The live-action Disney classic remakes have been polarizing among fans and movie-goers alike, fueling a debate on whether it was necessary to reimagine the beloved animated classics. Many have pointed to some of these remakes as lacking the soul and visual charm that made Disney’s animated films so appealing to generations of fans. But can they still be done right enough to be fun to watch and respect the legacy of the films they were inspired by? That’s where Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid ends up landing in the wake of the other remakes not being received well. While not perfect or better than the original 1989 animated film, the 2023 reimagining of The Little Mermaid is still very much a charming and beautiful story about young love and acceptance. It does well to compliment the film that inspired it and swim at its own pace.
If you come into watching this version of The Little Mermaid harping on what’s different from the animated film, then you’re going to set yourself up for disappointment. While the story and many of the shots in the movie are taken directly from the animated classic, this version of The Little Mermaid does its best to add things to enhance the story and visual spectacle. These changes make sense and don’t feel out of place, unlike some things done in other Disney live-action remakes. We get to see and learn more about Prince Eric’s background and perspective, we learn more about King Triton and Ariel’s sisters, and we even get to see Ariel and Eric spend more time together and better understand how they fall in love after the meeting.
Other scenes that are added build up more of the relationship between the underwater and surface worlds, as well as more explanation for why certain events happen within the story. It’s the changes like this that keep the integrity of the original story and don’t compromise many important aspects of the classic we know. Both Ariel and Eric play off each other very well and stand on their own in interesting ways, making them feel more on equal footing in this version in both relevance and skillset. It helps the audience see why these two fall in love and why they’re perfect for each other.
But what about the people who play these iconic characters? Halle Bailey is a great Ariel that brings a level of cute charm, fantastic vocals, and a humble yet beautiful style to the title character. Under the seas, Halle’s Ariel is majestic and playful while also being a thorn on her father’s side, and on the surface, she has the quiet charisma to catch our eyes. When she isn’t speaking after losing her voice and interacting with everyone, you see great expressions in her eyes and movements that work very well. Though there are a few spots that have her doing a monologue in her head, or rather singing about what’s going on, it works for the context of what is happening.
Prince Eric, played by Jonah Hauer-King, is given a lot more screen time and backstory for us to dive into. He’s a little rebellious to his parents, much like Ariel, who he has dreams he wants to follow rather than be confined to royal protocol. We see his mother, Queen Selina, and more of his royal subjects interacting with him at various points. Eric even gets his own song, titled “Wild Uncharted Waters”, to tell more of his story shortly after he and Ariel meet for the first time. Unfortunately, his song isn’t as good as many of the classic songs we know and feels a bit out of place, rather than smoothly fitting into the tone of the story. Overall, however, Eric is charming and gets more time to shine and shows us why we want him to end up with Ariel by the end.
The rest of the cast is interesting for the parts they fill, but not everyone is a homerun like Ariel and Eric. The best of the bunch are King Triton, played by Jaiver Bardem, and Eric’s confidant Grimsby, played by Art Malik. Both men deliver great performances and embody their roles in this version of the story, caring about the two love birds in both worlds and helping them out along the way at various times. We see that aren’t perfect, but they care about Ariel and Eric enough to make a difference where it counts, leading to the story’s finale. Each of their interactions with both throughout the film is like the parents that love their children, despite being stern too much.
Other characters are where the film stumbles, but luckily not to a point where everything is ruined. Melissa McCarthy as Ursula seems like a great choice, and yet she never fully owns the role. There are moments where she fully embraces the over-the-top nature of the villainess mer-squid, but in others, it comes off as her in cosplay. Even if the iconic song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” where the character really gets to own the screen, Melissa never fully chews up the scenery as she should. This is the same for the climax of the film where Ursula grows in power and meets her unfortunate end.
Ariel’s underwater friends are what fans will be most divided on. While Daveed Diggs does a great job with the voice of Sebastian the Crab, the realistic visuals of Sebastian will be weird for most. The same goes for Flounder and Scuttle, played by Jacob Tremblay and Awkwafina respectively. A lot of the charm and colorful personalities of these characters in the 1989 animated film are lost in translation to live action. It’s the same issue that Disney had with the live-action remake of The Lion King, where the realistic looks of animals are devoid of the expression and charm that their animated counterparts are known for. Even in the iconic songs like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” these characters never fully become as beloved as they once were. The songs are great, make no mistake, but these designs look weird. Whether you like or dislike these versions of Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle will be different for everyone.
Speaking of which, another stumble of the film is the lighting and layout of some shots throughout. While the important frames pulled straight from the original animated classic look great in live-action, there are some shots that are either hard to see or look very awkward. Many of the underwater sections with low lighting are difficult to see in full, especially when their animated counterparts are so vibrant with color.
While it’s realistic to have less light in the deep water sections of the story, it also would have been a smarter choice to find a way to illuminate everything in there so the audience can take in the framing of the story. The entire song of “Under the Sea” is visually inferior to the original because of this, as well as the big clash with Ursula towards the end. Luckily other parts of the film are given more light and look great, including “Kiss the Girl” when Ariel and Eric are on their date.
If there’s one major nitpick that fans of The Little Mermaid will have, it’s some of the iconic shots that are missing. The film gets most of the big ones everybody knows, like Ariel singing on the rock or swimming towards Eric’s ship during the fireworks. But the ending of the animated version’s story has a beautiful shot of Eric and Ariel right after the climax which is done very differently in the live-action version. Instead of showing the transformation that Ariel has, it happens off-screen and we see more of what happens afterward. For some, it’ll be great to get more story that involves more characters at the end, which is great, but you also lose one of the most iconic shots from the original movie.
The remake of The Little Mermaid is a fun watch for any Disney fan, whether you loved the animated original or not. Unlike many of the reimagined versions of other classic Disney animated films, this one has a lot more heart and soul built into it, giving long-time fans a reason to watch this story again and others to fall in love with it. While it will never replace the original 1989 animated film of the same name, this version of The Little Mermaid can exist right beside it and stand out in its own way for those that love this story. It’s not a perfect transition from animation to live-action, but it’s a great film that most people will enjoy, regardless of how much of a Disney fan they might be.
What are your thoughts about the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid? Are you a big Disney fan who will be watching this? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and let your voice be heard.
The Little Mermaid (2023)
This is a good remake of a classic animated film, with changes that add to the story we already know and don’t compromise it. The main characters are great and have a charm to them that works great. The visuals are beautiful, despite a few scenes that needed more lighting to see better. Many will love the music and iconic songs that are reimagined, with some new ones to enjoy as well.
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