Cert – PG, Run-time – 2 hours 15 minutes, Director – Rob Marshall
Mermaid Ariel (Halle Bailey) makes a deal with a sea witch (Melissa McCarthy) to grow legs to explore the sea world, however if she doesn’t obtain true love’s kiss in three days the deal becomes a curse.
I’ve said many times that I try to go into every film with an open mind, however going into Disney’s latest reimagining I must admit to having felt a bit of scepticism. Perhaps because of the announcement of a Moana remake not even ten years after the original film was released, or the fact that since 2019’s take on The Lion King these live-action takes have felt, while generally fine, somewhat subpar. The Little Mermaid itself suffers slightly from similar points to The Lion King in that the bright, colourful worlds created don’t always translate to the screen. In particular I Just Can’t Wait To Be King fell flat due to the fact that the characters simply ran across a watering hole for three minutes.
While there’s less photorealism on display and a bit more chance for fantasy to play in, and indeed the songs themselves work with good performances given, there are some restrictions from the live-action nature. Yet, the performances of the likes of Under The Sea and Poor Unfortunate Souls – both of which show the money Disney has thrown at this film with a heavy amount of CG; not necessarily a bad thing and indeed helping to show that imagination and creativity is on display – are enough to lift things up, and the visuals manage to not fall entirely flat helping to pull things through.
It’s the songs which feel like the necessary elements from Disney for this particular remake. And while the film still follows the same general narrative, albeit with one or two changes, the rest of it certainly feels like a reimagining, you can tell there was some thought as to how this could be made different, and much of this arrives in the second half once mermaid Ariel (Halle Bailey – who eases you into the film and settles any worries with her performances of Part Of Your World around 20 minutes in) has arrived on the land with her newly obtained legs.
There’s plenty to enjoy and be entertained by as director Rob Marshall explores the island Ariel almost washes up on, particularly a market sequence which evolves into a dance scene. However, while enjoying all the surface world has to offer crustacean Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), fish-friend Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) and gannet Scuttle (Awkwafina) must keep her on track to obtain true love’s kiss in three days or else she returns to being a mermaid, and becomes the property of sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy – effectively channelling Pat Carroll whilst doing enough to give her own spin on the villain). The man she’s already formed a connection with after saving his life at sea? Jonah Hauer-King’s Prince Eric – a character who now with his own autotuned song truly demonstrates the music-video nature of some of the songs.
The more the film goes on the more you ease into it and enjoy it. There’s a character to it that, yes, sticks to the Disney mould but manages to differentiate it from the original and just about earns the label of reimagining. At over two hours the run-time may be a bit on the long side, with certain elements from the largely-underwater first half perhaps in need of some trimming, but as a whole things pass by relatively well with plenty to enjoy. Including some effective darkness in the closing stages which brings to mind the kind which was present in some of the older Disney animations (even pre the ’89 adaptation of the story). There may be elements of the live-action format which hold the film back slightly, largely during musical numbers which are lifted by the performances (and, let’s be honest, it’s hard to beat that original soundtrack) but overall there’s an enjoyable nature to this take on The Little Mermaid.
A reimagining with both an entertainment factor and some new ideas there’s a good deal to entertain and carry you through the run-time in this take on The Little Mermaid. Some of the songs may be restricted by the visuals, but there’s still a push from the performances and a spark of creativity every now and then.