Swim with us as we go under the sea and up to the surface world! It will almost be 35 years since the release of the 1989 animated feature The Little Mermaid, but this 2023 live-action remake is a beautiful, expanded retelling of the story of Ariel, the adored little mermaid.
The Little Mermaid marks the 21st Disney live-action remake, yet this might be the best one to date; it’s up there beside 2015’s Cinderella and 2016’s The Jungle Book. Ariel’s story from her life as a gorgeous mermaid to walking on her own two feet shows how a journey to get what you desire takes sacrifice and unconditional love. Halle Bailey‘s breathtaking performance, Rob Marshall‘s creative direction, and Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s joyful musical numbers are among the reasons this live-action remake is fascinating to watch.
The importance of retelling ‘The Little Mermaid‘
The film opens with words from Ariel’s creator, Hans Christian Anderson, which read, “but a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.” We need context to understand why Ariel is so beloved, and it’s because she’s a character who sacrifices for her freedom rather than being saved to receive it.
With the live-action retelling of the 1989 classic The Little Mermaid story, Disney has improved, changed, added, and expanded elements while managing to nicely blend it together. It’s hard to touch the masterpiece of the original animated film, however it’s important to retell this story because it needs to impact this newer generation, as culture has changed significantly since the late 1980s. The value of re-telling the tale of The Little Mermaid is due for audiences to see a reflection of themselves among the diverse cast. The film takes action to change the slightest of details, including changing the lyrics in “Kiss The Girl” and “Poor Unfortunate Soul” to a more respected approach by emphasizing consent and female empowerment.
Making Ariel a heroic female protagonist is evident, thoroughly. Halle Bailey provides an elevating, beautiful performance that proves that Ariel was meant to be her role from the start. Her stunning vocals and youthful, fresh acting truly make her the heart of the film, along with a character the audience will love from the start—just like the animated feature. Bailey is the key reason this new take is worth watching, because her performance as Ariel is an act young children will be empowered to look up to.
It’s even more powerful with Bailey being an actress of colour. She’s already easily breaking the expectations and stereotypes of what a Disney princess must look and act like on screen. Disney also managed to cast most of Ariel’s six sisters as people of colour, which is a historic moment.
Ariel’s ability to explore and comprehend the world around her is expanded in the film. Audiences are given an understanding that Ariel is much more than a Disney princess and that she goes on an adventure to make her mark to be a part of our world.
Rob Marshall’s directing plays a huge part in this. He wanted to reimagine the tale of The Little Mermaid rather than remaking the animated film shot for shot. He has effortlessly done exactly that, and retains the soul of the animated feature that we all know and love.
‘The Little Mermaid’ cast shines as an ensemble
As mentioned, Halle Bailey is breathtaking and excellent as Ariel. However, joining her is an all-star ensemble cast, whom in their own right provide performances unique to themselves and their characters.
Jonah Hauer-King‘s Prince Eric is charming. He plays Eric with strength fit for a prince and has compassion for those around him, especially Ariel. Hauer-King’s chemistry with Bailey is vibrant and natural, and it’s clear that they were the right choice to bring these lovers to life. They present a dynamic that the audience are familiar with from animation, but demonstrate a fresh, lovable take with an underlying message of where a true love truly stands—from within.
Casting Melissa McCarthy as the wickedly evil Ursula is the perfect and safe choice. McCarthy shares the same vibe as Pat Carroll’s voice acting from the animated film, but adds her usual organic comedic elements to the character. This not only makes the performance unique, but it makes Ursula a villain to be thrilled and in awe for, rather be completely afraid of. (Especially for the little ones watching.)
Javier Bardem is terrific as King Triton. As the loving, protective father of Ariel, he truly embodies the character and his shared scenes with Halle Bailey are warmly touching. He also rocks the beard and mermaid tail, just like his animated predecessor!
Personally, I didn’t find the animation of the real life animals distracting, though I do believe it is the voice acting that helps the animals from being too much for the eyes.
