Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni, Art Malik, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy
Runtime: 2 hr 15 mins
Rating: PG (Some Intense Sequences)
Released By: Walt Disney
Opening Day: 25 May 2023
Synopsis: The Little Mermaid, visionary filmmaker Rob Marshall’s live-action reimagining of the studio’s Oscar® - winning animated musical classic, opens exclusively in theaters nationwide May 26, 2023. “The Little Mermaid” is the beloved story of Ariel, a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure. 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. While mermaids are forbidden to interact with humans, Ariel must follow her heart. She 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.
Filmed at the Pinewood Studios in England and in the island of Sardinia, the live-action adaptation of the 1989 blockbuster animated classic that boasts a stellar cast ensemble, unfurls with a Hans Christian Andersen’s elegiac quote on mermaids against an irately frothy ocean. The cream of the crop is on board The Little Mermaid with names like Rob Marshall, the man behind Chicago, Memoirs of Geisha and Mary Poppins Returns along with Broadway legend Alan Menken and David Magee whose screen adaptation of the novel, Life of Pi, won a Satellite Award for Best Adapted Screenplay to helm the musical fantasy co- produced by Walt Disney Pictures.
Halle Bailey whom we got screen-acquainted to on Grown-ish, plays the titular mermaid. Still fairly new to acting, Bailey plays it safe. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old puts her best fin forward with her soft yet full-blooded, princess-like energy. We will be seeing more of Bailey make a splash in Tinseltown in time to come, especially with the upcoming period drama film, The Colour Purple!
Where do we begin when it comes to Jonah Hauer-King whom you may recall from BBC’s television drama, Little Women? Is it the fact that he’s an absolute dead ringer of the animated Prince Eric or the on-screen chemistry he shares with Bailey that is too hot to handle? Jonah’s rendition of Prince Eric isn’t just about a dashing prince who is looking for a siren who saved his life. Beneath that blue-blood demeanour lies a deep, kind soul that longs to experience the ordinary. Thanks to the team of genius writers that allowed the debonair 27-year-old who stole the show when he belted out a tune with his poignant song debut as Prince Eric.
And it’s hard not to fall in love with Ursula, especially with Melissa McCarthy tackling the role of the treacherous sea witch who craftily strikes the deal with a love-bound Ariel, all while exuding a devilishly comical streak. If you are curious about who plays the temptress also known as Ursula’s human alter ego, it is none other than Jessica Alexander. Academy Award winner, Javier Bardem appears as King Triton, who is also the brother of Ursula and Ariel’s dad. In the midst of juggling too many hats, the King of Atlantica still holds his little one dear! Aww! In the same vein, let’s not forget Ariel’s sea squad that has her best interests at heart.
Daveed Diggs is the man behind King Triton’s most trusted servant and court composer, Horatio Thelonious Ignacious Crustaceous Sebastian. Phew! Yes, we are talking about Sebastian, the crustacean, who’s one of the main protagonists in the show. Awkwafina totally nails it as she brings the dim-witted diving bird, Scuttle, to life with her animated vocals while bringing a great sense of timely humour to the table. If you recall, Scuttle in the 1989 classic is a male seagull and it has been gender-and-breed-swapped for a female northern gannet in this live-action entertainer that is masterfully captured by Dion Beebe with his splendid cinematography. Kudos to the tale that is retold in a fascinating way, promising a huge shift with diminutive changes. Jacob Tremblay does a remarkable job in being the voice of Flounder. The comical trio that watches over the young princess, bolsters the plot’s succession. And yes, Max, Prince Eric’s loyal Old English sheepdog is on board the nautical escapade too!
