Movie Review TagIn 1989, Disney’s The Little Mermaid ushered in a new age for animation by taking audiences under the sea to a magical subaquatic world of mermaids, handsome princes, and sinister sea witches set to the glorious tunes of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.

The story of a feisty mermaid driven by her love for a human to make a deal with a sea witch not only revitalized Disney as a studio, but created a new type of princess for young girls to idolize and set the standard for modern animation. It was a game changer. And now several decades later, Disney hopes to cast a similar spell with a live-action version of the animated masterwork. But does it sink or swim?

While the latest The Little Mermaid, updated with inclusive casting, follows the story of the animated classic fairly well, it misses enough small nuances so that much of the charm is left by the wayside. Ariel’s fiery nature, Sebastian’s humorous frustration and Chef Louis’ hilarious “Les Poissons” are gone but not forgotten. Director Rob Marshall hits all of the major beats of the animated classic by giving audiences what they want to see, such as elaborate renditions of the classic songs “Kiss the Girl” or “Under the Sea.” But given the fantastic nature of the animation, it’s impossible to compare to the original.

The main issue is its runtime, turning the 84-minute animated musical into a bloated 2 hour, 15 minute affair filled with forgettable songs and superfluous set pieces. While the audience does get a little additional insight into Prince Eric’s backstory and a bit more of the romance between the silent sea siren and lonely prince, most of the magic is lost at sea.

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Melissa McCarthy as Ursula (Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises)

As Ariel, Halle Bailey does a wonderful job as the sea sprite. Her voice, charisma, and looks of longing perfectly capture the essence of the character. Furthermore, her chemistry with Jonah Hauer-King’s Eric is given time to blossom so their romance is an entertaining departure not in the original film. But the true star is Melissa McCarthy, who channels both Divine and Pat Carroll in the role of Ursula, the ousted sister of King Triton (Javier Bardem) whose hell bent on revenge. Her interpretation of the tentacled enchantress creates an undersea icon in green eyeshadow for all to adore.

The real problem is the F/X of the live action itself, which never fully commits to the characters and instead, drops them heads first into an uncanny undersea valley. Sebastian (voiced by Daveed Diggs) delivers each line with accuracy but without any comic flair, while Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) terrify with their dead, cold eyes. But none of he animated characters are as upsetting as King Triton himself, who seems to have lost his benevolence. Bardem’s version of the great sea king comes off as brutish and without the tenderness the toon version demonstrated when dealing with his young, headstrong daughter.

The Little Mermaid will no doubt be a hit for Disney, and they have faith in it, or else it would have been expelled to the Neverland that is Disney+, but it is far from the exceptional experience they presented us back in 1989. Though not a complete money grab, it is missing many of the small moments of delight and wit that made it a paradigm of animation and filmmaking. And while both Bailey and McCarthy are wonderful in their roles, this Mermaid is not one that begs us to be part of her world. Just more of a casual visitor.
























































































































































































































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