‘The Little Mermaid’ Review: The Renovations Are Only Skin Deep (2023)


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Disney’s live-action remake, with Halle Bailey starring as Ariel and a diverse cast, is a dutiful corrective with noble intentions and little fun.

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‘The Little Mermaid’ | Anatomy of a Scene

Rob Marshall narrates the “Under the Sea” sequence from his film, featuring Halle Bailey and Daveed Diggs.

Hi, I’m Rob Marshall, and I’m the director of ‘The Little Mermaid.’ So this is about two minutes into the musical number ‘Under the Sea,’ which was the most challenging musical number I’ve ever created because you have one live actor — I mean, there she is Ariel, played by Halle Bailey. And introducing dance into a sequence is so complicated because it has to feel seamless. It has to feel organic. It can’t feel applied. So right about here, as the turtles start to move, then you see, O.K., there’s a little bit of dance starting to happen. The tricky part about this was because I only had one live actor, I needed some dancers or something to work from. And I took a page out of Walt Disney’s playbook, and I worked with the Alvin Ailey Company. He had worked with the Ballet Russe Company when he created ‘Fantasia.’ And I thought that was such a brilliant idea. So I worked with the Alvin Ailey Company, brought them to London so we could create all these sea creature moves on something so our artists, our CGI artists, could actually use them as a template, which was incredible. And then we found all these sea creatures that actually lent themselves to dance naturally. These are all real sea creatures. So right there you have mimic octopus and flatworms. Here we’re moving into a bioluminescent world. We had the Alvin Ailey Company using umbrellas and, literally, ribbons, streamers hanging from them so that they could literally create this idea of jellyfish. But all of this, every moment of this was choreographed. And it was so complicated because everything was done on counts. It wasn’t sort of just like, well, let’s just let them do whatever they want. Every moment of it was strategically choreographed by myself, John DeLuca, and our choreographers. [‘UNDER THE SEA’]: — music to me. Music is to me — There’s one moment actually coming up here right here — [‘UNDER THE SEA’]: — hot crustacean band — — that, literally, the CGI artist said it’s the most creatures they’ve ever had ever onscreen. But it was really about protecting and celebrating this beautiful number. Here’s a nautilus shell that we tried to create a la Busby Berkeley. But I really just wanted to make sure that we were doing justice to this incredible number but also bringing a photoreal, exciting world to life.

(Video) ‘The Little Mermaid’ Review: The Renovations Are Only Skin Deep

‘The Little Mermaid’ Review: The Renovations Are Only Skin Deep (1)

By Wesley Morris

(Video) The Little Mermaid Was A Disaster

The Little Mermaid
Directed by Rob Marshall
Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Musical, Romance
2h 15m

The new, live-action “The Little Mermaid” is everything nobody should want in a movie: dutiful and defensive, yet desperate for approval. It reeks of obligation and noble intentions. Joy, fun, mystery, risk, flavor, kink — they’re missing. The movie is saying, “We tried!” Tried not to offend, appall, challenge, imagine. A crab croons, a gull raps, a sea witch swells to Stay Puft proportions: This is not supposed to be a serious event. But it feels made in anticipation of being taken too seriously. Now, you can’t even laugh at it.

The story comes from Hans Christian Andersen, and when Disney made a cartoon musical of it in 1989, the tale’s tragedy and existential wonder got swapped for Disney Princess Syndrome, wherein one subjugation is replaced with another, an even exchange redrawn as liberating love. But the people who drew it had a ball with the hooey.

In both movies, the mermaid Ariel wants out of her widowed father’s underwater kingdom and into the arms of the earthbound merchant prince whom she rescues in a shipwreck. Her father forbids, but that sea-witch, Ursula, fulfills Ariel’s wish, giving her three days to procure a kiss from that prince and remain human or spend the rest of her life enslaved to Ursula. Somehow mirth and music ensue. In the original, that’s thanks mostly to Ariel’s talking Caribbean crab guardian, Sebastian, and her Noo Yawky dingbat sea gull pal, Scuttle.

