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The Little Mermaid (2023) Review

This is a review for the 2023 movie “The Little Mermaid”. Disney’s latest live action remake targets the 1989 film “The Little Mermaid”. Widely considered to have kicked off the Disney renaissance in the late 80s and 90s, this is an important plunge for Disney – in more ways than one.

What is The Little Mermaid about?

Is there even a point in explaining this? “The Little Mermaid” follows the story of Ariel, a mermaid who dreams about leaving the ocean behind and going to the surface to be among humans. However, her father strongly disapproves of this dream. When she saves a local prince from drowning, Ariel is presented with an opportunity to lead the life that she wants to live.

It’s a story about longing for something that you can’t have, of forbidden love, of your parents disapproving of who you want to be and of feeling different amongst society. Yes, you heard me, The Little Mermaid is a queer story. It’s a lot of other things too – the struggles of parenting and “be careful what you wish for” are, also, important themes but no queer person can watch this movie and not relate to Ariel’s longing.

This film is a live-action adaptation of the 1989 movie, in the same vein as 2019’s “The Lion King” and the recent “Peter Pan and Wendy”. It stars Halle Bailey as Ariel, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula the Sea Witch and Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric.

Changes versus the original

The latest adaptation of the fairy-tale has a runtime of 2 hours and 15 minutes. This is much longer than the original’s runtime of 1 hour 23 minutes. So, where does that extra time go? Well, there are a few additional songs (to make them Oscar-eligible) – but other than that, there’s no glaring segment of the movie that feels tacked on compared to the original. However, things in this movie tend to just run a little bit longer than the original animation. The main benefactor if this is, definitely, Prince Eric – who gets a much more founded characterization compared to the hollow love interest that he was previously.

The movie remains mostly faithful to the original, but doesn’t tie itself down to this. We miss out on a lot of action within the Prince’s castle, but in exchange – we get a lot more going-ons around the kingdom. There are a few bizarre changes, however, that are difficult to explain.

The strangest change, to me, is that Ariel does not sign a contract with Ariel. She doesn’t even verbally agree to the wicked deal that is presented to her. It can be argued that she sings to give consent, but even that feels like she’s under duress. It’s a strange move that removes a lot of agency from her character, and harms a lot of the movie’s themes.

The cultural impact of The Little Mermaid

It would be wrong to discuss this movie without addressing the elephant in the room. Racists (and the “I’m not racist, but”-cists) have decided to make this movie a pariah. The movie has been review-bombed by conservatives, due to the decision to cast a black woman to play Ariel. They will bleat about how Disney is being woke and how white characters aren’t allowed to exist. Yet, these same people will always make a point about how “race/gender/etc. shouldn’t matter, it should be the most talented individual” whenever somebody starts a conversation about diversity in positions of power. I don’t know how anybody can watch this movie and not think that Bailey did an outstanding job. It almost seems like these people don’t really care about the meritocracy, they just find it a convenient excuse to put down people from other ethnic groups.

Race-swapping characters is a perfectly fine thing to do, if race isn’t a core part of a character. You couldn’t swap the race of Black Panther, for example, because the story is reliant on the character being black. Equally if they were to remake “Get Out”, you couldn’t race-swap Allison Williams’ role with an actress who wasn’t white, as that would ruin the plot of the movie. The plot of “The Little Mermaid” is not dependent on the character’s race – therefore, it shouldn’t be a requirement during the casting process. Case closed.

The Little Mermaid (2023) Review

Halle Bailey is the Little Mermaid

It’s going to take a lot to get me to engage positively with a live action Disney remake. Keep that in mind when I say that this movie is fine.

The question that I always find myself asking when these movies are announced is “what’s the point?”. Live action is much more limiting than animation, which means that we end up being told the same stories, but in duller environments. People have compared the facial animation of the characters in the two versions of The Lion King to death; but it’s a poignant point. These movies have to do a lot to justify their existence. This movie, thankfully, manages to do so – and that justification’s name is Halle Bailey.

The only real advantage that live action has over animation is that we get to see the actors. This allows them to put on more of a show and really bring the characters to life. That hadn’t really been done too well until now, but Bailey is Ariel and while I don’t think this movie comes close to the original, her superstar performance, at the very least, justifies the remake’s existence.

The Stylistic Choices

Problems with the movie lie elsewhere, however. Critics have said that the world (especially underwater) is dark and boring. I don’t think I agree with this point, it’s bright and colourful when it needs to be; and the original had plenty of dark scenes. However, it really does just take itself too seriously. The absolute biggest culprit is in the performance of “Under The Sea”. As Sebastian rails off a list of fish and the instruments that they play; we see precisely none of that. The designs of the fish are just too realistic to have them playing bass guitars. If they want to make that creative choice, that’s up to them – but I think it’s a boring choice. Give us the chub playing the tub, Disney, you cowards!

Is The Little Mermaid (2023) a success?

There’s a lot of conflicting information online regarding the box office success of this movie. The political conversation around the movie has created an environment where some people really want it to fail; and others think it will be terrible for society if the movie flops. While I wouldn’t go as far as the latter, it does concern me to think about how Disney will react if this movie is a failure. Will they re-evaluate their project of remakes, or will they cave to the online reactionaries? Whichever makes them the most money, you have to suppose.

“The Little Mermaid” has out-performed the 2019 “Aladdin” remake’s opening weekend, though only by a hair. However, internationally, the movie does not appear to be performing as well as hoped. Pundits are blaming this on the review-bombing, though I think this gives the online alt-right far too much credit.

Why might The Little Mermaid struggle at the box office?

The biggest problem that “The Little Mermaid” is facing is called “Disney+”. Disney investing $200M in this movie feels like a huge misread of the market and the things that get people to the cinemas these days. With the economy in a rough state, people are being a lot more selective about which movies they want to pay to see. Asides from horror (which does its own thing), the main successes that we see are with big event movies (that beg to be seen on the big screen) and movies where people are worried about spoilers.

There’s really no incentive to seeing The Little Mermaid in cinemas, especially if you have kids. You know that it will be on Disney+ in a couple of months. There’s no risk of spoilers, you’ve seen it already. You’re not going to go down to the cinema to see the great effects on the big screen, like you might with the latest Avatar or Top Gun. With such a long runtime, the couch seems like a much comfier option.

Who should watch this movie?

If you like The Little Mermaid, you’ll probably enjoy this. It’s a faithful remake, that elevates the story in some areas; and fails in others. However, it’s arguably the strongest remake that Disney have released. Halle Bailey puts on an incredible show and is likely going to have a lot more top roles in the future, I’d recommend it for her alone.

This was a review for the 2023 movie “The Little Mermaid”. Did this movie sink or did it swim? Let us know in the comments below.

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