Rob Reviews "The Little Mermaid (2023)"
November of 1989 was a crazy time for me. I was just over a quarter of the way through my junior year in high school, working at the local movie theater, being newly driver's license-d and just doing the things a sixteen-year-old kid did. I’m not afraid to admit that I did not catch The Little Mermaid in its original theatrical run, but I did watch it once it hit home video. (Long story short: the other theater in our town was the one that got Disney movies. We had an “agreement” with them to watch movies, but that was not really one I put on my list.) Fast forward thirty-two-and-a-half years and we now have its live-action counterpart to talk about.
The story is still the same: Ariel (Halle Bailey) is one of the seven daughters of King Triton (Javier Bardem) and is easily the most rebellious of them. She is constantly going outside of the boundaries of the kingdom to explore while wondering what it is like to be a “part of that world” above the waves. When she saves Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from drowning after a shipwreck, her desire to understand humans becomes deeper. Her estranged aunt Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) gets her to make a very dangerous deal where the stakes are high for everyone involved in order to understand both worlds.
When I realized this one was clocking in at 145 minutes, I had to look up the run time of the original and found that there was an additional more than fifty minutes tacked on here. Given their target audience of kids and pre-teens, I was worried because the classic Disney formula of keeping it under ninety minutes to not lose the attention span of the younger generation has worked for a long time. There are also some music changes and replacements with additional work done by Lin-Manuel Miranda, but nothing that I really took issue with. With all of these changes, I had no issues with the film whatsoever.
The plot moves along at a nice pace where I did not feel the run time at all. My worries about filling all of that extra time with fluff turned out to be incorrect as director Rob Marshall puts it all on the screen and keeps the story moving. I have read that there were complaints of the lighting decisions used, but I felt that the lighting matched the tone of the story with each change made.
Bailey absolutely shines as Ariel, showing her as the strong young woman she is while bringing across her curiosity and wonder both with and without dialogue wonderfully. There is genuine chemistry between her and Hauer-King that has the ability to melt the hardened hearts of even the staunchest of die-hard fans of the animated feature. Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, and Awkwafina voice Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle respectively keeping the fun part of the story intact alongside amazing visuals by the Disney animators. With all of this, it doesn’t land without a great villain, and McCarthy absolutely nails it as Ursula down to the facial expressions. Doing my research, I saw that she used to watch the animated feature quite a bit in a job where she took care of children, so her knowledge of the story itself absolutely benefitted her in this performance, especially with her performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” which really must land on its feet (or tentacles) to establish the character in the proper way.
It took me a long time to truly come to grips with the decision made by Disney to do live-action remakes of their animated features. While it may be a bit of a double dip, their audience seems to change constantly with their expectations rising for what they require to be entertained, it helps to bring a fresh perspective to the classics and do so featuring actors that the target demographic is willing to plunk down their money to see. With everything in this category that they have coming down the pipeline both established and rumored, The Little Mermaid is the best one they have done to date, and I am now a lot more interested in what comes next.