This remake injects some contemporary misfortune (humans despoil the water, we’re told). It also packs on another 52 minutes and three new songs, trades zany for demure and swaps vast animated land- and seascapes for soundstagey sets and screensavery imagery. They’re calling it “live-action,” but the action is mostly CGI. There’s no organic buoyancy. On land, Ariel can walk but can’t speak, which means whoever’s playing her needs a face that can. Achieving that was a piece of cake in the cartoon. Ariel could seem bemused, enchanted, bereft, coquettish, alarmed, aghast, elated. And her scarlet mane was practically a movie unto itself.


‘The Little Mermaid’ Review: The Renovations Are Only Skin Deep (3)

Now Ariel is in the singer Halle Bailey’s hands. And it’s not that she can’t keep par with the original’s illustrators. It’s that this movie isn’t asking her to. It takes the better part of an hour for the flesh-and-blood Ariel to go mute. And when she does, whatever carbonation Bailey had to begin with goes flat. This Ariel has amnesia about needing that kiss, taking “cunning” off the table for Bailey, too.

With her sister, Bailey is half of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle. They’ve got a chilling, playful approach to melody that Bailey can’t fully unleash in this movie. For one thing, she’s got two songs, one of which — the standard “Part of Your World” — does manage to let her quaver some toward the end. But what’s required of her doesn’t differ radically from what Jodi Benson did in the first movie. Ostensibly, though, Bailey has been cast because her Ariel would differ. Bailey’s is Black, with long copper hair that twists, waves and locks. Racially, the whole movie’s been, what, opened up? Diversified? Now, Ariel’s rueful daddy, King Triton, is played by a stolid Javier Bardem, who does all the king’s lamenting in Spanish-inflected English. Instead of the Broadway chorines of the original, her mermaid siblings are a multiethnic, runway-ready General Assembly.

The prince, Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), is white, English and now seems to have more plot than Ariel. “More” includes meals with his mother, Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni), who’s Black, as is her chief servant, Lashana (Martina Laird). The script, credited to David Magee, John DeLuca, and the director Rob Marshall, informs us that the queen has adopted the prince (because somebody knew inquiring minds would need to know). As the bosomy, tentacledUrsula, who’s now Triton’s banished, embittered sister, Melissa McCarthy puts a little pathos in the part’s malignancy. She seems like she’s having a fine time, a littleBette Midler, a littleMae West, a little Etta James. And the sight of her racing toward the camera in a slithery gush of arms and fury is the movie’s one good nightmare image. But even McCarthy seems stuck in a shot-for-shot, growl-for-growl tribute to her cartoon counterpart and Pat Carroll’s vocal immortalization of it.

The animated version was about a girl who wanted to leave showbiz. She and her sisters performed follies basically for King Triton’s entertainment. The songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken aimed for the American Songbook’s Disney wing. The voices and evocations were Vegas and vaudeville. Dry land was, entertainment-wise, a lot dryer, but that was all right with Ariel. This new flesh-and-blood version is about a girl who’d like to withdraw her color from the family rainbow and sail off into “uncharted waters” with her white prince.

(Video) The Little Mermaid FLOPS Reviewers REGRET Everything


What’s really been opened up, here? For years now, Disney’s been atoning for the racism and chauvinism and de facto whiteness of its expanded catalog (it owns Pixar and Marvel, too), in part by turning its nettlesome cartoons into live-action corrections. This is important, culturally reparative work from a corporationthat, lately, has moresteadily inchedhumanityaway from bottom-linepriorities; consequently, it has found itself at war with the governor of Florida, where Disney World lives. Onscreen, though, that correctnesstends to smell like compromise. For every “Moana,” “Coco” or “Encanto” — original, wondrous, exuberant animated musicals about relationships and cultures Disney didn’t previously notice or treat with care — there’s something timid and reactive like this.

The brown skin and placeable accents don’t make the movie more fun, just utopic and therefore less arguable. Now, what you’ve got is something closer to the colorblind wish fulfillment of the Shonda Rhimes streaming universe, minus the wink-wink, side-eye and carnality. This “Little Mermaid” is a byproduct. The colorization hasn’t led to a racialized, radicalized adventure. It’s not a Black adaptation, an interpretation that imbues white material with Black culture until it’s something completely new; it’s not “The Wiz.” It’s still a Disney movie, one whose heroine now, sigh, happens to be Black. There is some audacity in that. Purists and trolls have complained. They don’t want the original tampered with, even superficially. They don’t want it “woke.” The blowback is, in part, Bailey’s to shoulder. And her simply being here confers upon hera kind of heroism, because it doesstill feels dangerous to have cast her. Sadly, the hatersdon’t have much to worry about.

