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The Little Mermaid (2023) Was Quite the Suprise

The Disney live-action remakes are back in the cinema. Oh, how we have not missed you! If you exclude Cruella, it has technically been four years since the last remake hit cinemas. Four peaceful years since that movie in sheepskin that calls itself The Lion King came out and made over a billion dollars making this eventual day inevitable. Phase 2 of live-action remakes to milk from the Renaissance is The Little Mermaid, the one that famously started said Renaissance and helped pioneer the company to the success it would get in the 21st century. Disney probably needs this one to be the saving grace yet again, as their current slate of stuff has been rough, to say the least.

Though this new Little Mermaid the reactions over the last few years have also been very interesting if we keep it civil. Ever since that first casting announcement of Halle Bailey as Ariel the discourse around this movie has been the most divisive of any of these live-action remakes. All of this talk certainly helped with building expectations for this movie, with that trailer helping to raise my thoughts to this could possibly be a good movie. Though I was still rather bitter because it’s a Disney live-action remake after all and they have an excellent track record of leaving bad tastes in your mouth.

It's Da Little Mermaid
Returning Back to her World

 

Where to begin? Positives or negatives because I have a fair bit to share on both. The scales are even as this film shares problems with the other remakes whilst also fixing and improving on some of those problems. I will rip the bandage off right away and say this does not come close to the animated movie, and at this point who is even surprised? The Little Mermaid remake follows the same popular formula of constantly reminding you of how awesome that animated movie was, so I don’t think it’s even fair to say there was ever a contest here. Why try to outdo what’s already as good as you’re ever going to get, and again when these remakes try something different it often doesn’t work. It also never looks that good when your remake is almost an hour longer than the original. I pretty much convinced myself we’ll go through the positives first as I think it’ll be more constructive to discuss that first rather than relay over the similar problems that this movie shares with other remakes.

First off, 2023’s The Little Mermaid gets brownie points for being one of the more watchable remakes they have done and for not being soul-crushing to fans of the original film. (It still hurt though, as a fan of animation.) This is definitely one of the better remakes they have done as it does a good job of capturing what made that animated movie so timeless. The best example of this is Halle Bailey as Ariel. Her performance is pretty much a perfect retelling of Jodi Benson’s Ariel, as she is adorably innocent and excitably curious. I can’t understate how much I enjoyed Bailey’s entire performance, as this was easily the best surprise for someone who rarely has any expectations for anything. The key to this performance is it reinstated my love for the character of Ariel, which I kind of gushed about a bit in that original Little Mermaid review.

Bailey is great and can sing really well too, that whole A Part of that World sequence was another surprise. This movie likes Halle Bailey’s voice so much that she gets three other songs, most of them new stuff, which I wasn’t too thrilled about. She is also definitely the reason the chemistry between her and Eric works well. I’ll get around to my thoughts on Eric, but another change I really liked was during the Kiss the Girl sequence. They find a creative way for Eric to find out Ariel’s name using the stars and Ariel slurring his words. It was just a cool moment in this movie that I really liked and wish was in the animated movie. This movie did it we have changed the narrative!

Ariel is Smiling
Ariel, the best Disney Princess in any form.

 

Moving on from Ariel is where the positives start to blend in with the mixed thoughts. Let’s discuss the songs because that’s always a fun one because a tradition with these remakes is they usually come out terribly. Getting the new ones out of the way they were pretty much a huge miss for me. Pointless and out of place is the best way to describe them, especially that Scuttlebutt rap number. Yuck! Focusing on the songs we care about in The Little Mermaid breaks the remake trend by making some good re-creations of the songs with some actual good singers singing them. Listening to Melissa McCarthy sing Poor Unfortunate Souls wasn’t at all grating but was actually pretty fun as McCarthy takes advantage of giving the personality a song like this needs. It’s wonderful, oh have I longed for a villain in a Disney movie to have a personality again. They’re good enough that I might get the soundtrack, which is a lot of praise I could give a to Disney remake.