In a world very much driven by aesthetic values, it's not hard to believe that the loyal fan following is triflingly divided over Ariel's locks and its shade of red that seem somewhat inconsistent throughout the film. Many opine that the siren’s tresses should have been a vibrant and fiery hue of red. And to intensify the discontent, they did Flounder and Sebastian dirty beyond doubt! The yellow bubbly angelfish-inspired, Flounder, that we all grew up with looked as though he saw success in fad diets. Pathetic aesthetic much? Let’s have a moment of silence for Sebastian, the rambunctious ruby red crab. His compound eyes could have been more expressive. This could have very well thwarted a sense of disconnect. The duo’s features are barely there and the only connection established through the screen is sadly via their glorious vocals. When the Rob Marshall direction is a magical fairy-tale in its own right where birds, fish and crustaceans can jolly well talk, sing and dance (oh, the main antagonist, Ursula, comes splish- splashing with bioluminescent tentacles), why pick hyper-realism as an overriding notion? The grandeur that was highly anticipated is sadly negotiated with a devoid of colours. Our waking world is bleak enough. We adults too deserve some preposterous splash of colours in our motion pictures and we secretly desire our retinas to be scorched every once in a while and that's pardonable, particularly if it's a Disney adventure.
Unlike the 1989 original that had bagged an Oscar, the latest Disney live-action flick may not follow suit as a film but it may win in secondary categories such as cinematography, costume design, production designs, VFX (which may not be of Avatar: The Way of Water level but clearly on par with Aquaman) and soundtrack nominations.
Speaking of which, although a couple of new catchy numbers were thrown into the mix, Les Poisson and Daughters of Trident were cancelled, much to our chagrin. The Little Mermaid film is 50 minutes longer or thereabouts than the animated classic and the aforesaid tracks were omitted and replaced with some new numbers, perhaps to leave a mark in the history of Disney soundtracks. It isn't exactly a deal-breaker, but then again, it leaves a niggling thought. It sure is befuddling for the rapper of Guns and Ships, Diggs, to sound prosaic for the most part of the Oscar-winning number, Under the Sea. Perhaps it is merely nostalgia that sets the bar so high.
To play fair, a side-by-side comparison of the 1989 version and the latest version of Under the Sea was made. The latter has a lacklustre start that seems to have zapped the familiar booming resonance out of the original by Samuel E Wright, thus failing to dethrone the ’89 version. Alternatively, brand new numbers that soulfully capture the myriad of emotions that Ariel experiences when her fins are replaced with feet and when Prince Eric looks for the lady that rules his heart, seem like added gems to the latest live-action film. The latest rendition of The Little Mermaid has Ariel’s sisters renamed, hence, exuding a regal air of novelty where the new feels familiar yet fresh. That being said, it insinuates a celebratory milestone to have such an on-screen representation, while upholding the original legacy.
**A LITTLE SPOILER ALERT (without the spoilers actually)** If you are hyper-sensitive to clues and hints that may mar the experience for you, skip along. Never go in with a beluga- sized expectation for the live-action remake of the enchanting musical to be EXACTLY the same, scene-for-scene. And thank the Good Lord of the Ocean, it isn't! Occasional yet legit switch ups like this especially after decades are much needed. For all Disney fans who have allowed the characters to live rent-free in their hearts and minds and lived long enough to catch the live-action remake, it is categorically child-friendly. The only racy element that one needs to worry about is Prince Eric soaked to the skin in his white tunic. The rest is entirely maintained as PG. Interestingly, Queen Selina, the mother of Prince Eric (who is of European descent), is embodied by an actress of colour and she’s an entirely new character in the plot. If you listened closely to the dialogues, you will have an insight on the brief backstory and thankfully it jettisons the reasons for us to go down the rabbit hole to diffuse the situation.
Some teas are best left un-spilled if you are wondering whether a grand wedding awaits us at the end. On a frank note, this absolutely charming number deserves to be enjoyed in IMAX.
Was the vivacious magic of the 1989 original recaptured? Nah! The pomp and opulence are somewhat kept at bay. But did they reimagine the fun, the colours, the characters, the music, and the conventional happily-ever-after that we all grew up with? A hands-down yes! Dive deep into the unchartered waters and relish a fresh take on one of Disney’s most beloved classics that have withstood the test of time.
(Indisputably a laudable endeavour of a live-action remake that is engineered to be a crowd- pleaser)
Review by Asha Gizelle Mariadas