Adventure Family

Review: ‘The Little Mermaid’ is a Charming and Sing-Along-Worthy Remake that Captures the Magic of the Beloved Animated Classic

May 22, 2023Ben MK

Whether you're a cinema purist or someone who appreciates all films, everyone has their own opinion about remakes. And when it comes to Disney, who have made a booming business out of remaking their library of animated classics in live-action, the line between love it and hate it is even more sharply drawn. From straightforward adaptations like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast to more radical re-imaginings like Maleficent and Cruella, the list of live-action Disney remakes has grown considerably over the years. And with The Little Mermaid, that list is about to get a little bit bigger, as the studio endeavors to transform one of its most beloved animated features into a new family favorite.

Like the 1989 original, the story follows Ariel (Halle Bailey), a mermaid who longs to find out what things are like above the water's surface. The youngest of the seven daughters of King Triton (Javier Bardem), Ariel has spent her entire life being fascinated with human civilization and all that it entails. As far as her father is concerned, however, the above-world is a dangerous place, and consequently, he's forbidden Ariel from venturing anywhere near the surface to satisfy her curiosity. Tasking his major-domo, a crustacean named Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), with keeping watch over Ariel, King Triton is hopeful that his most headstrong daughter will heed his words and stay out of trouble. Little does he realize, though, that Ariel has other plans in mind. And along with her loyal friends, a fish named Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) and a seagull named Scuttle (Awkwafina), she sets out to discover firsthand what she's only gleaned from the miscellaneous artifacts that have sunk to the sea floor.

Enter Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), the adopted son of Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni) and a reluctant heir who would rather explore the seven seas than carry out his royal duties on land. When the ship on which Eric has been stationed is caught up in a storm and Eric falls overboard, however, only Ariel can rescue him from certain death and save him from drowning. It's a life-altering turn of events that doesn't just leave Eric obsessed with learning the true identity of his guardian angel, but also has Ariel wishing more than ever that she was human herself. So when the octopus-like sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), approaches her with the opportunity to be human for good, Ariel falls for Ursula's sinister trap hook, line and sinker. Trading her fins for legs, Ariel has three days to secure a kiss of true love from Eric, otherwise Ursula will forever own her. But when Ursula also takes away Ariel's memory, as well as her voice, it's up to Sebastian, Scuttle and Flounder to save the day.

Of course, the million-dollar question isn't whether this trio of seafaring sidekicks will succeed in their mission, but whether director Rob Marshall and screenwriter David Magee's new vision of the tale manages to live up to the legacy of Ron Clements and John Musker's long-standing classic. And, fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes, thanks not only to Bailey's note-perfect portrayal of the movie's titular heroine and McCarthy's devilishly inspired and wickedly campy performance as the film's villain, but also due to the filmmakers' wise decision not to stray far from what made the original worthy of moviegoers' adoration. Suffice to say, audiences anxious about having their childhoods ruined can rest easy. And with Lin-Manuel Miranda stepping in to add new music to the proceedings, even viewers who have the original's lyrics memorized will find a new song or two to sing along to.

It all adds up to a remake that's just as magical as its predecessor. And while that may only be a minor consolation to those burned by such re-dos as The Lion King or Pinocchio, it's still no small feat when you consider how iconic its 24-year-old animated counterpart has become. Either way, both longtime The Little Mermaid fans and newcomers alike will have no problem falling under the spell of the movie's bubbly charm. And as far as Disney's remake strategy is concerned, that certainly bodes well for its future live-action adaptations.

The Little Mermaid releases May 26th, 2023 from Walt Disney Studios. The film has an PG for action/peril and some scary images. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 15 min.

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