Daveed Diggs‘ voice acting comes as a massive highlight in The Little Mermaid. As the voice of Sebastian the crab, Diggs performs with such liveliness and carefree energy suited for the character, making him enjoyable to watch. Diggs also incorporates Sebastiians traditional Jamaican-accent in his performance, and at times he puts it to good use when he’s in a comedic position.
Alongside Diggs is Awkwafina, who hilariously voices the seagull Scuttle. Her bright energy intertwined with her improvisation skills stand out when playing this role. The actress featured lines distinctive to who she is, giving the character a personality different from the animated feature. It’s to the point that you could tell she had fun voicing the funny, wild seagull. Diggs and Awkwafina share many hysterical moments together, and even perform a song that might go viral on the internet.
Jacob Tremblay is a terrific actor that is unfortunately underused in this movie. Yet, whenever Flounder appears on the screen, Tremblay displays a youthful spirit in scenes in which he shares with the rest of the phenomenal cast.
Uplifting old and new music of ‘The Little Mermaid‘
Disney movies, both animated and live-action, are known for their heartwarming stories and ability to showcase characters that people will love. However, one component that uplifts the treasured storytelling of these films is the music. Alan Menken, the composer of the 1989 Little Mermaid film, returns to score the 2023 live-action feature. Menken is joined by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who many will recognize for composing Moana, Encanto, In The Heights and of course, Hamilton.
Menken and Miranda collaborate to bring both old and new musical takes to The Little Mermaid. Menken stays true to music by bringing back the iconic songs of “Part of Your World,” “Under The Sea,” “Kiss the Girl,” and “Poor Unfortunate Soul.” The legendary composer also created new music with Miranda which includes, “Wild Uncharted Waters,” “For The First Time,” and “The Scuttlebutt.”
New and old music share the same energy that make them enjoyable to listen to and iconic for a Disney film. The cast’s singing abilities are also what help bring these songs to a newer level for today’s audiences.
Prominently, Halle Bailey singing “Part of Your World” is astonishing. A scene that audiences will be genuinely amazed throughout. It’s the result of the newer take from Bailey’s vocals and the amplified, classic melody re-recordings of the score by Menken and Miranda.
Bailey also performs “For The First Time,” which will give audiences an immersive view of Ariel’s fish out of water experiences.
Jonah Hauer-King’s performance singing “Wild Uncharted Waters” absolutely blew me away. A song for Prince Eric in that particular scene is fitting, and it shows the vulnerability of the character seen in Hauer-King’s portrayal of the prince.
“The Scuttlebutt” is the song that might blow up on the internet. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop rap influences are evident in the song, which is cheerful and appropriate for Awkwafina’s Scuttle. Viewers, you’re going to have a great time, in fact you will probably smile and laugh.
Let’s be a part of Ariel’s world in ‘The Little Mermaid‘
As underwhelming as the last couple of Disney live-action remakes may have been, The Little Mermaid very much breaks the barrier and knocks it right out of the park. Ariel’s reimagined story has been fulfilled, and the five-year production of the film lives up to the hype. The Little Mermaid is Rob Marshall’s fourth film with Disney, and his continued collaboration with their returned trust has heightened the re-telling of this world.
The cast’s performances—especially Halle Bailey—Menken and Miranda’s iconic music, the eye-catching visuals, and the stunning overall story of Ariel’s world don’t disappoint, and set a standard for Disney live-action remakes to come. (Hercules, I’m looking at you.)
The Little Mermaid dives exclusively in theaters May 26. Let us know your reactions to The Little Mermaid on the Agents of Fandom socials, and stay tuned for more Disney coverage!
The Little Mermaid (2023) ReviewThe Little Mermaid (2023) Review
- Fantastic performances by the cast
- Uplifting OG iconic music returns and new fun songs are cinematic
- Stunning visuals
- Story was compelling and reimagined beautifully
- Pacing felt off in some scenes, making the movie's runtime really long