Review: The Little Mermaid (2023)

The Little Mermaid is the retelling of the 1989 Disney classic based on the 1937 story from Hans Christian Andersen.

The premise of the film is a little different but the heart is the same. Ariel (Halle Bailey) is enamored by the human world. Her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), forbids her from going to the surface world. After an encounter with Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), Ariel makes a deal with the sea witch known as Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) to trader her voice for human legs.

What’s deal did she sign? Ursula will make Ariel human for three days. Before the sun sets on the third day, Ariel and Prince Eric must share a kiss…a kiss of true love. If they kiss, Ariel will remain human. If they don’t, Ariel will turn back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula.

Ariel spends her time on the surface frolicking with Prince Eric. Meanwhile, her friend Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), Scuttle (voiced by Akwafina) and King Triton’s trusted servant Sebastian (voiced by Daveed Diggs) work diligently to get Eric and Ariel to kiss before it’s too late.

Disney’s recent live adaptations have been hit-or-miss over the past few years. Time will tell if Director Rob Marshall’s adaptation will be beloved like the 1989 animated version. What will be a sure hit is Halle Bailey as Ariel. Bailey is an absolute star. From the moment she swims across the screen, it’s impossible to take your eyes off her. Early in the first act of the movie when Halle belts out “Part of Your World” it’s clear she not just perfect for the role but is going to give a star making performance. Her Ariel performance is much more caring, compassionate and curious than spunky and rebellious.

Although this remake doesn’t take any big swings or make earth shattering changes to the classic story, it does its best to nail the performances and songs. McCarthy is a fantastic Ursula – she’s equally funny and menacing. McCarthy nails the “Poor Unfortunate Souls” performance. This film features a scene stealing performance from Diggs as Sebastian. He’s the comic relief, along with Awkwafina as Scuttle that reminds the audience this is definitely a kid’s movie. Sebastian’s quick one-liners and comedic timing are what make his role in this story incredibly entertaining and necessary to keep the film light and fun.

Original songs like “Kiss the Girl” and “Under the Sea” are wonderfully done and the visual reimagining is fun. However, new songs like Prince Eric’s “Fathoms Below” and “ScuttleButt” don’t quite hit the mark. This could be an opportunity for the film to ascend to a different level; instead they fall a little flat. It’s not that the performances or songs are bad…but next to Halle Bailey’s breathtaking performance of “Part of Your World” it’s hard to take the new music seriously.

The Little Mermaid is one of the best Disney live adaptations. Halle Bailey is the engine that makes this film work. Her performance is keeps the film afloat at moments when the story and the songs stumble. The film finds its legs whenever Halle is onscreen and it soars to new heights when she performs. This remake may not be for everyone but it will find a home in the hearts of many kids and adults the same way 1989’s animated version did.

Grade: B