FILM REVIEW — Mixed feelings about “The Little Mermaid”

Published 12:02 am Friday, May 26, 2023

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“The Little Mermaid”

Walt Disney

Directed by Rob Marshall

Starring Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay and Daveed Diggs

Rated PG

2 1/2 Stars

I have mixed feelings about Disney’s live action remake of their 1989 animated classic, “The Little Mermaid.”

On the one hand, there are many moments in this new film that left me grinning with nostalgia. On the other hand, er, flipper, there are moments when the film feels bloated and uninspired.

Honestly, I expected more creative zest in this reimagining of one of my absolute favorite Disney animated movies of all time. Perhaps it would have been impossible to live up to the standard set by the original movie, but the new film frequently feels like a corporate cash grab instead of a magical remake of a beloved story.

Like I said, I have mixed feelings.

Do I really need to recap that story? Shame on you if you don’t know it by now, but the story follows an adventurous little mermaid named Arial (Halle Bailey) who falls in love with a human prince (Jonah Hauer-King) over the objections of her father (Javier Bardem).

She makes a deal with the sea witch, Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) in which she is transformed into a mute human and given three days to get the prince to kiss her, or else she will be returned to mermaid form and condemned to serve the witch forever.

There was a lot of online chatter when the cast was first announced, but I do love most of the actors in this remake. Bailey was a smart choice to play the title character. She absolutely channels the spirit of Arial, and most importantly, her singing voice is marvelous.

McCarthy is a hoot playing the campy evil character, while Daveed Diggs and Awkwafina bring plenty of comic energy to their roles as Sebastian the crab and Scuttle the seagull.

I’m not as impressed by the fleshed-out roles for Bardem as King Triton or Hauer-King as Prince Eric. I understand the impulse to give these characters more to do in the remake, but their pointless backstories only add to the film’s bloated running time.

The new film clocks in at nearly one hour longer than the original movie!

In addition to the expanded character moments, the film also has new music by Alan Menkin and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Arial’s new song, “For the First Time” is quite good — easily my favorite new element in this movie.

The other two new pieces are a bland ballad for Prince Eric and an awkward rap for the seagull. Both are easily forgotten.

As expected, the film still thrills with vibrant musical productions of “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl,” “Part of Your World” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” These are every bit as enjoyable as they were in the original film. I absolutely loved the colorful production design for these numbers.

I wish I could say the same for the entire movie, which is filmed in a way to indicate that we are watching events unfold underwater, but the visuals are frequently hazy and distracting. Adding to the problem, the film has very little visual flair when it’s up on dry land.

So, it’s a mixed verdict for me. I loved most of the cast, although a few of the expanded characters left me cold. The original music is great, but many of the new numbers are mediocre.

Throw in the inconsistent visual images and “The Little Mermaid” is still a delightful film, but one that doesn’t come anywhere close to recapturing the magic of the 1989 original film.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at