Maybe I’m just a “The Little Mermaid” purist…
The reviews are out for The Little Mermaid, and Halle Bailey is being praised—seemingly all the way from the underwater kingdom of King Triton to the land of walking and movie-watching people. But does the live adaptation really blow the classic out of the water?
You know the story: the little mermaid named Ariel, daughter of King Triton, is so enamored by the shore that she collects little whozits and whatzits, even falling in love with a human named Prince Eric after she rescues him from a boat wreck. When Triton finds out, he destroys Ariel’s tavern of collections, leading her to accept a deal with the sea witch, Ursula, to exchange her voice for a pair of legs. The catch? She only has three days to convince Prince Eric to give her a kiss of true love, or else Ariel belongs to Ursula.
But if we’re being honest here, it’s not like we’re watching The Little Mermaid for the story. We all know it by heart now—maybe even more than our own childhoods. We’re watching the live adaption because of nostalgia, because of the reimagined old songs and new songs (side note: WTF was The Scuttlebutt, Lin Manuel Miranda?). We’re watching the new film to see Halle Bailey reprise the role of Ariel. So are we happy? The world seems to be.
The Little Mermaid certainly isn’t horrible. The reprise of Part Of Your World and Poor Unfortunate Souls were great, as was the performance of Melissa McCarthy as Ursula. Halle Bailey as Ariel and Jonah Haeur-King as Prince Eric were worthwhile, too, and it was great to actually watch their characters fall in love—Disney did well here, it wasn’t as instant as hearing a siren song; we can no longer deny or question their love (thank the sea god).
All in all, The Little Mermaid keeps up the charm of the animated classic, and the story doesn’t stray too far away from the original material. Audiences that grew up brushing their hair with forks will know what happens next, but it’s still a thrilling ride to (spoiler alert?) see the boat cut through a giant Ursula. There’s enough of a balance between old and new, and it all works.
But we can’t give Disney an A+ for this film; we just cannot. Awkwafina was annoying, and not in the endearing way that the animated Scuttle was. Her voice is just too distinct that you cannot possibly compartmentalize your brain to believe that she’s voicing a character. The animation of Flounder and Sebastian is way too lifelike to be enjoyed (have we forgotten the Sonic mishap???). And in the age of Avatar: The Way Of Water, I’ve come to expect a little more from the underwater happenings in films.
All of that was just a long way of saying this: The Little Mermaid is good and it does deserve the trip (and budget) of a movie theater watch, but I just don’t think it deserves all the praise that it’s been getting. Is it the best live adaptation that Disney has done in recent years? Probably—but it's not like the bar was set particularly high anyway.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver