The Little Mermaid (2023)


The live-action version of The Little Mermaid fleshes out the story in interesting ways, addresses a few plot holes and conveniences the earlier film forgot to address, and pads the running length with an extra half hour. It’s an at times moving and at times, bland, update on the classic original film.


For many years, the world of merpeople and humans has not mixed, since they hate and fear one another. Humans killed the local wife of King Triton (Javier Bardem), which has caused him to renounce all ties to the above-sea world, and humans think that mermaids drag you to the depths to drown you. This idea strikes Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) as absurd, since he does not believe in any such nonsense. He prefers what he can see and what is “real.” He wants to bring about a new kind of change to his island civilization, and be a “different” kind of ruler, one that is forward-thinking and interested in progress. Nor does he listen to his mother and advisor’s encouragement to get married to just anyone; he has to find “the one”!


Miles beneath the sea, Ariel (Halle Bailey) has similar feelings of longing for another life. She yearns to know more about humans and doesn’t believe all of them could be bad, since not all mermaids are bad or good. She collects items that fall out of ships, wanting to know more about the humans. Then one day, a storm comes upon Prince Eric’s ship and sets it on fire. Little does he know that a mermaid saves him from drowning and drags him to shore; he only remembers the sound of her voice, but Ariel has fallen in love with him. And for a chance at love, she’s willing to risk everything by listening to her banished aunt, the Sea Witch (Melissa McCarthy).


Most of us grew up on the Disney animated classic, and know the story and how it unfolds, but this adaptation changes some things and adds others in an attempt to flesh out the side characters and give Ariel more of a plot arc. Some of it works well, and other things just didn’t land right with me. Eric has his own song now, but it’s rather bland and forgettable; the same with Scuttle, who has an annoying rap that doesn’t fit the rest of the score and rasped on my ears (provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who should stick to Hamilton). If you can’t match the rest of the songs in tone and tenor, don’t try. The movie tries to make Eric less one-dimensional but he still doesn’t have much personality beyond wanting to change his kingdom for the better in the future (a similar motivation given to Cinderella’s prince). And King Triton has even less personality this time around.


As with all of the live action remakes, the vocal talent is less bombastic and memorable than the original characters; Ursula is a lot more subdued, even though the actress looks fabulous. I didn’t mind the changes to Flounder (he isn’t as creepy looking as I feared he would be) and there were moments I got lost in the plot. I liked that they gave Ariel more autonomy and explored her time on land with greater depth; and I appreciated the extra scenes between her and her dad, and the slight back-story given about her mom’s death at the hands of fishermen. The cast is also splendid. Halle has a beautiful singing voice, is quite charismatic, and has nice chemistry with her prince. The under-water scenes are all beautiful and/or interesting, even though Sebastian’s song isn’t nearly as fun as in the original, which illustrated all of his points with close-ups of fish doing whatever he was singing about (this one just has them swimming and dancing along the ocean floor, because they wanted to be more “realistic”). Out of concern for “consent,” they also changed and/or eliminated some of the original lyrics to the songs (“Kiss the Girl” and Urusla no longer talks about “the importance of body language”). And while fleshing out Eric in other ways, they also took his heroism away from him, by having Ariel magically know how to steer a ship instead. I enjoyed it, but also felt that it was a little long. It might improve on repeated viewings, but in many ways, it felt like the original film got to the point quicker.
Sexual Content:
The mermaids show some skin, but it’s more modest than the drawn version and doesn’t have much cleavage.
A storm rips a ship apart and a man almost drowns; fishermen try to harpoon what they think is a mermaid, but are shooting at dolphins instead (none are hurt); a shark attacks Ariel and she manages to trap it before it can eat her friend; the climax includes many frightening scenes and one in which Ariel stabs Ursula with a ship and causes her death.

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