The youngest of King Triton’s daughters, Ariel is a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure. Longing to find out more about the world beyond the sea, Ariel visits the surface and falls for the dashing Prince Eric. Following her heart, she makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to experience life on land.
The live-action Disney cartoon remakes generate a large sum of money at the box office. Even if the reception is mediocre from both the critics and audiences, it’s still an easy conclusion to say a profit is around the corner. So on a personal note, I want the studio to continue making these films. Like most children around the globe, we grew up with these movies playing seven times a day whether it was at home or your local daycare center. Little boys, girls, and even some adults would sing aloud with the lyrics as if we were floating on a cloud. With that being said my passion and opinions are stronger, wanting this to be the best it can be, and while it is good to great, it still falls short in some important areas.
When it comes to the casting of the titular character The Little Mermaid, actress Halle Bailey (Grown-ish) fills that role. She was magnificent in nearly every way possible. The look of her character was stunning with her red hair flowing throw the water like ribbons. She possessed an innocence and purity to her character that is not common in most entertainment releases today. Her curiosity about the world around her defined her character like the original film and is relatable as to wanting to know what lies beyond. However, while those are good qualities to have the best was her voice. Halle Bailey sounded magical when she sang adapting the lyrics from the original film. You couldn’t help but smile and sing along with her as she graced us with her beautiful presence on screen. It was a sight to see and this was clearly the best part of the movie by light years. There are those that are unhappy with the color of Ariel’s skin in the movie, but given the location of events (and the fact that mermaids aren’t real in the first place), it made logical sense and made her portrayal even better.
Melissa McCarthy as Ursula comes in second place as another highlight of the film. She was truly committed to the role. McCarthy usually finds herself often doing comedy bits, but she showed some range here that is deeply surprising. What also helped was the visual effects around her to enhance her performance, but you can tell that this wasn’t just another check for the great actress. She cared about her performance and was going to make sure it came across well for a wide audience. Her role couldn’t easily be written off as an oversized disgusting sea creature, it was, but it was also much more than that thanks to the energy she used while filming.
While Halle Bailey’s song selections and singing were magnificent, it’s great to say she wasn’t the only one that could catch a good rhythm. All of the song choices were fire in this film ranging from “Under the Sea,” by Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) to a new song sung by Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). Under the Sea was the best (I was bobbing and dancing hard during this scene). A major concern going in was how the sea life would animate. Would they appear to be actual photo-realistic sea figures, or have that same aspect but dance around in sequence like the animated film? Proudly it’s the latter and it looked amazing! Super fun time this was. This is a soundtrack that you’d want to play over and over again, and it would never get old. Those visuals during Under the Sea and when characters were in shallow water were like an underwater rainbow. It was a beautiful visual treat to see, however, this only took place during certain portions of the underwater adventures.
The rest of the characters were just ok. The voice of Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) was cute, and there was nothing special about Scuttle (Awkwafina). It also took a while to get used to the voice of Sebastian. It was very jarring initially, but you admiring his character did help. These characters weren’t horrible in the least bit, but there was nothing special about them either. While I did approve of Flounder’s voice, the same isn’t felt with his look and design. It was scary in an awful way. He looked sick as if he only had three weeks to live. Why the studio thought his design was acceptable is a mystery, but they definitely needed to go back to the drawing board for a redesign.
While those characters were decent enough, the portrayal of King Triton (Javier Bardem) was dreadful. There was absolutely no emotion coming from his character. It’s not clear if the actor even wanted to be there or not because that’s how it felt. This is weird seeing that he’s such an amazing actor in other titles, but here in The Little Mermaid, it was a deal breaker. It felt like he never even watched the original film to even attempt to emulate the past. Even if he didn’t it made no sense for his acting to be so bland this time around. Unfortunately, that carried over to his relationship with his daughter Ariel. There was no chemistry between the two of them. While Ariel was great alone or interacting with other characters, it was a horrible bore when she interacted with her father King Triton. One of the most pivotal scenes from the original film is when King Triton reluctantly destroyed all of the pieces Ariel found on the ocean floor from the world above. A fifth grader could’ve done a better reenactment in their bathtub that would be better than this. Ok, maybe that’s a bit much, but there was no passion, emotion, or heart during this moment, and it’s a huge missed opportunity. The only positive I would say King Triton had was the different ethnicities that all of his daughters had. I was a little puzzled that Ariel was Black and King Triton wasn’t, but once you see the film that aspect does make sense.
Also, it feels silly to critique a film for being realistic but it’s necessary here. As science would tell you, the deeper you go into the sea/ocean the less sunlight will be visible. This hurt the film which needed more bright vivid colors. The ocean floor looked great when Ariel was in shallow waters but when she went deeper it got darker, which became even more dull. It wasn’t a good experience. Taking a page out of the Aquaman film from 2018 would’ve been a great idea to fill this other missed opportunity.
This film’s runtime is two hours and fifteen minutes long. Did it have to be that long? Of course, the answer is no, and maybe a shorter runtime was necessary. The reason being is the pacing of this film is also not where it needs to be. There were too many moments that felt like filler, and I was wondering where we were headed or wanted to get back to Ariel. There are some relations to the real world on how people react to the unknown which can be a detriment to life and society, and there were also portions of this film to fill in Eric’s backstory and where he comes from, but to say I was excited throughout this whole movie would be severely untrue. There were a number of moments I just wanted to move on to the next scene from not being exhilarated by what was in front of me. I mentioned earlier that there was no chemistry between King Triton and Ariel, but there was a ton of it during the last sixty seconds of the movie. Where was this the entire film? It would’ve boosted in overall quality if this was the case, but it wasn’t. This is a good movie overall but still doesn’t come close to the magic of the original film that was released in 1989.