Live-action Disney retellings are always a hard sell. The past entries have been hit or miss which can lead to audience skepticism. Add to the equation, the retelling being one of the most beloved of Disney’s renaissance of animation and there is even more fear. I am here to tell you that The Little Mermaid exceeded all of my expectations and is the perfect summer kick-off for families.
Warning: this review will have spoilers for the changes made to the film from the original animated feature.
In The Little Mermaid, “The youngest of King Triton’s daughters, and the most defiant, Ariel longs to find out more about the world beyond the sea, and while visiting the surface, falls for the dashing Prince Eric. With mermaids forbidden to interact with humans, Ariel makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, which gives her a chance to experience life on land, but ultimately places her life – and her father’s crown – in jeopardy.”
So, let’s get it out of the way, the trailer for The Little Mermaid does it no justice. It leans far too much into showing scenes we are familiar with from the animated film. You may be asking why this is an issue. For starters, themes and storylines such as Eric’s background have been added to the film. I will be the first to admit that the runtime scared me. How do you take a movie under 90 minutes and make it over 2 hours? Clearly, there was some Disney magic involved because the runtime surprisingly works! I was never bored or felt the movie overstayed its welcome. Were some of the new song numbers superfluous? Sure, but not offensively so.
Additionally, I also appreciated some of the changed elements of the story. Eric’s background of not being born a prince and feeling out of place felt like a better balance as opposed to some wealthy prince who is just bored. One of the coolest changes was that Ariel’s song was explained as being a siren’s song. This made the film and story feel bigger and more connected to the lore of the sea. They also answer the question as to why she doesn’t just try to kiss Eric herself. There are also other elements added in like environmental impacts humans have on the ocean that are neat to see on screen. The film also takes place in a more tropical setting which fits the vibe of the soundtrack better.
That brings us to the cast. Halle Bailey is really phenomenal in the role. Given that Ariel is a character who spends most of the second act unable to speak, she does a fantastic job. Daveed Diggs and Awkwafina are wonderful as Sebastian and Scuttle. They will definitely be fan favorites amongst the younger viewers. Javier Bardem and Melissa McCarthy are sheer perfection as King Triton and Ursula. The casting is fairly spot-on. If anything, I think my biggest complaint is that Eric is somewhat lackluster and unmemorable.
The soundtrack of The Little Mermaid is one of the reasons the original is as cherished as it is. The cast does well with the original songs. Under the Sea is still super fun and vibrant. Part of Your World will give you all the feels the original did. Where the soundtrack starts to flounder (pun intended), is with the newly added songs. Some aren’t bad like the new Part of Your World (Reprise 2), which is absolutely moving and perfect, or For the First Time. However, Eric’s song Wild Uncharted Waters is ill-fitting and sounds a lot like a recycled version of Speechless from Aladdin. Scuttlebutt is clearly added to replace Le Poissons (a scene that is also omitted from the movie). Sadly, it’s just not as fun or catchy. The lyric changes made to Poor Unfortunate Souls and Kiss the Girl are barely noticeable and don’t hinder the songs.
Overall, The Little Mermaid is a lot of fun. Its updated message and cast are a welcome addition to the Disney Live Action pantheon. I definitely see this having a lot of watchability for multiple rewatches. I definitely can’t wait to visit again.
My Rating: 4/5