I have been mostly unimpressed with Disney’s attempts at remaking the studio’s animated films into live-action. Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book remains the best and even then that was mostly CGI. The live-action remakes rarely bring anything new that’s noteworthy. Most of the time you’re better off just watching the original Disney film. It’s why I had such trepidation heading into The Little Mermaid. The film is better than many of Disney’s previous attempts at bring their classic animated films to live-action thanks to a brilliantly casted Halle Bailey as Ariel. But it also still suffers from the majority of the issues the others do as well that just makes me recommend watching the original animated film. Halle Bailey shines in The Little Mermaid, but it’s still an unnecessary remake.
The youngest of King Triton’s mermaid daughters, Ariel dreams of the world above the sea and has a curiosity about the humans who populate it. The king, however, forbids anyone from venturing to the human world. That doesn’t stop a rebellious teenager and Ariel eventually finds her way to a ship where her eyes fall on Prince Eric. She immediately falls in love with the human and makes a deal with her evil aunt, the witch Ursula, who offers her legs in exchange for her voice. Ariel now has three days to get Prince Eric to kiss her, otherwise she’ll revert back to a mermaid and be a prisoner of Ursula for forever.
I’ll start with the good; Halle Bailey. She is absolutely wonderful as Ariel and captures the bright eyed curiosity of the teenage mermaid perfectly. Everything is interesting to her. The excitement you see on her face and hear in her voice when she finds a fork, I mean, Dinglehopper, is infectious. Not only that but her voice in angelic as well. Her rendition of “Part of Your World” gave me goosebumps and is easily the best part of the film. You can’t help but fall in love with her performance. There’s no one else I could imagine in the role. That being said, the good begins and ends with her.
The rest of The Little Mermaid falls strictly in the “why is Disney remaking this?” category. We all know the answer is money, of course, but the rest of the film does little to make you want to watch it over the original. The CGI isn’t that great. So much of the emotion and mannerisms of the characters are removed because the film is going for that photorealistic quality. Flounder and Sebastian have a personality that you can hear in their voice, but their characters just feel like cutouts. It’s the same issue I have with The Lion King or any other of the Disney films that try and make animal characters photorealistic. In doing so, you lose the charm and character the animation brought to them. They may have some slight expressions, but it’s lifeless compared to their animated counterparts. Flounder is the most egregious example. Gone is the round, scared little fish with the cubby cheeks, replaced by a grim, bulging-eyed fish. The original Flounder you want to hug. This Flounder you’d rather just eat.
It’s why this version of “Under the Sea” pales in comparison to the animated version. The song itself is the same, but you loose all the character and personality of all the sea creatures. The sea felt alive in the original as Sebastian conducted a symphony of song and dance with the various fishes. Carps don’t play harps and bass don’t play brass when you’re going for a photorealistic look. The song is fun and the choreography is colorful, but it’s missing that Disney magic that takes it to the next level.
The lackluster CGI is also why I preferred when the film took things on land. The chemistry between Ariel and Prince Eric feels more real this time around. Eric is more than just a pretty face for Ariel to fall in love with. He actually wants to expand and open his family’s trading empire as he fears their seclusion from the rest of the world might be their downfall. It’s the same curiosity that Ariel has. A lot more time is devoted to him. The film comes in at a whopping two hours and 15 minutes, compared to the brisk 83 minutes of the original. I appreciate the extra layer of depth brought to Prince Eric but the film nowhere needs to be this long.
There are a handful of new songs added to The Little Mermaid. None of them are particularly great, and “The Scuttlebutt” in particular is hands down one of the worst things to enter my ears in a long, long time. That’s the thing about the entire film. Most of it follows the same path as the animated film, and what the film does with the extra 52 minutes is nowhere near making it worth seeing over what you can watch on Disney+ right now. I enjoyed The Little Mermaid more than Disney’s other recent attempts at turning animation into live-action, but they still have a long way to go in terms of quality. Halle Bailey’s performance keeps the film from drowning, but it still flounders quite a bit.
The Little Mermaid is better than many of Disney’s previous attempts at bring their classic animated films to live-action thanks to a brilliantly casted Halle Bailey as Ariel. But it also still suffers from the majority of the issues the others do as well that just makes me recommend watching the original animated film.