‘The Little Mermaid’ (2023) Review: “A Star Is Born”
Animated Disney movies raised me. One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Aristocats, and The Lion King on VHS were a daily routine throughout childhood that I can actually remember today. As an adult, I’ve had a front-row seat to Disney reimagining classic films I grew up on as live-action spectacles. However, for every movie I’ve felt disconnected from such as 2019’s The Lion King, there are some I truly resonated with like 2019’s Aladdin. Either way you slice it, Disney is showing no signs of slowing down on producing these big-budget, live-action remakes. The most recent addition to the Disney live-action remake canon is Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid.
Starring Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Halle Bailey as Ariel, The Little Mermaid is a showstopping, foot-stomping visual spectacle. With remakes, it’s always difficult to find something to separate what one knows from what one will discover. However, with this one, it’s clear: the difference is Bailey. When you see her light up the big screen, it’s clear that her leadership will steer the movie to greatness.
We all know the story: a mermaid wants to be a part of the human world and out of the oppressive thumb of her father. It also gives viewers a chance to get to know the main character as quickly as it does her compatriots. Disney’s most recent live-action reboot gives the story room to breathe – 50 minutes longer than the 1989 movie, to be exact – and allows its characters to grow.
Daveed Diggs is an interesting choice to voice the historically Jamaican crab Sebastian, I’ll admit. However, upon seeing the animation accompanying the accent work, it’s clear a vision was in mind and it works. It works especially when Sebastian sings classic songs or raps new Lin-Manuel Miranda originals, something Diggs knows all too well. Awkwafina is an actor that I respect. However, seeing her name on the cast list as the endearingly clueless winged pal of Ariel gave me pause. Thankfully, she turned out to be the right choice for a ditzy bird stumbling its way toward victory. For as much as Bailey gives in her performance, her supporting cast knocks it out of the park.
Speaking of Bailey, not enough will ever be said for her performance as Ariel. From the way her eyes speak volumes during quiet moments to her sheer vocal prowess, Bailey is an absolute star. When she was cast, you could not throw a stone without hitting the comment of an unwell racist upset that their fictional create was no longer fair-skinned. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find even the harshest critic that would say Bailey does not outshine even the wildest of expectations.
I fell in love with The Little Mermaid as a child because of the music. In fact, seeing The Little Mermaid on a Broadway stage changed the trajectory of my life. While Bailey and Diggs are impressive, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula might be even better. Her version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” set itself apart enough from previous iterations that it’s so easy to tell that the actress was having a ball being the bad guy.
Casting choices aside, The Little Mermaid is a visual masterpiece. Recent films like Wakanda Forever and The Way of Water have their own interpretations of what it’s like to exist within a society in the ocean. But when you witness sequences such as “Under The Sea”, the mastery of the underwater realm is on full display. The film shines as a fantastical period piece with a liveable, breathable underwater world.
I’m a Disney guy. I fall for the magic of a classic Disney tale every time and 2023’s The Little Mermaid is no different. It’s full of life and color and adventure and allows one to feel engulfed in its magic without ever feeling like a drag. Halle Bailey has her star-making performance solidified in the books and it will be incredibly bewitching to see where she goes from here. – Christian Hubbard
The Little Mermaid is now playing in theaters everywhere!
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