Disney unveiled the latest sneak peak at the upcoming live action version of The Little Mermaid during last night’s MTV Movie & TV Awards and it’s the most dread-inducing tease yet. The 55 second clip gives fans a look at the end of “Kiss the Girl,” Sebastian the Crab’s (Daveed Diggs) valiant effort to play Ariel’s (Halle Bailey) wingman on the surface world and, folks, it’s terrible. If you can manage to see what’s going on in the poorly lit scene, you’ll be rewarded with awkward acting, horrifying CGI animals, and zero romantic chemistry between the two leads. While Hollywood trades keep reporting on a rising interest in using AI to make movies, I have to wonder if Disney’s already done it. Everything about this clip is dispassionate in a way only a computer algorithm could love. It stinks!
Which is a huge bummer because I want the new Little Mermaid to be good. I want Halle Bailey to be the live action Ariel for a new generation of children watching this magical story unfold. I want movie theaters packed with film fans feasting on truly great cinema! But this totally disappointing take on “Kiss the Girl” portends disaster for the film and suggests that no one involved in making this movie understood what made the original animated version so wonderful.
When I first saw The Little Mermaid on the big screen back in 1989, I was totally transformed. I fell in love with the film’s exquisite animation, genius soundtrack, and fairy tale ending, but I was even more obsessed with Ariel herself. She was a Disney princess who didn’t dream of love so much as she hoped for a life of exploration. The human world represented a land of unfettered opportunity. Sure, she quickly fell in love with a certain handsome prince above the water, but Ariel was relatable to me and so many others because she simply pined for more. And “more” is not what she’s getting in this latest preview clip.
In the 1989 animated film, “Kiss the Girl” is an enchanting showstopper full of dreamy romance and major pining. If Ariel can’t convince Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) to give her “True Love’s Kiss” within three days, she will return to the ocean as Ursula the Sea Witch’s (Melissa McCarthy) slave. If Prince Eric does kiss her, though, she’ll get to stay with him as a human forever. One hiccup? As part of her dangerous bargain with Ursula, Ariel can’t speak or sing. Hence why her animal buddies have to do the wooing for her.
Sure, we’re only seeing the last minute of the number, but there’s little in this live action version to fall for. The background chorus of various lagoon denizens sounds like it was done by the “Kars-4-Kids” singers. The backdrop is a pitch black night sky compared to the crisp teals, indigos, and aquas of the original scene. Sebastian, Scuttle (Awkwafina), and Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) aren’t cute compatriots, but bizarre “uncanny valley” versions of their respective animal species. Worst of all, there’s no spark between Ariel or Eric. I don’t believe these two want to kiss, much less even be friends with one another.
The whole reason to adapt an animated film into live action is
for a greedy money grab to give the story a dimension that was lost with ink and paper. Bizarrely, Bailey and Hauer-King are acting less human than their hand-drawn counterparts. Where as the animated characters lock eyes or blush in one another’s presence, these two gorgeous young people seem stiff, awkward, and miserable.
The sad reality is that this lackluster first look at “Kiss the Girl” is only the latest disappointment from Disney’s Little Mermaid campaign. You don’t want to judge a film on a trailer alone, but as more and more footage is released, the quality of this live action experiment is looking more and more disastrous. Which is a shame because I want The Little Mermaid to reach a new generation. I want the gorgeous, lovely, and preternaturally talented Halle Bailey to succeed as the lead of a major motion picture. I want the live action Little Mermaid to be good! But if this latest sneak peak is at all representative of the film, we’ve got ourselves an atrocity.
The Little Mermaid will be in theaters on May 26. Eventually, you’ll be able to watch it on Disney+…which is looking more and more like what I’ll be doing…