The Little Mermaid

Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy, Noma Dumezweni, Art Malik, voices of: Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, Awkwafina
Distributor: Disney
Runtime: 135 mins. Reviewed in Jun 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mild fantasy themes and violence, some scenes may scare young children

Disney-live-action remake of the animated classic of 1988 with Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale transferred to islands in the Atlantic.

There are strongly divided opinions about the Disney live remakes of some of their classic animated films, especially from the 1980s and 1990s – Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King. On one hand, the opinion that the animated classic should stay as they are, fairytales, with all the magic of animation, colour, design. On the other hand, the live-action makes the stories more real, more realistic, enabling the audience is to identify with the tales and the characters.

And the opinions on The Little Mermaid are divided in such a way.

In fact, in many sequences, some of the action may be a bit frightening for the intended younger audiences, especially the ship, the storms, huge waves, the crew abandoning ship, the dangers for Prince Eric. But, these sequences make the story more credible. But, whether life under the sea, the realm of King Triton, his mermaid daughters, is credible…? Actually, once the camera goes under the surface of the ocean, into the deep, there are some wonderful sequences with the camera roving through the underwater beauty, we become readier to suspend disbelief, and are very much charmed when we meet Ariel, the youngest of Triton’s daughters. The little mermaid is vivaciously portrayed by singer, Halle Bailey (who does more than justice to the songs). [Disappointingly, there have been some protests about her casting, some saying an African-American in the role is wrong. What are the reasons for this?]

While the basic story is that of Hans Christian Andersen, one might be surprised at the location of the action in islands off the coast of South America. The kingdom where the young prince, Eric (Hauer-King) is to become a ruler, his dominant mother, preparing him for his role, wary of his great desire to keep going to sea, but his being quietly encouraged by the chief minister (Malik).

Ariel is mischievous, fascinated by the world above the surface of the water, by humans, and intrigued as she explores the shipwrecks on the ocean floor. She has a lconfidante, Flounder (voiced by Tremblay), a bird friend, Scuttle, an erratic character if ever there was one, (voiced by Awkwafina). King Triton (Bardem) relies on his crab adviser, Sebastian, who gets a lot of the funny lines (voiced by Diggs). So, live action with three characters straight from the animation.

The plot is familiar, shipwreck, Ariel rescuing Eric, the father disapproving her wanting to go near humans, the jealousy of her aunt Ursula (McCarthy more than strident), her being given the opportunity to have legs and feet and to go on land, the romance, the experience of the court, her exhilaration in Eric’s company. And, despite the warnings from her three protective friends, the vengeance of Ursula.

One of the values of having this kind of version of fairytale is that it offers an opportunity for young audiences, even little audiences, to go to the cinema rather than watching on television, see the huge screen, the visual wonders of those sequences of the beauty of coral and plants, of fish and creatures under the sea. It is an encouragement for them to go to other films and watch them on the big screen. (But this reviewer was conscious all the way through of the continual treks of parents and children to the toilet – no pause button, no commercials for toilet breaks. And, at 2 ¼ hours this version is quite long).

So, for audiences who enjoy life-action versions of animated classics, why not?

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