Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid is here and every journalist on the planet has taken a dive into the murky waters of film reviewing, each one keen to craft the most savage or uplifting take on this controversial movie. Me? I’m just the messenger (don’t shoot me), who is here to tell you that you shouldn’t believe the reviews you read before going to see this film. Like, at all.
Before critiquing the critiques I would like to say ONE negative thing about the film that had me gasping for air. It’s pretty dark. Disney and its adopted child Marvel have had a colour problem for quite some time now, preferring dark and moody lighting to gorgeous, bright scenes.
I get it, it adds realism to a movie about men at sea and mermaids lusting for the surface, but this isn’t Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. In fact, nothing should ever be Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
Here’s what reviews have been saying about The Little Mermaid remake:
The LA Times described it as a “half-diverting, half-dispiriting retread of itself” and The Guardian said that apart from Halle Bailey as Ariel, “almost everything else about this flops about like a dying fish on deck”.
After having seen the movie, I feel as if these are exaggerated takes looking to be mean-spirited for no good reason. I get it, it’s fun to hate on live-action movies (especially when they look awful), but The Little Mermaid is a genuinely wonderful recreation of a classic.
Okay, let’s get into the positives.
The Little Mermaid is one of the best live-action movies Disney has created. We often credit Cinderella (2015) or Beauty and the Beast (2017) as the highlights of the live-action era, but I’d argue this new addition to the genre sits comfortably among the greats.
It’s campy, humourous, and often-times (despite the murky waters) gorgeous. Halle Bailey absolutely EATS as Ariel — so much so that you completely forget her performance is based on an iconic original and immerse yourself in her world for the film’s duration.
The film has restructured a few of the scenes to give Ariel a real sense of agency and urgency. Her decisions are informed and thought about, and she is rarely ever a passive participant in her story. It’s great to watch, and adds a subtle charm to the film that the original lacked.
Every song that comes out of Bailey’s mouth is spine-tinglingly good, and she really captures the youthful glee that made Ariel so likeable.
Melissa McCarthy, with even bigger shoes to fill, offers up a faithful take on Ursula that is sure to frighten children and make adults giggle. It wouldn’t be easy to translate a character like hers onto the live-action big screen but somehow, they did it.
Even more thrilling is Jessica Alexander as the baddie Vanessa (Ursula’s human form). Despite her brief appearance, I was TRANSFIXED by this woman. Bewitched even. I too would marry her on the spot.
The wholesome trio of Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) work so well together in this film. The animation decisions made for these characters really allows them to shine, and had the whole cinema cackling, especially during the movie highlight “Kiss The Girl”.
Sure, these are CGI-animated animals who have lifeless faces, but the movie is trying to be realistic here. Fish do have dumb little faces, and instead of just presenting characters like Flounder in their new form and forcing us to deal with it, the movie plays on the fact that these are silly little animals that talk.
Flounder’s face is often used as a humour point (he is MAJOR smooth brain representation with his little eyes staring off into space) and Sebastian climbs his way out of the oddest positions like a hat or Ariel’s hair. It’s great, it’s comedic and it works well. The remake really captured the childhood joy that this trio gave us in the original. And yes, Scuttle is still annoying AF (Awkwafina must be stopped), but to be honest, being a grating nuisance is very faithful to the character.
All in all, I would thoroughly recommend you dodge the reviews and see this movie for yourself. It absolutely isn’t the original, but it shines in so many unique ways that it doesn’t even matter.
Grab some popcorn, enjoy the film, and stop trying to come up with oceanic zingers that will make you sound clever when you write a nasty takedown about a movie for kids. And sure, it being a kid’s movie is no excuse for poor quality, but this movie has so many beautiful and original qualities on offer that it’d be a shame if they were overlooked.