The live-action The Little Mermaid does not hit it out of the park in epic fashion. However, this film reverberates with vulnerability and care thanks to the performances, especially from Halle Bailey. The classic songs have new renditions that separate them from their originals, but it works, especially for the beloved “Part of Your World.” Thanks to the cast, The Little Mermaid is one of the best live-action Disney adaptations. But, as most of Disney’s live actions based on their animated classics are subpar, that doesn’t say much.
Based on a tale from Hans Christian Anderson and the animated film written by Ron Clements, David Magee wrote the new version, and Rob Marshall directed it. The story is mostly the same, as the mermaid Ariel longs to explore the world outside the sea. Besides Halle Bailey, there’s Daveed Diggs as the crab Sebastian, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, and Awkwafina as Scuttle.
Halle Bailey Saves The Little Mermaid
Halle Bailey’s Ariel is the heart of the film. Without her performance, there wouldn’t be enough in The Little Mermaid to make viewing worthwhile. Her facial expressions and smile have sweetness and curiosity, so the character still shines even when Ariel loses her voice. The best song of the entire film is “Part of Your World,” and she sings it with stunning range.
Outside of Bailey, the rest of the cast varies. Melissa McCarthy as Ursula does well capturing Ursula’s snake oil pitch personality. Her song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” is the second best of the film. However, toward the end, while confronting Triton, her emotions feel flat and unearned based on what the film shows. Jonah Hauer-King’s portrayal of Eric is good but dims compared to the other two. Javier Bardem’s acting feels forced, and Awkwafina’s is mainly annoying. Daveed Diggs, as Sebastian, did make me laugh a few times.
Lively and Dim Songs
Yes, “Part of Your World” is stunning, with “Poor, Unfortunate Souls” right behind as a close second best. I also loved Bailey’s “For the First Time,” a sweeping joyful tune I could listen to repeatedly. It blends present musical taste with a classic feel reminiscent of other Disney films like the animated Mulan. Jonah sings “Wild Uncharted Waters” impressively, but the song didn’t interest me.
Unfortunately, the popular “Under the Sea” is flat. The singing isn’t the issue, but what visually occurs on the screen is dull. In the song, Sebastian breaks down the instruments different sea creatures play, but the movie does not show them onscreen. It was disappointing, making a once lively piece feel torturous. “The Scuttlebutt,” sung by Awkwafina as Scuttle, is another song that does not fit among the rest of the tracks. Standing out isn’t always a negative, but it’s jarring and feels misplaced here.
Hit and Miss CGI
The visual effects in some parts of The Little Mermaid look wonderful. It captures the ocean’s vastness as the mermaids and various sea creatures swim about. However, not every scene has the same level of effects. In fact, during the final confrontation, Ursula is nearly invisible. As it’s difficult to discern what happens on screen, it reminded me of that Game of Thrones episode—you know, the one. So expect the same issues with many Disney live-actions in this movie.
Whether The Little Mermaid is a hit or miss will differ from person to person. It’s more a positive thanks to Halle Bailey’s acting and singing. She is divine, and I hope to see her in many other roles in the future. Melissa McCarthy reminds me why I always loved Ursula. Though some renditions are a letdown from the animated classic, overall, The Little Mermaid is a sweet, magical adventure to enjoy with the family.