This weekend a beloved animated story is once again hitting the big screen in a live-action version. The Little Mermaid will be making her splash nationwide for fans of all ages. And while kids are excited to see the new version, the 80s and 90s kids are lining up just as fast to see one of their favorite animated movies come to life on the screen in front of them.
Even before the first trailer was released for the movie, it seemed to make some waves. With casting choices causing controversy and the images of favorite characters being released causing even more. And while the story is the same, this isn’t the same movie as the 1989 version.
If you grew up with The Little Mermaid you’re going to expect to hear certain songs in this version. Don’t worry, Disney will not let you down. The fan favorites Kiss the Girl, Part of Your World, Under the Sea, Poor Unfortunate Souls, and many others still make it into the movie. They may have a few lines tweaked and others added with the help of Lin-Manuel Miranda but you can happily sing along in your head with the songs as they play out on the screen.
There are a couple of new songs that aren’t in the animated version of the story, one that kids will absolutely love called Scuttlebutt and another where Prince Eric has his own ballad. While it does fit with the movie, it is one of those things that could have easily been left out of the movie. After all, this is Ariel’s story and the animated version focuses solely on her. Is it wrong that Eric has his moment? We do get a bit more back story on this unconventional prince who quickly goes from falling in love with one girl to marrying another the same day. But it does seem like it’s part of the story that just didn’t need to be added.
All of the songs throughout the movie have been touched and tweaked by Miranda, and he has left his unique brand along with it. It fits the story and the movie and adds just a bit of a Caribbean touch to the story as it seems that’s the region that this version of the story is told in.
There is no doubt that Halle Bailey was the perfect casting for Ariel in this film. Her soft voice takes you on an adventure of its own and she can handle the songs without hesitation. Her ethereal look overall makes her a convincing mermaid and her acting brings the story to life.
Other notable casting decisions that seemed potentially questionable when they were first announced were Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Awkwafina as Scuttle. Awkwafina, as she always seems to do, morphs easily into the character and while initial hesitations about the casting may have been there – she no doubt can play a slightly annoying bird well. As she usually does, her acting slowly builds into the character and she finds herself to the point of being convincing along the way.
McCarthy however, enters the movie and the moment she hits the screen there is no doubt she embodies Ursula. Yes, there is a bit of overacting, and it does seem like the actress mostly got to do the role laying down as her character slithers all over the screen – but she brings the evil sea witch energy to the character. There is no doubt she was meant for the role, and she is equal parts funny and scary along the way while belting out the character’s iconic tunes. The only question left will be where she gets her waterproof makeup.
With any of the Disney live-action remakes the actual CGI animation comes into play. It’s a lot easier to animate a cartoon fish and mermaid than it is to bring it to life on the screen and make it believable. When the first look images came out, the biggest outcry and reaction was to the appearance of fan favorites Scuttle and Flounder. Scuttle changed from a seagull to a northern gannet, allowing the sick to go below the water in a more natural fashion. While this character change visually seems odd to fans of the animated movie, it makes better sense for the story overall.
Now Flounder, the animation style seems more drastic. They made the bright yellow friendly childish fish into a … flounder, or flat fish. Visually it was more shocking than anything else. But realistically it made sense, and once in the movie, you are able to quickly get past the odd visual change quickly. And the reality is, Flounder isn’t really in the movie that much that it doesn’t seem too offensive overall.
Most of the animation in the movie seems to go either really well, or not that great. There really isn’t much of an in-between when it comes to this. The better animation seems to be all on land and above the water level and below seems to be murkier. Were the two areas animated by different teams, or not given the same equipment? We can’t be sure. No doubt, the water will play into changing the animation style and renderings overall – but it seems like a quality loss and almost parts being rushed when you’re Under the Sea.
Despite the movie having a story audiences already know and love, the movie still doesn’t seem to do the original justice. It’s not the acting or the updates, it just doesn’t seem to have the same feeling. With the addition of the new songs, the movie almost has a 40-minute bloat from the animated movie, and there are points in the movie where you can feel the added time which makes you question why they needed to add that into the story.
The movie seems to follow the same issues that other live-action Disney remakes have fallen for – not making enough change to justify its existence. Diehard fans of the 1989 animated version are going to question why new things were added to the story, including songs and just moments that didn’t need to be there. But without adding anything of value to an already beloved story and movie – what is the reason to remake it at all? It is just another money grab or another way to extend the copyright for the story?
Thankfully, this reimagining didn’t just re-animate animals as they did in The Lion King, but there still seems to be a disconnect in the different parts of the story. The animation under the sea seems a little less crisp (and not just from water distortion), and sometimes it seems a little incomplete. But when Ariel is on land, the effects that are added are crisper and seem more finished.
It’s the story fans love, and it has great actors, but The Little Mermaid still seems like she doesn’t quite have her feet under her. The movie does try to spin the story a little by reassuring Ariel she doesn’t need to give up her voice for a guy, but in the midst of a story where she does just that – it doesn’t seem to be as heartfelt as it could be.
The Little Mermaid is in theaters everywhere this weekend.
About The Little Mermaid:
“The Little Mermaid” is the beloved story of Ariel, a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure. The youngest of King Triton’s daughters and the most defiant, Ariel longs to find out more about the world beyond the sea and, while visiting the surface, falls for the dashing Prince Eric. While mermaids are forbidden to interact with humans, Ariel must follow her heart. She makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, which gives her a chance to experience life on land but ultimately places her life – and her father’s crown – in jeopardy. The film stars singer and actress Halle Bailey (“grown-ish”) as Ariel; Jonah Hauer-King (“A Dog’s Way Home”) as Prince Eric; Tony Award® winner Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”) as the voice of Sebastian; Awkwafina (“Raya and the Last Dragon”) as the voice of Scuttle; Jacob Tremblay (“Luca”) as the voice of Flounder; Noma Dumezweni (“Mary Poppins Returns”) as Queen Selina; Art Malik (“Homeland”) as Sir Grimsby; with Oscar® winner Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”) as King Triton; and two-time Academy Award® nominee Melissa McCarthy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” “Bridesmaids”) as Ursula.
“The Little Mermaid” is directed by Oscar® nominee Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Mary Poppins Returns”) with a screenplay by two-time Oscar nominee David Magee (“Life of Pi,” “Finding Neverland”). The songs feature music from multiple Academy Award® winner Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin”) and lyrics by Howard Ashman, and new lyrics by three-time Tony Award® winner Lin-Manuel Miranda. The film is produced by two-time Emmy® winner Marc Platt (“Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” “Grease Live!”), Miranda, two-time Emmy winner John DeLuca (“Tony Bennett: An American Classic”), and Rob Marshall, with Jeffrey Silver (“The Lion King”) serving as executive producer.