‘The Little Mermaid’ Lacks the Magic That Made the Original So Beloved

Another Disney classic gets a live-action makeover with “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey is enchanting as Ariel, the singing sea princess who is fascinated with the human world. But this remake, like many of the other remakes Disney has released in recent years, fails to live up to the original. 

The majority of the plot is the same as the 1989 animated film, which was adapted from the fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson. Ariel lives deep in the sea with her protective father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), and her sisters, but longs for something more. Along with her best friends, young fish Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) and crab Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), she often swims to the surface, against the wishes of her father, where she usually hangs out with a silly bird named Scuttle (Awkwafina). Her obsession with the human world intensifies when she saves a handsome prince, Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), after his ship becomes wrecked.

Although he only hears her voice, Eric falls in love with Ariel and becomes preoccupied with finding this mystery woman, whom his mother, Queen Salina (Noma Dumezweni), calls a fantasy. Meanwhile, Ariel makes a bargain with sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), who is her aunt in this version, trading her voice for a pair of legs, which she gets to keep if Prince Eric kisses her before the sun sets in three days. Not surprisingly, Ursula is not the queen of ethics, and she sets things up so that Ariel is destined to fail. 

The film takes forever for Ariel to get to land, and once she gets there, she and Eric seem to get along swimmingly. However, his interest in the other young woman, who he does not realize is this mute newcomer, and the pressure on her to get him to kiss her, make for some tension underneath the surface. Their budding romance is almost cut short before it starts once Ursula comes ashore after having transformed herself into a beautiful young woman (Jessica Alexander), using Ariel’s singing voice to entrance the prince.

Although this new film features new versions of beloved classics, such as “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” it forgets others, like “Daughters of Triton” and “Les Poissons.” In the film’s first musical number, “Part of Your World,” Bailey does deliver, it just feels like an eternity before we get there. Despite a runtime of 135 minutes, this remake does not have much of anything extra to offer, except for maybe an underdeveloped subplot involving Prince Eric’s goals and desire to help people. 

This is just another example of Disney taking itself too seriously and forgetting what made an animated classic so beloved in the first place. It was the lively musical numbers and humorous dialogue and situations, along with the fairytale romance, that made children watch it again and again. Kids do not care about the gloomy backstory of Ariel’s family. They would much rather see Sebastian outsmart the French chef who is trying to cook him. 

One thing the live-action remake has going for it, aside from Bailey and her voice, is the costumes, set designs and tropical scenery. Although most young children probably could care less about seeing Victorian-esque dresses and the like, the visuals will be a delight for their adult chaperones.

The Little Mermaid” releases May 26 in theaters nationwide.