'The Little Mermaid' Breathes New Life into the Classic Sea Spectacle

Directed by Rob Marshall

Starring Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni, Art Malik, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy

Photo courtesy of Disney

BY Marriska FernandesPublished May 26, 2023

Giving a timeless fairytale a modern spin is no easy feat, but Rob Marshall delivers an enjoyable sea spectacle with The Little Mermaid, the latest live-action adaptation from Disney.

As fans of the cartoon will remember, The Little Mermaid follows Ariel (Halle Bailey), the rebellious daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem), who is forbidden from going to the world above the sea. After rescuing Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from a shipwreck, she is more curious than ever about the land people and their ways. She strikes a deal with the evil witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), exchanging her voice for legs — and all she has to do is receive true love's kiss. Helping her on this mission are Flounder (Jacob Tremblay), Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) and Scuttle (Awkwafina).

There is an earnestness and purity to the way Ariel views the world that's reminiscent of a child's innocence. Bailey captures this flawlessly: every look, line and note is earned and deserved. Ariel could have been just another Disney princess, but Bailey gets it right.

In addition to Bailey, McCarthy and Diggs stand out, leaving lasting impressions long after the film ends. McCarthy finds the heart of Ursula, giving more depth to the character than the original 1989 film affords the villain, while also lending her signature humour to anchor the sea witch's desperation. As fan-favourite Sebastian, Diggs delivers on every comedic note, with his sharp sense of humour elevating every scene. Diggs particularly shines in his beautiful renditions of the classic songs "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl." 

The underwater scenes are magical and capture the spirit of the original, and the film makes a splash with its strong musical numbers. McCarthy's "Poor Unfortunate Souls" is stirring, "Under the Sea" is a worthy spectacle, and Baily belting vocal performance makes "Party of Your World" easily one of the best movie musical numbers in recent years.

The Little Mermaid falls short of perfect: some emotional moments aren't fully earned, and the love story between Prince Eric and Ariel falls short somewhere along the way. But as far as Disney live-action remakes go, this certainly fares better than some of the other entries in recent years. Come for the classic tale, stay for the marvel that is Halle Bailey.

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