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Disney’s The Little Mermaid (2023) Review: A Splashing Success

An image of Ariel from the 2023 Little Mermaid
Disney's The Little Mermaid courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Staff writer Taha Khambaty reviews Disney’s latest remake of the classic childhood favourite “The Little Mermaid”. Commenting on plot, CGI and the revamped soundtrack.

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (2023) floats to the top amongst Disney’s other live-action remakes, to become a truly enjoyable and well-made update on the original. 

In the story, Ariel defies her father’s wishes to avoid humans and enters into a deal with Ursula. In exchange for legs, Ariel surrenders her voice, all in an effort to win the prince’s affection. While the story is in no way new it does feel more polished than the original. Removing the problematic aspects while also streamlining many aspects that allow for more effective execution.

While this refinement does incur a longer runtime and a rather slow first act, it does utilise that extra time to develop characters that the original overlooked. Both the Queen and Grimsby are more fleshed out, with audiences understanding the relationship they have with the Prince. Speaking of which, Eric is probably the character that benefits most from the extra screen time. Jonah Hauer-King’s vocal and acting performance aid in this by capturing the Prince’s adventurous spirit and giving him great chemistry with Ariel.

Alongside King, the other actors also carry their weight. Javier Bardem is a great Triton bringing intimidation where necessary and love where due. Awkwafina and Jacob Tremblay feel well utilised as Scuttle and Flounder, respectively. This is despite Flounder’s CGI treatment making his emotions feel completely unreadable from his face or body language. This problem is thankfully less noticeable in Daveed Diggs as Sabastian. The actor already has a proven track record of being able to sing and does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of comedy and moving the plot forward. Melissa McCarthy takes on the role of Ursula, channelling Pat Carroll’s interpretation with a more comedic tone. However, she doesn’t quite reach the menacing heights of the original, making her rendition less memorable.

But amidst the sea of talent, one mermaid reigns supreme: Halle Bailey as Ariel. She flawlessly embodies Ariel’s wide-eyed curiosity and enchants us with her voice. Even in the scene where she is rendered mute, her childlike wonder and genuine chemistry with Eric make us fall in love with her faster than the Prince. 

However, while the cast is a true delight, due to the nature of the live-action remake, the animal characters lack the same level of animation and expressiveness as the original. This led to them blending in with the background as there is nothing about their character design that feels unique amongst the barrage of other sea life. Moreover certain songs like “Part of Your World” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” felt dark and dull, due to favouring a more realistic lighting environment.

Thankfully these sequences are not in the majority, as the film understands that depicting a fairytale fantasy requires well… fantastical visuals. With vibrant sequences such as “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” alongside night skies overflowing with stars, the visuals do manage to capture a sense of magic and fantasy that permeates through the film.

These sequences are further heightened by the symphonic treasure that is Alan Menken’s score, which adds character to the film. Accompanied by new songs penned by the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, including the standout “For the First Time,” which captures Ariel’s inner monologue and adds another layer of enchantment to the story.

In conclusion, The Little Mermaid is a delightful and enjoyable underwater escapade. It manages to successfully update the original and make it feel “part of our world” with a commitment to representing a diverse cast. The storytelling feels true to the original and the visuals capture that sense of magic, demonstrating the true potential of VFX. It does this well enough that even as an adamant defender of animation, I feel confident in recommending this as a suitable substitute to the original.

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