The Little Mermaid (2023) – Review


The latest Disney live-action remake, this time we have Rob Marshall in to direct it, with his previous credits being Chicago and weirdly the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Rob Marshall is a decent director, I think that he is very good at creating set pieces, though I thought that he was an interesting if not a slightly weird choice for directing The Little Mermaid, especially considering how weird he made mermaids look in Pirates of the Caribbean 4.

I’ve been very cynical with the Disney live-action remakes, and this one was no different prior to its release. That being said, I did go in with an open mind. I won’t recap the plot of this, since it’s virtually the same as the original. If you’ve seen that one, then you’ve seen this one.

You have Halle Bailey as Ariel, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Javier Bardem as King Triton. You also have Awkwafina as Scuttle – I’m convinced she wants to be in every single Disney movie.

As for changes, well, the plot line doesn’t have very many. There are obviously attempts at a few expansions, especially around Prince Eric, but as a whole, it doesn’t feel as though much is added. The original went for a Mediterranean type setting, but this one is more Caribbean. As a result, the soundtrack has a more Caribbean feel, the steel drum is used even more so than in the original.

I did rewatch the original movie in preparation for this one, and while The Little Mermaid isn’t one of my favourite movies, I do think that it holds up well enough. It certainly has its issues, the third act is all over the place, and it doesn’t feel really well thought out on how the film would close. I felt that in terms of Musker and Clements, this really gave them their start. They were about two years away from making Aladdin, which apart from the exception of Treasure Planet, is their best film.

You have to remember that two of the big brains behind the original were Howard Ashmen and Alan Menken, who wrote the songs but also contributed a ton to the story – if you want more info on this, I highly recommend Lindsay Ellis’ video on The Little Mermaid, it dives very well into the film’s themes as well as some of the bad faith criticism that followed the film later in how LGBT undertones were carried out in the film through Ursula. While I don’t think that the LGBT aspect of the film is downplayed, it doesn’t entirely feel like it’s present this time around. It’s certainly still there, Poor Unfortunate Souls still feels like it would fit on RuPaul’s Drag Race, but it just didn’t feel very prevalent. But of course, there are some obvious places where the film still keeps to that tradition and keeps it very well. It’s no mistake that this film inspired the name of the biggest British charity to help end Transphobia, Mermaids. I would highly recommend that you donate to if you’re looking an LGBT charity, as well as the Trevor Project.

There are really not too many changes. There are some bizarre additions which I think were designed to fill in plot holes from the original, but that’s it. One of the biggest additions I noticed was that there were a couple of songs taken out, such as the song that introduces King Triton’s daughters, but they added a bunch of songs too. Eric gets a song which is utterly pointless, and Scuttle even gets one which is fine and works well as a comedy song. There’s another one for Ariel for the first time she comes onto dry land which is all done through internal monologue. I hated this song. It’s fine, but there was no point in it being there. This was one instance where the inclusion of a song actually downplayed a significant moment in the film. It meant that Halle Bailey didn’t get a chance to show off a lot of her physical acting, which would have maybe improved that scene. It broke the classic rule of Show, Don’t Tell, it’s the characters telling us what they’re feeling instead of showing us. That scene would have been a lot better with minimal dialogue since it would have shown Ariel’s fascination with the human world. As for the songs themselves, they suffer from the problem that other Disney remakes songs suffer from – a lot of autotune and overproduction. A lot of the set pieces are often not nearly as good as the original animation. I noticed this in Under The Sea, which looked incredibly lifeless.

As for the acting, it’s fine. It’s obviously a more diverse cast this time, which unfortunately, thanks to awful individuals on spaces like Twitter, meant that there was a ton of racist abuse directed towards Halle Bailey. Credit to her, she did a very good job weathering the storm and I’m happy to say that she is fine in the role. She gives a good performance and I think that she is really good with her physical acting which is necessary for this role. I would also say that Melissa McCarthy does a pretty good job, but she doesn’t really emote as Pat Carrol who voiced Ursula in the original film. She does keep a lot of the ideas that the original voice actor did. They added a weird element of her being King Triton’s little sister, which didn’t really add anything and kind of screwed up the dynamic between the two.

Speaking of Triton, I like Javier Bardem as an actor but I feel that he was miscast. He does fine in the role but I feel like he was given bad direction and was maybe a bit too reserved for the role. Everyone is just kind of fine in their roles. One of the standout cast members for me was Art Malik as Grimsby.

I will say that the effects are pretty good. There is a lot of obvious CGI being used, but it does a pretty good job. I’m glad that they didn’t go for completely photorealistic as they did in The Lion King. It does lead to some issues of expression, which I particularly felt for Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) who had to move a lot more radically in order for the character to express itself.

This film does feel like it suffers from the same issue as the other live-action Disney remakes: Padding. They expanded a few areas that I liked, the day spent travelling throughout the island between Ariel and Eric felt quite beneficial for the film, but there are other bits of padding that don’t feel like they really work.

Unlike some of the weakest films of the remake phase, this one didn’t annoy me. This isn’t like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, or Pinocchio that were outright really bad, but I just found The Little Mermaid to be underwhelming. I don’t know if I can entirely recommend it, I would probably tell people to watch the original over this one, but considering I was expecting this film to be awful, I’m glad I can say that it’s just alright, I just didn’t like it that much.

If you have a Disney Plus subscription and you’re curious about it, that’s probably the best way to watch it.
Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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