I haven’t really been a fan of Disney’s recent live-action remakes of its most beloved animated titles a practice that may make commercial sense, but feels increasingly like an artistic dead end. Even so, I tried to keep an open mind when I heard that The Little Mermaid, one of my favorite movies in the Disney canon, was getting the do-over treatment.
This kind of retread may be unnecessary, but unnecessary doesn’t have to mean unenjoyable. And with that brilliant Alan Menken score and those ingenious Howard Ashman lyrics and yes, I can sing the whole thing from start to finish really, how bad could it be?
The answer is: not that bad, but also not that good. Like a lot of its fellow Disney remakes, this Little Mermaid too often feels like a dutiful cover version rather than an inspired reimagining. The story hasn’t changed much: The good King Triton, played here by Javier Bardem, has forbidden all mermaids and mermen from visiting the ocean’s surface, warning them that humans are dangerous. But that hasn’t stopped his youngest and most free-spirited daughter, Ariel, played by Halle Bailey, from becoming deeply fascinated with the human world, which she learns about by collecting artifacts from shipwrecks.
When Bailey’s casting was announced last year, she received a torrent of abuse online, slamming her and Disney for recasting Ariel as a Black mermaid. It was a sad reminder of how angry some people get when a remake or reboot doesn’t cater perfectly to their childhood memories, and also how easily some can couch their racism as nostalgia.
Speaking as someone with no small attachment to the original Little Mermaid myself, I’d say Bailey’s casting is one of the few instances in which this new movie actually demonstrates some fresh thinking. Her singing voice is as lovely as the role demands, and while she’s not always as vivid in her non-musical moments, she keeps you fully absorbed in Ariel’s journey.
The other actors are more of a mixed bag. As Eric, the hunky human prince whom Ariel saves from drowning and falls in love with, Jonah Hauer-King toggles between dashing and drippy. Bardem is a great actor, but even he can’t do much with the solemnly bearded King Triton, who’s saddled with some of the movie’s more fake-looking CGI. Melissa McCarthy puts a wickedly mischievous spin on Ursula, the many-tentacled sea witch who transforms Ariel into a human for a very steep price. Too often, though, she goes for easy laughs at the expense of real menace.
As for an exact release date for The Little Mermaid, that’s more complicated. Most movies produced by Disney often go to its streamer site within three months after debuting in theaters, like the most recent Marvel film Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. If this is the case for The Little Mermaid, it will probably drop in late August 2023 or sometime near Labor Day in early September.
When the time comes for The Little Mermaid to splash onto Disney+ though, make sure you’re all prepared to watch it. If you don’t have access yet, you can opt into a 30-day free trial before choosing a plan that start at $7.99 per month or $79.99 per year. After your account is all set, click on the title page on Disney+’s official website or the Disney+ app.
As you wait for The Little Mermaid to hit the streamer, why don’t you watch the animated version and its sequel The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea? Or if you want to immerse yourself in another live-action version, click on the 2019 ABC TV special The Little Mermaid Live!. Enjoy!
Melissa McCarthy’s name is typically associated with comedy movies like Bridesmaids and Spy. While many may believe McCarthy’s talents only lie in the genre, casting her in the role of Ursula may make no sense. However, having her in a villain role with her own comedic spin may be just the combination needed to portray a perfect Ursula considering that, in the animated feature, the sea witch does have a sarcastic, somewhat comedic tone to her. It will be an interesting sight to see McCarthy as the sea witch with oodles of tentacles and her eel sidekicks Flotsam and Jetsam.
While The Little Mermaid remake is different from the original film, it doesn’t stray too far, especially when it comes to the animated movie’s iconic shots. During beloved musical numbers such as “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea,” audiences get to see Halle Bailey’s Ariel reaching up out of her grotto or falling on a bundle of jellyfish in the same way the animated Ariel did it in 1989. “Under the Sea” in particular has a number of shots that parallel the colorful sea creatures and movements of the original film.
Furthermore, other iconic shots were also recreated like Ariel posing on a rock singing the “Part of Your World” reprise with the ocean crashing behind her or flipping her red hair out of the water against an orange sunset. These shots offer a major nostalgia factor to the remake. Plus, they show that the creators aimed to stay true to the original film in many ways, even as they changed other aspects.
An interesting addition to The Little Mermaid remake is Eric’s map room. In the film, Ariel stumbles into it and finds a variety of objects that she herself would collect as a mermaid. Eventually, Eric comes in, and the two have their first moments of bonding. What is so important about Eric’s map room is the way it parallels Ariel’s grotto. Both characters have private spaces in which they keep their most precious belongings. Plus, the map room emphasizes Eric’s desire to explore and learn, which is a trait Ariel also has. In this way, the map room shows how the pair are alike, despite being from different worlds.
One of the new songs added to The Little Mermaid remake is a tune called “The Scuttlebutt,” sung by Scuttle and Sebastian. The song is about Scuttle flying in to tell Ariel and Sebastian about the gossip he’s heard around the castle, though he seems to talk more around the point than actually getting to it. While the name of the song seems directly related to Scuttle’s name and his silly nature, the word scuttlebutt actually directly means gossip or rumor. In this way, the title has a double meaning both as a synonym for what Scuttle is talking about and as a reference to Scuttle and his humorous ways.
The most significant easter egg to appear in 2023’s The Little Mermaid is Jodi Benson’s cameo as a shopkeeper. Jodi Benson was the voice of Ariel in the 1989 animated film and now appears in real life as a shopkeeper in the remake. In the scene, Ariel is exploring a marketplace and is offered a bowl of food by Jodi Benson. Before walking away, Benson offers Ariel a fork, which the mermaid begins using to brush her hair. The moment is incredibly nostalgic and is symbolic in a way, as Benson passes the “dinglehopper” to Halle Bailey. This is by far the best reference within The Little Mermaid remake.
Like most of Disney’s live-action remakes, The Little Mermaidserved up plenty of nostalgia and new experiences. Despite making some different choices, the film definitely stuck with its source material in many ways and provided plenty of easter eggs and references along the way. By doing this, the creators made a movie that brings back childhood memories for older audiences while offering a new, colorful version for younger ones.
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