I would say where these songs falter is they love being big and loud, meaning they strip out the nuance and build-up that the ’89 songs had. Using Poor Unfortunate Souls as an example, there is a point in the song where Ursula tells Ariel she uses her magic to only help miserable and lonely people, then she whispers to her henchmen ‘Pathetic!’ In the remake she says the pathetic line in the same sentence as miserable and lonely, meaning she just said that to Ariel’s face whom she is supposed to be manipulating to her side. I know this issue is very small, but as an admirer of villain songs, this small problem irked me, as the song now felt pretty pointless with the removal of the subtle manipulation angle. Now Ursula just spurting out to Ariel that she will be lonely without this spell in between the song. It hurts the characters as now it’s just a simple ego trip for the villain where the main character stupidly goes along with it.

Along with removing the more visual elements of the songs such as Ursula’s cauldron showing a little miserable skinny guy and obese woman or the entire Under the Sea sequence just having the sea creatures sort of dance around, but not really, because it’s unrealistic to have a bunch of fish play each other like guitars and trombones under the water. These small visual elements felt pretty integral to me as they not just enhanced the scene and the song, but also aided it.

Life is full tough choices ain't it.
How Divine!

 

I was quite let down when I first saw that King Triton’s castle is just a bunch of coral rocks with a little circle of seats at the bottom. Sure, it’s unrealistic and silly for King Triton to have a giant palace under the water and ride in on a dolphin chariot, whilst Sebastian the crab’s fish orchestra plays on his arrival. Though I must admit I have personally never seen a singing mermaid talking about wanting to live on the surface with a handsome guy in his castle to a crab or an evil half-human octopus witch. No one likes the realistic trend of these remakes because Sebastian and Flounder look about as uncanny as those household objects in the Beauty and the Beast remake. They also don’t show much emotion, just like the Lion King remake. The underwater sections are not as ugly as I had imagined, but they’re not good. This is not Avatar: The Way of Water beautiful, it borders on Aquaman levels of looking kind of weird and off-putting. My advice is just don’t put humans in the water. Any scene with King Triton underwater looks weird and maybe a little lifeless, kind of like Javier Bardem’s performance. Bardem I just felt might have been miscast as he was all serious and wasn’t very good at showing the loving side of the character. Triton and Flounder got the worst treatment character-wise as they really didn’t have any. Though my least favourite character in the movie is Eric.

Not too surprising as he was my least favourite part in the animated movie, because he was so boring and reminded me a lot of those bland princes from early Disney history. At least this Prince Eric has some goals that somewhat relate to Ariel’s, of wanting to escape the patriarchy or something. Also, this Eric is a little more assertive if that counts as a character trait because the other Eric just sat around and waited for things to happen to him. This might sound a little unprofessional, but I’m still trying to figure out what I don’t like about this Eric. I know it has something to do with the character still being really bland, but also being played by a very wish-washy handsome British man. He’s almost a naïve man-child as well, which might contribute to why he annoyed me so much. Prince Eric feels directly ripped from one of those generic romantic comedies, but he is not a dorkily charming Hugh Grant type, he’s just something else that I personally can’t stand. If Halle wasn’t already carrying this movie on her back, then I’d feel even more annoyed by this.

Ariel hates these freakin Fish too!
Yeah I feel you.

 

That’s about everything I wanted to write about this film. To summarise my thoughts into something more coherent, this family movie which is a remake of another family movie wasn’t too bad. I liked it more than I expected, but it also disappoints, because I know it can be better. It does the fundamentals well, but the meat and bone could be better. If it means anything, this is a step in a better direction, because I didn’t hate myself while watching this and I could possibly see myself watching it again, maybe. Really, I feel more inclined to watch the animated movie again, because it’s just looking better in my head as I continue thinking about it.

Maybe in four years’ time, we’ll be looking at these Disney live-action remakes more fondly, or maybe we’ll be relieved that they finally ran out of things to adapt. When we get there, we’ll know, but until then Blog Complainer, signing out.

3 - No need in rushing to see this
3 – Thanks Halle!

Cameron Black

I review stuff and hate on everything you ever loved. But I’m still a super nice guy and make pretty entertaining content.

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