‘The Little Mermaid’ overcomes common remake issues, still feels hollow

Ryan Ranc, Senior Film Columnist

“The Little Mermaid,” directed by Rob Marshall (“Mary Poppins Returns,” “Into the Woods”), reimagines the original 1989 Disney film of the same name. It follows Ariel (Halle Bailey), a mermaid longing to understand the human world, as she falls in love with Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and subsequently makes a deal with Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), the terrible sea witch who turns her from mermaid to human with a catch.

Bailey single-handedly carries this feature on her shoulders. In contrast to many decent performances in the film, Bailey’s stunning voice and performance stand out. While many actors in live-action reimaginings struggle to capture the fantastical, cartoonish characteristics of their animated counterparts, Bailey crafts a performance that will leave audiences fully immersed in the character of Ariel. Bailey transforms into Ariel on screen, and audiences might even enjoy her renditions of these classic songs more than the originals. 

The movie’s CGI flip flops between stunning achievement and occasional disaster. Any time actions occur or a dance number envelops the audience, the CGI feels at its best and stands out as the best looking visual effects in Disney’s recent catalog. Yet, other instances of CGI throughout the movie feel abnormal, such as moments where actors’ faces feel weirdly pasted on their bodies and movements don’t feel nearly as fluid as more fast-paced sequences. That’s not to say that the CGI lacks effort, but rather that a few moments of rough CGI will pull audiences out of an otherwise gorgeous visual feast. On top of that, seeing characters like Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) or Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) as realistic animals might strike some viewers as unnerving. 

Despite many positives, “The Little Mermaid” lacks heart overall due to its exact replication of the original source material. The original 1989 “The Little Mermaid” charmed audiences with its heart and originality. This remake, like most Disney live-action remakes, feels more like a retread than a recreation. It will leave audiences with nothing they have not already seen. This Disney remake neither pays homage nor improves on the original, but instead aims to erase the original by recreating its story beat by beat. Not one idea in this movie feels fresh. With three new songs, the film’s soundtrack seems to be the only attempt at making a fresh reimagining of the classic mermaid tale. Though fun additions, new songs should not have been the only new piece of material for this story.

“The Little Mermaid” does not mark a remarkable achievement for Disney, but Halle Bailey and the excellent remakes of old classic songs combine to make an otherwise bland and uninteresting remake much more worth the audience’s time. Kids will find this movie to be a blast, but anyone over the age of 12 will have a hard time engaging with this feature.

2 ½ seashells out of 5