The 2023 live adaptation of The Little Mermaid gives us the substance that was lacking in the original, but misses the magic and vibrancy of the underwater world.
When Disney announced that the live adaptation of The Little Mermaid was in the works, I was thrilled but quickly thought, ‘oh, they better not eff this up.’ Just like any millennial Disney lover, this 1989 animated film holds a special place in my heart. Of course, that meant filling big fins and the controversies soon pilled up – from Halle Bailey’s ‘not my Ariel’ hashtag to some wishing that a drag queen played the campy villain, Ursula. But I blocked out all the noise and patiently waited for the release. I even avoided watching the original prior to the new one fearing that it’d be a colossal mess like The Lion King’s live adaptation. NGL, I left the cinema with mixed feelings. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely more hits over misses but I felt it was lacking the vibrancy of the original.
The Little Mermaid 2023 review: An earnest homage to the classic but weighed down by flat CGI
Let’s start with the positives: Halle Bailey. I had my doubts when she was first cast as I’d never heard of the American singer-songwriter but the hate she received was unnecessary. Now that I’ve watched the film, I can’t think of anyone else better to play this new-age Ariel. Not only does she have a killer voice, but she embodies the innocence and curiosity of Ariel to a T. I felt every bit of ‘Part of That World’ (sobs). And her haunting siren and voice change to Ursula’s alter ego Vanessa shows her range.
The new Ariel isn’t just obsessed with a guy she just met; she’s genuinely curious about the world above. When she becomes human, she isn’t just swooning over Prince Eric during their date; she’s loving the sights and sounds of the village too.
They finally gave Prince Eric some personality
Sure, Jonah Hauer-King doesn’t have dreamy blue eyes like his animated persona, but I love that his struggles mirror Ariel’s. As an adopted prince who’d rather travel the world, mingle with village folk and rebuild their port, he too feels trapped and weighed down by the responsibilities of being the future king.
The trailer did him no justice and just like others, I thought he looked too old beside Halle. Yet, their chemistry proved me wrong. Even though Ariel lost her voice, they connected. Shoutout to the adorable scene during ‘Kiss The Girl’ when Ariel gives Eric clues to guess her name or when Eric gives Ariel a glass figurine of a mermaid. These are the details we love about remaking classics.
Ariel’s sidekick trio are better than the original
Some may not agree but I thought Daveed Diggs (who voices everybody’s favourite crustacean, Sebastian), Jacob Tremblay (the adorable fish, Flounder) and Akwafina (the seagull, Scuttle) retained the original flavour of our favourite characters and fetched chuckles. ‘Under the Sea’ was a visual spectacle while ‘Kiss the Girl’ gave us the dose of Disney magic we needed. Good call on omitting ‘Les Poissons’, the song where Sebastian’s trapped in a kitchen in the animated version. I always thought it steered away from the story.
The classic tunes we love shine through
The music by composer Alan Menken and producer Lin-Manuel Miranda had its fair share of hits and misses. I’m glad they respected the classics – ‘Part of Your World’, ‘Kiss the Girl’, ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ were brilliant. I also enjoyed Halle’s ‘For the First Time’ which is the perfect Disney template. However, Jonah’s ‘Wild Uncharted Waters’ gave High School Musical’s ‘Bet on It’ vibes and ‘The Scuttlebutt’ performed by Awkwafina was a cringefest.
A missed opportunity with Ursula?
Melissa McCarthy had the perfect voice modulation for Ursula. Close your eyes and you’ll picture the treacherous, conniving sea witch. But visually, I was expecting more. Her expressions were restrained. I just wanted her to unleash the cunning monster which her alter ego Vanessa (played by Jessica Alexander) carried. Her makeup was also mediocre – they really missed the boat with experimenting with her iconic purple hues. I’ve seen thousands of better makeup looks. And scenes like Ariel’s transformation or when Ursula claims Triton’s trident and turns into a giant were lacking the wow factor we remembered as kids. Speaking of King Triton, casting Javier Bardem was great on paper. But sadly, his role falls flat too.
I was also disappointed by the lack of screen time for the Sisters of the Seven Seas. I agree that the original didn’t have much but why go through the trouble of casting amazing actresses (including Brigerton’s viscountess Simone Ashley) when they’re barely in the film?
Where’s Ariel’s sparkly dress and iconic red hair?
I had no issues with Ariel’s gorgeous iridescent mermaid tail and I’ll forgive them for leaving out her scallop top, but where is the red hair and sparkly dress at the end? They really robbed us of these moments. But the biggest disappointment was the visual effects. The CGI was all over the place, and some scenes (even the ones on land) were just too dark. They really did Flounder dirty too! I understand the need to keep it realistic but this is a Disney film after all.
Overall, I’m glad that the creators stayed true to the soul of the film, added a modern touch to the storyline and cast the characters perfectly. But I definitely miss the whimsical charm of the original. This brings me to another topic of discussion – should live adaptations of Disney classics be part of our world?