May 22, 2023
Review: 'The Little Mermaid'
JC Alvarez READ TIME: 3 MIN.
Not so long ago, Disney's position as a guaranteed winner at the box office wasn't a golden proposition, but that all changed. In 1989, after releasing a series of original animation projects, the studio experienced a sudden renaissance, returning to adaptations of animated fairy tales and fables. The company was renewed with the debut of big-screen princess Ariel, the titular star of "The Little Mermaid." It was the 28th animated film released by Walt Disney Pictures, loosely based on the children's story by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, and would feature all-new original music by Alan Menken.
Today Disney is on top of the world once again, having expanded its repertoire with the addition of the "Star Wars" and "MCU" franchises. Entering into the business of profiting from nostalgia, Disney has benefited from looking at its own IPs in new ways.
Several filmmakers have tasked themselves with bringing animated classics into live-action. Bill Condon wished "Beauty and the Beast" into live-action for the big screen, and Guy Ritchie took an unlikely turn at the musical "Aladdin" starring Will Smith, but neither one of these films resonated spectacularly with fans, who were married to the magic of the cartoon originals. For the live-action adaptation of "The Little Mermaid," coming to theaters May 26, the studio took a gamble on Rob Marshall to make "The Little Mermaid" part of our live-action world.
With the winning musical might of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman mostly intact, director Rob Marshall doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel in the live-action version. Marshall does an inspired job of evoking many of the beloved moments from the animated original, and skillfully reinvents them for the medium. Everything feels extraordinarily realistic and tangible. Sure, we have talking fish and rapping seagulls, but the film is based on a fairy tale about bravely finding oneself and falling in love. With new songs provided by Tony Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, the new performances slot in effortlessly, but it's the familiar tunes that win out.
Although there was some brief controversy surrounding the casting of the lead for the film, Halle Bailey's performance is breathtaking. She's no stranger to the work, but given the challenges around acting, singing, and performing in a CGI environment that simulates the deep sea – as well as the confines of her tail and fins as a mermaid – the fact that she is able to bring us into this world with her is remarkable. The performance is effortless. Her voice is as enchanting as the siren song of the sea, and her face is made for the big screen. You believe that Ariel is brand new to the human world, and, to her, everything is a marvel to behold.
Comedically talented Melissa McCarthy is equally enchanting as the villainous Ursula, and to round out the perfect ensemble Jonah Hauer-King makes an excellent leading man as Prince Eric. Javier Bardem is featured as the Sea King Triton, Daveed Diggs provides the voice of Sebastian the Crab, and Awkwafina steps into the role of Ariel's eyes in the sky, the seagull Scuttle. Each actor is perfectly suited for their role, and they joyously transcend expectations.
The original animated film will remain the classic by which all others will be measured, but with this live-action adaptation Disney's "The Little Mermaid" raises the bar, proving that in reinterpretation there is room to grow and nurture something that was special into something that can be special again. An entire generation fell in love with animated movies again because of a red-haired siren, and now a new audience is prepared to embrace Ariel once more.
"The Little Mermaid" opens in theaters May 26, 2023.
Native New Yorker JC Alvarez is a pop-culture enthusiast and the nightlife chronicler of the club scene and its celebrity denizens from coast-to-coast. He is the on-air host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Out Loud & Live!" and is also on the panel of the local-access talk show "Talking About".