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The Little Mermaid (2023) Review
Theatrical movie review
I was a freshman in high school when “The Little Mermaid” was released in 1989. I remember sitting in the back row of the now-demolished Cinema 356. Even though I was probably officially too old to think that an animated movie was cool, I remember being absolutely enthralled by the music and visuals. The movie ushered in the Disney Renaissance and has been a favorite for people for decades. So I approached Rob Marshall’s remake of “The Little Mermaid” with some trepidation.
The movie follows the original faithfully. Ariel (Halle Bailey) is fascinated by all things human. One night, she rescues Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and falls in love, but her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem) forbids her from going to the surface. She turns to the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) who takes her voice in exchange for three days as a human to try to get Eric to fall in love with her. Her friends Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) and Scuttle (Awkwafina) try to help her on her quest.
Despite my misgivings, I largely enjoyed the new movie. Bailey has an impressive voice and her rendition of “Part of Your World” was phenomenal. The chemistry between her and Hauer-King was fantastic and it really worked in “Kiss the Girl.” I appreciated McCarthy’s take on Ursula, who has long been my favorite Disney villain.
The song that had me the most worried was “Under the Sea,” simply because it was the one that used the animated medium the most blatantly, but it was beautifully choreographed and animated here. There were lots of moments in it that were straight from the original and it was delightful to watch. I did miss “Les Poissons” and found most of the new music a bit of a bore, though the new song “The Scuttlebutt” featuring Diggs and Awkwafina had its moments.
The animation was kind of a mixed bag. For the most part, it looked really good, but there is something unsettling about a more life-like Sebastian and Flounder. Those characters being cartoons served them well, and it felt off seeing a realistic looking, though not entirely real, crab and fish. Sebastian had a bit more personality than Flounder, but both were a net loss compared to their 2D counterparts. Jacob Tremblay is a talented voice actor, but he couldn’t make that fish as cuddly and sweet as the original.
Despite my overall enjoyment of this movie, I still left wondering why it exists. The differences between this and the original are negligible in most areas, and where they do diverge, it almost always felt like it was for the worse. I think if you liked the original film, you will probably like this one as well. The performances are solid, the songs are still amazing, and the story is familiar. I liked this better than most previous “live action” Disney remakes, but I’m not sure that’s enough to justify its existence. It’s part of our world, but I don’t know that it needs to be.
This review originally appeared in The Dominion Post on 5/28/23.
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