveed Diggs, known for his role in Hamilton, struggles to make Sebastian, the worrisome crab guiding Ariel, an appealing sidekick. This has less to do with Diggs’ acting and singing abilities and more with the unappealing character designs. The original film’s Sebastian and Ariel’s fish friend, Flounder, stood out due to their delightful cartoonishness, while in this remake, they come across as eerie and lifeless with their visual rendering.