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2023 Movie Reviews: Live-Action “The Little Mermaid”

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Disney released the original The Little Mermaid movie in 1989 starring Jodie Benson as the voice actor of Ariel. As a child growing up who loved watching Disney, especially Disney princess movies, this movie was my all time favorite. Something about mermaids was so fascinating and magical to me as a kid.

When Disney announced the making of The Little Mermaid live-action version, I had very mixed feelings. Disney’s past live-actions have been complete misses for me. I was very apprehensive towards this release because of my attachment to the original. I didn’t want to get my hopes up for a remake that would end up being lackluster. However, sitting in a theater screening of this movie was unexpectedly surprising.

Ariel is a mermaid who has been captivated by the surface and humans ever since her father, King Triton, banned all mermaids from going above the water. When Ariel saves a sailor, Eric, from a shipwreck, she falls in love and makes a deal with King Triton’s evil sister, Ursula – an exchange of her voice for legs to venture to the surface. 

Ariel travels to the surface with a crab named Sebastian, a fish named Flounder, and a seagull called Scuttle. Once Ariel is on land, Ariel and Eric begin to fall in love when Ursula uses Ariel’s voice to trick Eric into marrying her instead. Ursula then turns Ariel back into a mermaid. King Triton trades his trident for Ariel’s freedom, leading to Ariel and Eric defeating Ursula. King Triton gives Ariel legs again and she and Eric get married, leading to the reunification of humans and mermaids.

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Halle Bailey portrays the main character Ariel. This casting is a highlight of the movie. Where Disney has lacked in live-action castings in the past, this certainly makes up for it. Bailey’s take on Ariel’s curiosity shines throughout the entire movie. Her ability to act expressively without speaking – through her eyes and facial expressions – is incredibly impressive. Bailey’s voice is absolutely breathtaking, and  I prefer her voice over Jodi Benson’s in the original.

Jonah Hauer-King as Eric is another exemplary casting decision made by Disney. In the original, Eric had a flatline personality, with no outstanding traits. This all changed with Hauer-King’s portrayal of the character. Hauer-King brought in the emotion that Eric was missing in the original. Similar to Bailey, he also possesses an incredible voice.

Interactions between Ariel and Eric were one of my favorite parts of the movie. They were able to create an amazingly playful and fun to watch dynamic. They developed such a cute and innocent portrayal of young love. Their interaction during “Kiss the Girl” where Ariel teaches Eric her name through constellations is my favorite scene of the movie.

The only casting decisions I didn’t like were Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Awkwafina as Scuttle. I didn’t have a problem with Awkwafina’s actual acting – however, I didn’t like the differences in Scuttle as a character compared to the original. It’s not a problem with the gender swap – Scuttle just has an entirely new personality. I would’ve liked to see Awkwafina’s take on Scuttle be a completely different, new character.

Additionally, Scuttle, Sebastian, and Flounder’s appearance were all extremely different from the original. They were all dulled down and even though it is a live-action, it’s still a Disney movie. I would have appreciated more color and personality in their appearance.

On the other hand, I didn’t like McCarthy’s acting. She didn’t bring the genuine attitude that everyone knows and loves from Ursula. Her entire performance felt very unnatural and she felt very separated from her character.

For the most part, the music in this movie is amazing. “Part of Your World,” sung by Bailey is an improvement of the original – something I didn’t know was possible. Bailey adds her own flair to the song, including new notes and riffs.

The soundtrack also carried some beautiful original songs. An example of this is “Wild Uncharted Waters,” by Jonah Hauer-King. Hauer-King shows off the emotion that he can imbed into his singing. This song was a great way to add a song for Eric that was lacking in the original.

Another highlight of the original songs is “For the First Time,” by Bailey. This song is a very clever way to detail Bailey’s inner monologue while her character isn’t able to speak. Overall, it’s also simply a very fun song to sing along to.

With all the enjoyable new songs on the soundtrack, there was one miss. I didn’t like “The Scuttlebutt,” sung by Awkwafina and Sebastian’s voice actor, Daveed Diggs. I see the vision that Disney was trying to execute, but this song was very unnecessary and didn’t fit in with the other songs in the soundtrack. It had unnatural rap lines, awkward lyrics and overall was just weird.

This movie greatly exceeded my expectations and is a well executed take on the classic original movie. Casting of the main characters sold this movie for me. New music added lots of value.  The remakes of the original songs were executed well as a result of extremely vocally talented actors.

This movie is a great family movie or just a movie to watch by yourself to reminisce on old Disney movies.

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