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The Little Mermaid Review

Disney's latest live-action offering, The Little Mermaid, finally swims into theaters after having been announced what feels like a lifetime ago. Rob Marshall helms the musical adaptation, telling the story we all know and love of a curious mermaid (Halle Bailey) who makes a deal with the evil sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) for the chance at human life with her beloved Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King).

The quality of Disney live-action remakes seems almost impossible for people to fairly quantify. This is because these particular films are made in a way not to be judged on their own merits, but only by comparison to something else. On the one hand, everyone knows they very rarely (if ever) can improve upon the original, so often instead they're compared by the metric of the previous live-action remakes (an admittedly low bar). The one time Disney got the formula right was with 2015's Cinderella, which instead of remaking the animated version of the movie, felt much more like just another adaptation of the famous fairy tale. Why they haven't continued to go this route and make completely new interpretations of these stories in live-action form, doesn't exactly elude me (they're trying to cash in on nostalgia, not showcase any type of creativity here), but it's disappointing all the same. I'd love to be writing a review about a live-action Little Mermaid film where she doesn't have the same old sidekicks, and instead has new characters and deals with a completely different sea witch altogether. She doesn't even need to be named Ariel! But alas...Disney doesn't take risks--they make reproductions, so there's no way to look at the film objectively without comparing it to how it was done first.

Halle Bailey is a fantastic new Ariel, who doesn't feel like a carbon copy of her animated counterpart which goes a long way to the film's benefit. Unlike past live-action Disney princesses, she can actually sing (I'm looking at you Emma Watson) and she has a very charming presence. You can tell the camera just loves her, and considering how much she's working against blue screen, it's truly impressive what she achieves here. But unfortunately, she cannot carry the film alone and she gets almost zero help from anyone else (save Hauer-King's Eric with whom she does have some nice chemistry).

The supporting cast is really what lets this film down and the performances range considerably. Jacob Tremblay as Flounder is fine and generally inoffensive, but barely there. You could cut his character and the story wouldn't change a bit. Melissa McCarthy tries desperately to give her best impression of Pat Carroll's performance, without any of the gravitas. And the less said about Awkwafina's Scuttle, the better. But for me, the most glaring casting choices to really negatively affect the film are Daveed Diggs' imitation crab Sebastian (see what I did there?) and the complete misfire casting of Javier Bardem as the coldest King Triton ever. So many of their scenes together are just reciting the animated scene's dialogue word for word, without any of the warmth or humor that made the original lines work.

In the original animated film, aside from her romance with Eric, it's with these two characters that Ariel actually has relationship arcs. We know the animated Triton is too hard on Ariel, but deep down is a softie who deeply loves his daughter and is just trying to do what's best for her. He has to learn to let go and give his daughter the freedom to live her life and do what she believes is best for her. In this version, their reconciliation feels so empty because you never felt anything between them in the first place. Meanwhile, animated Sebastian goes from being an overly strict watchdog to a true confidant and friend. Diggs' Sebastian just is there for bickering with Scuttle, not to provide any sort of meaningful relationship for Ariel.

Characters of course aren't the only things recreated though, because we all knew we'd be getting new versions of all the film's beloved musical numbers. Halle soulfully belts Part of Your World, and while I wouldn't really say I prefer her version to the original, it was the only new rendition of these songs that came close to competing. Under the Sea feels completely lifeless in its first few verses, and when it finally does try to pull out all the stops, it just looks like a CGI eyesore. Poor Unfortunate Souls felt like a bland karaoke performance, while Kiss the Girl was absolutely dreadful.

So what does the film add, or improve upon? Well, in terms of runtime, it adds a lot...including expanded action sequences and new songs, which makes the film feel unnecessarily bloated. But few of these additions actually improve anything. But, I did enjoy the extra scenes with Eric that really help build up their romance. Their new interactions are definitely one of the film's highlights and welcome additions. For a few moments, it feels like the film gains its own personality, before falling back on its mimicry.

So yeah, compared to those other terrible, soulless Disney remakes it is indeed better than most! But compared to the original animated film, it is far inferior. And as a film on its own merits, it can't stand on its own two legs...try as Halle Bailey might.

RATING: 5/10


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