The live-action Little Mermaid is a successful retelling galvanized by Halle Bailey's performance
Academy Award Nominated Director and choreographer Rob Marshall brings a beloved Disney classic to the big for a live-action adaption in The Little Mermaid. David Magee, with whom Marshall collaborated previously with 2018's Mary Poppins Returns, pens the screenplay.
A loose adaption of Hans Christian Anderson's same-titled fairy tale, The Little Mermaid follows Ariel (Halle Bailey), the youngest daughter of the kingdom Atlantica's ruler King Triton (Javier Bardem), who is fascinated with the human world, but mermaids are forbidden to explore it. Ariel spends her time in the sea world under the watchful eye of the crab Sebastian (Daveed Diggs). She also finds time to hang out with seabird Scuttle (Awkwafina) and tropical fish Flounder (Jacob Trembley).
One night she saves the human Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from a shipwreck and drowning. Experiencing love at first sight, Ariel becomes determined to be with him in the world above water. Her actions, however, cause a domino effect that leads to a confrontation with her father and an encounter with the conniving sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy).
Ursula and Ariel strike a bargain: Ariel will be turned into a human for three days in exchange for her voice, which Ursula takes. During this time frame, Ariel must secure a Kiss of True Love from Eric. Should this kiss be successful, she will remain human permanently; otherwise, she will belong to Ursula and return to her original form as a mermaid. However, this deal could ultimately jeopardize her life (and her father's crown).
It's hard to believe that the animated The Little Mermaid turns 34 this year. When the original came out, I was eight years old and living in Lubbock, Texas, with my grandmother, who took me to see it. I remember the film's magic and seeing it many times as a child. The film's success led to an entire media franchise that includes a sequel, prequel, TV, stage show, and even video games. While I never got too deep into the other properties, I was looking forward to the live adaptation since I'm a fan of musicals.
For the most part, the creative team behind the live-action adaption of The Little Mermaid keeps the story verbatim to the animated version so the moments you love are still present. One of my favorite minor characters, Chef Louis, is gone from the film which is one of my minor gripes with the film. In addition, the film should be shorter.
However, I'm sure you're reading this review for my thoughts on the acting. With a voice that mesmerizes and physicality ideally suited for the role, it is no wonder Halle Bailey plays Ariel with unparalleled ease and grace. There wasn't a moment in the film where she didn't put a smile on my face. Bailey delivers a breakout role, and I look forward to watching her career develop.
Her presence in the movie is met by Melissa McCarthy's dazzling turn as the villainous Sea Witch, Ursula. A two-time Oscar nominee known for her range with an uncanny ability to move between comedy and tragedy alike lends her talent to bring this calculating character to life. McCarthy pulled me in so much that I wouldn't mind a prequel focusing on Ursula. Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, and Jacob Trembly all give solid voice work and have good moments in the film.
There are a few changes to Prince Eric, and when the film was announced, I thought they would cast Harry Styles. However, Jonah Hauer-King's portrayal of Eric works with the arc they take the character. Finally, Oscar winner Javier Bardem has a regal underutilized take on King Triton.
Minor flaws withstanding, the live-action adaption of The Little Mermaid is a winner. Audiences fell in love with the character in 1989, and this tale brings it to life again with revised magic and music. This romantic adventure will still give viewers a completely fresh experience.
Final Grade: B+
The Little Mermaid opens in theaters this Thursday, May 25th