Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” may be the best live-action adaptation of a classic animated film since the 1996 “101 Dalmatians.” It doesn’t strive to replace the original, but to share its own version of the oft-retold Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale while honoring the established Disney version.
“The Little Mermaid” (2023)
There was a lot of hootenanny before the film’s release about the changes being made to bring the movie into modern sensibilities. Rest assured, the changes are so minor and work so smoothly that you may not even notice most of them.
Halle Bailey nails her performance as Ariel. Her voice is beautiful, and “Part of Your World” is done and reprised well.
Jonah Hauer-King brings new depth to Prince Eric and looks as if he was pulled from the 2D film into our world. He has great chemistry with Bailey and a good dynamic with the rest of the cast.
One of the best changes was the expansion of Eric’s backstory and character development. His dynamic with his mother, Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni), and butler Grimsby (Art Malik) add a layer of dimension to the story that draws attention to how flat Eric was in the animated film. In addition, they paired Eric’s recklessness nicely with a genuine sense of wonder and true bravery beyond foolhardiness. The writers also cleverly gave Eric a common interest with Ariel: collecting artifacts. Ariel stumbles upon his room of treasures from his adventures, and the two are given a chance to create a real bond over their shared love of exploration and discovery.
Sebastian and Scuttle were far less unnerving than Flounder when it came to their “realistic” CGI designs. Diggs does well with Sebastian’s sarcasm and frustration. Awkwafina’s Scuttle was fine, but her voice is indistinguishably hers to the point of distraction.
A few places struggle with dialogue. Javier Bardem’s King Triton is saddled with some awkward lines, while Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula is forced to rattle off exposition to herself in not one, but two shoehorned scenes in the beginning of the film.
Ursula is one of my favorite Disney villains, and I admit, I was skeptical of McCarthy’s casting. I didn’t think she had the gravitas — probably because, even as she’s grown famous in other roles, I still only see her as Sookie from “Gilmore Girls.”
I was wrong.
She carries herself with a grand ego and malevolence befitting the Sea Witch. And yes, they expounded on her tragic backstory, but not enough to even flirt with the idea of redemption. We don’t know exactly what she did to be cast out, but it’s clear that she’s a villain through and through. And she brought out every “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Parents, be warned: my preschooler was legitimately scared by Ursula (my preteen, not so much).
Jessica Alexander, who plays Ursula’s human form, Vanessa, managed to encapsulate McCarthy’s mannerisms and bring her own level of rabid rage in her brief scenes.
The new additions to the soundtrack are notably weaker than the originals. The three new tracks are penned by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda (whose signature style is apparent). Of the three, Ariel’s “For the First Time” is the least obtrusive and has the most to offer, giving insight into her first experiences on land.
Hauer-King has a nice voice, and Eric’s new song, “Wild Uncharted Waters,” is performed well. However, the lyrics are uninspired, and the song adds nothing to the film.
The third new song is “Scuttlebutt.” If you didn’t know Manuel-Miranda worked on this beforehand, you’ll surely know when this kicks off. In a duet between Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) and Scuttle (Awkwafina), Ariel learns of Eric’s sudden change of heart after the arrival of Vanessa (Ursula’s human disguise). It’s catchy and has comedic moments, but it strays too far tonally from the rest of the soundtrack.
Without spoiling anything, there was an addendum to Ariel’s deal with Ursula that served her malicious intent but inadvertently gave Ariel more agency and allowed the relationship with Prince Eric to develop. True Love’s Kiss still matters. And while they did change the lyrics to “Kiss the Girl,” it’s barely noticeable.
The original lyrics, “Possible she want you too, there is one way to ask her/It don’t take a word, not a single word/Go on and kiss the girl” is replaced with “Possible she want you too/Use your words, boy, and ask her/If the time is right and the time is tonight/Go on and kiss the girl.” If you don’t know the song by heart, you may not even notice.
The subtle changes don’t feel like an agenda. They feel like choices made in order to bring more character development to both Eric and Ariel, and it pays off.
The cast was great, and the movie, overall, felt like a tribute to the original rather than a reinvention. The new songs and some of the dialogue were the weak spots, but it’s still an enjoyable film.
Overall, I give “The Little Mermaid” 8/10.
Oscar-nominated Rob Marshall, known for his work with “Chicago” and Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” directs “The Little Mermaid.” The remake stars Halle Bailey as mermaid princess Ariel, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian the crab, Awkwafina as diving bird Scuttle, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Javier Bardem as King Triton, and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula. Noma Dumezweni will portray the new character Queen Selina, Eric’s mother.
“The Little Mermaid” at Disney Parks
Walt Disney World Resort
A sand sculpture featuring Ariel and Ursula is on display at Disney Springs.
The AMC theater at Disney Springs has banners and a “blue carpet” out for the film’s release.
Guests can meet Ariel at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a limited time. There are also themed treats, including the Bubbles of the Sea drink and Little Mermaid milkshake at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Part of Your World soft-serve at Magic Kingdom.
Take a look at some of the live-action-inspired merchandise for “The Little Mermaid” now available at Walt Disney World Resort:
- New Live Action ‘The Little Mermaid’ MagicBand+ at Walt Disney World
- Live Action ‘Little Mermaid’ Loungefly Mini Backpack Available at Walt Disney World
- PHOTOS: New Merchandise With Prices For ‘The Little Mermaid’ Live Action Remake in Walt Disney World
Guests can meet Ariel at Disneyland Park for a limited time.
A selection of merchandise for the live action movie is also available.
Ariel can be seen in a musical street show at Walt Disney Studios Park.