Through impressive animation, a talented cast and modernized characters, “The Little Mermaid” remake immerses audiences into part of Ariel’s world.
I’ll begin by setting your fears to rest. The beloved animated movie is not botched — if anything, it doesn’t stray far enough from the original’s blueprint. You’ll quickly get used to Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) and Flounder’s (Jacob Tremblay) animation (though off-putting at first) and all your favorite songs are given spot-on performances.
‘The Little Mermaid’ voluntarily lives in the shadow of the animated version
Differences between Disney’s live-action “Little Mermaid” and the 1989 animated movie are scarce. Perhaps the biggest difference is the way the characters look — it boasts an impressively diverse and talented cast. But fans of the animated movie could effortlessly select frames from the 2023 movie identical to the 1989 version.
Several scenes, such as Ariel’s (Halle Bailey) iconic rendition of “Part of Your World,” look like the filmmakers copy-and-pasted the animated version with live-action actors. At first it strokes older audience’s hankering for nostalgia but by the end, it feels uninspired.
Every addition made to the live-action movie — such as Scuttle’s (Awkwafina) song (which screams Lin-Manuel Miranda’s classic musical style) and extra interactions between Ariel and Eric — enhances the story.
But the movies are so similar it makes you wonder — did we really need this remake?
Was it entertaining? Yes. But the 2023 “Little Mermaid” lives in the shadow of its animated predecessor. There’s minimal effort made to set this live-action apart from the animated version we all have memorized.
New music from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alan Menken
Lin-Manuel Miranada (“Hamilton,” “In the Heights”) and Alen Menken (“Newsies,” “Beauty and the Beast”) teamed up to compose a handful and new songs and ensure the fan-favorites still shined.
Audiences will hear a solo from Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) where he pours his heart out for the life ahead of him and the woman he has fallen for.
“We chose the moment when Prince Eric, he’s been told, ‘Don’t go back out there, you can’t,’ and he just thinks about this girl. And it’s a love song to her, and it’s a love song to the sea. And to his uncharted waters. To his life ahead of him. So it ends up being a real important theme throughout the movie,” Menken said.
In addition to Eric’s new song, Ariel breaks into song as she experiences her first time on land and Scuttle has a rap that is very Miranada-esque.
Writing new music is one feat, but honoring Academy Award-winning music is another. It was a task director Rob Marshall found “daunting,” he said during a Q&A.
Additionally, finding an Ariel who could pull off “Part of Your World” was essential. Grammy-nominated artist Halle Bailey proved herself worthy early on when her audition left Marshall with “tears streaming down his face,” producer John DeLuca recalled.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” said Marshall of Bailey’s audition. “I just thought she’s so deeply connected to what she’s singing about. It’s so emotional. It’s so beautiful.”
In 2023, Ariel is an empowered modern-mermaid
Ariel’s independence and zest for life set her apart from previous Disney princesses (such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty) who waited on handsome princes to save them. As a little girl, I admired Ariel’s courage to stand up to her overbearing father, her curiosity for cultures unique to her own and her willingness to make the first move with Prince Eric.
Ariel swam so female Disney characters like Belle, Pocahontas and Mulan could run. But she was still a character bound by late ’80s culture. She leaves everything she knows behind (including close friends and family) and changes herself to win over a handsome prince using her outward beauty. Her father cleans up her mess and she lives happily ever after.
The 2023 “Little Mermaid” offers an empowered modern-mermaid for a new generation of young audiences to look to. Bailey preserves Ariel’s bubbly personality while introducing a character with more depth than the sea princess of the ’80s.
Ariel is still human, er, mermaid and makes mistakes. But she doesn’t rely on her father’s power to clean up her mess. She channels her own power to take on Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), earn sympathy and understanding from her father, King Triton, (Javier Bardem) and unite two misunderstood worlds.
Despite losing her voice to Ursula, Ariel makes meaningful connections with Eric. He falls for her playful disposition and curious nature.
“I think what was fun about this … was looking at Ariel and Eric as two people who were kindred spirits who felt a little bit restless, who felt like they were behind the four walls of their respective castles, and were very much looking outwards and not in,” Hauer-King said during a Q&A with the cast.
“They both felt like they were teaching each other things. They were excited and fascinated by each other’s worlds although they didn’t actually know it until the end.”
Ariel and Eric are star-crossed lovers
“The Little Mermaid” has major Romeo and Juliet vibes.
Ariel’s mother was killed by humans. This earns them a reputation under-the-sea as “the most dangerous species” on earth. Her father forbids her from going to shore and shudders at the sight of human creations.
Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni), Eric’s mother, fears the ocean kingdom. She instructs him to avoid sea creatures, telling him that they’re dangerous.
Ariel and Eric’s feuding kingdoms almost put an end to their burgeoning relationship, but they prove that their worlds are actually more similar than they are different. The two kingdoms are united because of the young couple’s openness and bravery.
Ursula: hilarious for adults, potentially terrifying for kids
Ursula and Scuttle tie for getting the most big laughs out of me. I have a hunch young kids won’t feel the same. McCarthy nails the balance between hilarious meddling sea witch and power-hungry monster.
But for a movie directed at young audiences, Ursula might be a little too scary. The black-and-purple sea witch is the type of creature that visits children in their nightmares (the kind that lands them in your bed at 2 a.m.).
A friend of Diggs brought his two young daughters to the premiere of the film. Once he realized the young girls were “terrified of Ursula” he introduced them to McCarthy to remind them that “she’s only mean on the movie,” Diggs explained during a Q&A with the cast.
Your kids might be tough but Ursula’s frighteningly-realistic tentacles, menacing laugh and willing-to-kill desperation for power might keep them up at night.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Is the ‘The Little Mermaid’ 2023 worth watching?
Yes. Adult audiences will be touched by the nostalgic approach to this remake and children will be captivated by the impressive visuals. Everyone will enjoy the fresh take on this classic love story and fun new musical numbers.
When does ‘The Little Mermaid’ come out?
“The Little Mermaid” is slated to hit theaters Friday, May 26.