The Little Mermaid is one of the better Disney remakes for the casting and visuals alone.
The Little Mermaid (2023) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on May 24, 2023
Rating 3 /5
It was only a matter of time before Disney’s remake bonanza arrived at the 1989 classic The Little Mermaid. Considered a savior of the Disney brand and serving as the template for the Disney Rennaisance, there’s a lot to live up to for remaking this animated musical. While this live-action/CGI revision still has many of Disney’s odd choices, it rises above the competition due to its strong casting and solid atmosphere.
It helps that Halle Bailey shines bright for taking on the role of the lead mermaid Ariel. She makes the character her own and has a pure voice for giving new life to old songs. Director Rob Marshall manages not to let this star get lost in the weeds of his CGI-glazed directing style. Her singing is so good that it’s a blessing there are more songs with her, even after losing her voice to woo the dashing Prince Eric. Jonah Hauer-King plays Eric, and he has some great chemistry with Bailey that is given plenty of time to develop.
The other highlight singer of this story is Melissa McCarthy in the role of the sea witch Ursula. While she doesn’t entirely lean heavily into the seductive diva, she comes close and gives the character her own spin as much as Bailey. Between McCarthy and Bailey, their performances bode well for a film that doesn’t make me think of the original. The voice performances, specifically Daveed Diggs in the role of the crab Sebastian, are less so. I kept thinking of how Sebastian was manic and worried for his own safety when being placed in charge of keeping track of Ariel. This Little Mermaid stages him far too low-key. Then again, his master of King Triton is played almost too warmly by an understated Javier Bardem.
Other voice performances are there and without a lot of charm. Jacob Tremblay brings little to the role of the kid-fish Flounder. Awkwafina brings her standard fast-talking silliness to the role of the absent-minded bird Scuttle. You can take or leave their performances, but I imagine many would wish Scuttle’s musical number was left on the cutting room floor, considering how much it stands out as the weakest melody.
While CGI animals still exist in a weird surreality, the settings for The Little Mermaid are still as gorgeous as the animated original. The under-sea locations are exploding with life and color. The live-action world of kingdoms and ships is grand, running a range of decadent rooms to vibrant villages to daring ship voyages. There’s a stellar atmosphere that gave me some familiar sensations of the towering nature of the animated original. The visuals and tone are strong enough that it almost makes me overlook the pacing problems that plague the picture, especially in scenes that try to flesh out Ariel and Eric more but never fully take off.
The Little Mermaid is one of the better Disney remakes for the casting and visuals alone. It has many of the common trappings of Disney’s new trend of remakes but manages to avoid more pitfalls than it does fall into them. Since many will be gravitating towards this film specifically for the music, the film mostly delivers on this level and will surely please the millennials bringing their kids. Nothing will replace the 1989 animated classic, but this version is an okay cover song.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.