The Little Mermaid review: Disney's live-action film is mediocre at best

From nonsensical plot holes to bad visual effects this Disney Classic could have been much better

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Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid is one of the company's most anticipated reboots.

As a lifelong animation and Disney fan, I was excited to see the film that reimagines Halle Bailey in the lead role of mermaid princess Ariel. The casting of the black actress has brought divisive attention to the film, with traditionalists arguing that a white actress should have played the role to more closer resemble the original character in the 1989 animated classic.

The Little Mermaid

Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem
Rating: 2/5

However, on screen Bailey proves her doubters wrong. Her voice is incredible and her acting as the adventurous, opinionated and naive Ariel is superb. She is a joy to watch.

The music is excellent, as well, thanks to lyricist Howard Ashman’s genius work with composer Alan Menken. Together they made the original a huge hit and they are also what saves this film from being completely pointless.

However, the script, dialogue and editing of the film is another story. The live-action remake doesn't give Bailey room to truly show off the full emotional spectrum of the mermaid princess. Unfortunately, those weren't the only issues. The script also did a fine job of confusing me.

In the animated film, Ariel falls in love with a human named Prince Eric. Her father King Triton forbids her from visiting the surface and so Ariel makes a deal with Ursula, an evil sea witch, to exchange her voice for a pair of legs with three days to make Prince Eric fall in love with her.

Warning: plot details ahead.

Over the years the film has been criticised for Ariel’s choice to give up her agency for a man she doesn’t know. It was clear in this remake that Disney wanted to avoid this notion.

In theory, this is great, but in practice, it is clunky and just doesn't work.

The original animated film made the stakes of Ariel’s choices very clear — she has to give up a part of herself in order to be part of the human world. The live-action film diminishes these very clear plot points.

There is also an odd addition to Ursula’s spell — Ariel forgets that she needs to kiss Prince Eric in order to remain human. This makes no logical sense within the framework and spoils the magic of the story.

In the film, when Ariel is turned into a human she is in a constant state of urgency, determined to spend time with Prince Eric but has no idea why. We never see her confused about this dichotomy of feelings and the whole thing is resolved in a few lines, added like an afterthought.

There are plenty of other creative ways to give Ariel urgency and agency. It was, however, enjoyable to see Ariel and Prince Eric’s relationship be given more substance compared to the animated original.

Prince Eric is positioned as a young man, who much like Ariel, feels stifled by the expectations of his mother — mirroring Ariel’s own relationship with her father. The film depicts them as equals in authentic and fun ways.

However, everything is thrown off balance when it is Ariel who saves Eric from Ursula instead of the reverse. This direct commentary on traditional gender roles feels forced. It might have made sense, given the trajectory of their relationship, for Ariel and Eric to save each other — defeat Ursula together.

I can only assume though that Ursula was killed. I have no idea, as the battle scene and every scene underwater was so dark it was impossible to see what was going on.

This is the most infuriating part of the live-action film. The animated characters and visual effects were truly abysmal. The underwater world looks like floating moss and seaweed. Everything is dark or lifeless, and the live-action sea creatures are horrifying.

With films such as Guardians of the Galaxy capable of creating creatures with spirit and life, or Avatar: The Way of Water imagining stunning underwater scenes, it’s mind-boggling that with Disney’s budget, The Little Mermaid’s visual effects, hair and make-up are so poorly done.

Disney and director Rob Marshall have reinterpreted a masterpiece of storytelling (which had a few faults of its own) and created a piece of redundant cinema.

If it weren't for the legacy of the original animated film, the live-action version wouldn’t have two legs to stand on — or a fin, to swim with.

The Little Mermaid is released in UAE cinemas on Thursday

Updated: May 23, 2023, 7:59 AM
The Little Mermaid

Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem
Rating: 2/5