Youdon’t hire Rob Marshallfor radical rebooting. He can do visual chaos and costume kitsch (“Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Into the Woods”). He can do solid. And he can usually give you a good set piece while he’s at it. This time, it’s the rowboat scene in which Ariel shows Eric how to say her name, a scene that produces “Kiss the Girl,” the calypso number that Sebastian (voiced with an island accent by Daveed Diggs) sings to cajole Eric into planting one on Ariel and unwittingly restoring her voice. (The lyrics have been tweaked to add more consent.) It’s the swooniest things get.

Otherwise, the movie’s worried — worried about what we’ll say, about whether they got it right. That allergy to creative risk produces hazards anyway. I mean, with all these Black women running around in a period that seems like the 19th century, the talk of ships and empire, Brazil and Cartagenajust makes me wonder about the cargo on these boats. And this plot gets tricky with a Black Ariel. When Ursula pulls a fast one and reinvents herself as Vanessa, a sexy rival who appears to be white and woos Eric with asiren song inAriel’s voice, there’s a whole American history of theft and music to overthink, too.

It’s really a misery to notice these things. A 9-year-old wouldn’t. But one reason we have this remake is that former 9-year-olds, raised on and besotted with these original Disney movies, grew up and had questions. In that sense, “The Little Mermaid” is more a moralredressthan a work of true inspiration. Which isn’t to say there’s nothing inspiredabout it. In fact, the best sequence in the movie combines these ambitions of so-called inclusion with thornier American musical traditions. It’s the moment when Scuttle reveals that Eric’s about to marry Ursula.

The song that breaks this news to Ariel and Sebastian is a rap called “The Scuttlebutt” with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. And Awkwafina, who does Scuttle’s voice, performs most of it while Bailey looks on in what I’m going to call anguish. Here’s an Asian American performer whose shtick is a kind of Black impersonation, pretending to be a computer-generated bird, rhythm-rapping with a Black American man pretending to be a Caribbean crab. It’s the sort of mind-melting mess that feels honest and utterly free in its messiness, even as the mess douses a conveniently speechless Black woman.

Watching it, you realize why the rest of the movie plays it so safe. Because fun is some risky business. This is a witty, complex, exuberant, breathless, deeply American number that’s also the movie’s one moment of unbridled, unabashed delight. And I can’t wait to see how Disney’s going to apologize for it in 34 years.

The Little Mermaid
Rated PG. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes. In theaters.

Wesley Morris is a critic at large and the co-host, with Jenna Wortham, of the culture podcast “Still Processing.” He has won two Pulitzer Prizes for criticism, including in 2021 for a set of essays that explored the intersection of race and pop culture. @wesley_morris

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(Video) The Little Mermaid 2023! Another Disney Diversity Flop! Review Reaction


(Video) The Little Mermaid is the latest casualty of Disney's Live Action Remake Fatigue.

Continue reading the main story


Is The Little Mermaid good 2023? ›

While The Little Mermaid 2023 may still have some distance to cover to surpass its reported budget, industry experts remain optimistic about its potential success. The movie's strong appeal to families has been noted, with positive feedback indicating that it has resonated well with its target audience.

What is the deeper meaning of The Little Mermaid? ›

It's a powerful message for young girls, one deeply threatening to the King Tritons (and Ronald Reagans) of the world. In short, Ursula represents feminism, the fluidity of gender and young Ariel's empowerment. Ariel can be anything she wants, yet she chooses the role of young bride and human conformity.

Who is playing The Little Mermaid 2023? ›

The live-action film, which stars Halle Bailey as the mermaid Ariel, is Disney's latest live-action re-imaginings of their iconic properties.

Why is The Little Mermaid Rated PG? ›

"The Little Mermaid" is rated PG for action/peril and some scary images. