Review: The Little Mermaid (Live-Action 2023)

Disney's 1989 animated classic The Little Mermaid is a movie that means so much to so many people, myself included. It inspired children to chase after their dreams, encouraged future ingenues to pursue musical theater, pioneered the Disney Renaissance, started the trend of mermaiding, got the general public interested in animation, had a huge impact on the lgbt community, and held a universal appeal to dreamers everywhere. It is not only my favorite Disney movie, but my favorite movie of all time. If there was one film I didn't want to see suffer from Disney's live-action remake syndrome, it was this one. Even though I knew it would never live up to the original because nothing ever could, I went in with high hopes that it would at least capture the spirit of the story for a new generation of audiences. And I am so pleased to inform all of you, my lovely readers, that it did.

Back in 2019 when Disney first announced the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel, the internet tried to turn the adaptation of this beloved classic into a race war, but that was never what this movie was supposed to be. Seeing it yesterday only proved that to me. It's the story of a beautiful princess who is passionate about exploring the world beyond her shallow reef and fiercely defending the differences of a parallel species that those around her refuse to accept. Halle perfectly captured the innocence and passion of Ariel's character in a way that few others could. Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric was the ideal match for her with a script that made him just as passionate about the world beneath the waves as Ariel was about the world above them. His new song "Wild Uncharted Waters" comes at just the right time in the movie to mirror "Part of Your World" and allow us to see that this couple is meant to be together against all the odds that separate their two worlds.

Many of the recent Disney remakes add unnecessary padding that slows the movies down, which was a concern here because this movie that has an hour longer runtime than the original that it's based on. That extra hour severely bogged down the Broadway version of the story and later needed to be retooled when it was licensed for schools and community theaters. In this version, I was so enthralled with Ariel's journey that I didn't even notice the extra hour and was surprised by how soon the credits began to roll. Each scene was strategically placed to drive the story forward and take a transformative journey alongside Ariel as she discovers what it means to be human. This journey was just as visual as it was spiritual with an underwater world that was created using all sorts of modern technology including CGI, harnesses, and blue screens. Halle was trained by synchronized swimmers to learn how to move gracefully in the harness to create the illusion of being underwater, which she pulled off flawlessly. Though the world wasn't quite as whimsical as its animated counterpart, it created a believable undersea setting more effectively than many of its predecessors about mermaid princesses.

There was some controversy about the changes between this movie and the 1989 classic, and I was pleased to find that those changes were few and far between, unlike the egregious prequel novel, which was contradicted a few times even in this movie. The lyric changes in "Kiss the Girl" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" were barely even noticeable. The strangest and most unnecessary change was a memory spell that Ursula cast on Ariel so she would forget that she needed a kiss to break the spell. This didn't really affect in the plot because she was already in love with Eric and wouldn't have been opposed to a kiss either way, so I'm not sure why they bothered with it. I was expecting some sort of visual effect to show Ariel forgetting about the kiss when Sebastian reminded her later like how Eric's eyes glowed when he met Vanessa, but I think the artists forgot to include this to really drive the point home, making it a forgettable detail.

Some of the more disappointing changes include the lack of costumes for Ariel as a human and the smaller role for her sisters, which made the new names and designs even more questionable. Ariel wore the same blue dress for practically the entire time she was human, which seemed unfair compared to the many beautiful costumes that Princess Jasmine got for the Aladdin remake. Even the pink dress she wore at the end looked like the same design as the blue dress in a different color. The removal of the concert from the beginning of the movie was particularly noticeable because the "Coral Moon festival" where Triton met with his daughters felt like a minor social gathering compared to the grandeur of the "Daughters of Triton" concert that Sebastian conducted in the original. Sebastian and Triton treated Ariel like she had missed a major event, but the movie never explained the "Protector" lore from the tie-in books, so it wasn't clear why the royal family only met once a year and couldn't catch up at another time like later in the movie when they got together to help each other clean up a shipwreck.

While it might not compare to the movie that launched the Disney Renaissance and inspired an entire generation to chase after their dreams against all odds, 2023's The Little Mermaid is a solid film that is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end. Unlike with "Cinderella" and "Snow White," there are so few live-action adaptations of "The Little Mermaid" that the world needed desperately needed one that was done right, especially one as inclusive as this. As much as I love the Disney version of this story, I'm a little disappointed the Universal Pictures and Working Pictures adaptations of the fairy tale were both cancelled, possibly due to not being able to compete with Disney. I appreciated the Hans Christian Andersen quote that Disney included at the beginning of this remake, but I don't think the specific quote they used applies to the Disney version, which made it seem out of place. Have you seen the new Little Mermaid yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


Anonymous said…
I haven't seen it yet but I'm glad to know that it has the spirit of the original and is better than the related novel!
I love the idea that there are nods to how the prince is so similar to Ariel.
I know this is an odd place to talk about, but it's worth mentioning. It was just announced that a new Little Mermaid series is coming to Disney Junior. It seems to take inspiration from the live action movie given the appearance of Ariel here. Probably the most notable Disney names here are Lynne Sutherland (who worked on An Extremely Goofy Movie and Mulan 2) and Norma P. Sepulveda (who worked on Elena Of Avalor and Firebuds).
Rachel said…
I've just watched The Little Mermaid for myself and agree with what is being said above, for the most part. "Disney's live-action remake syndrome", as it is so lovingly put above, has effected a lot of new films including Pinocchio, which even Disney had doubts about - I mean they didn’t even release it in theatres! - and The Little Mermaid has been one that I think Disney has actually done very well in.
The changes that were included have added value for the most part while not taking away from the beautiful original story. As was commented on, Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) in his new song "Wild Uncharted Waters" adds value by making the relationship seem more equal-weighted in his and Ariel's passions for their other worlds. As well, the lyric changes in the songs were seamless and perfect for the updated story. I think that maybe your response to the longer run time was a little biased based on Ariel's story being your favourite as I found the extended scenes at the start to be tedious but overall, I will have to agree that the film was incredible and above par for the other live-action remake films.

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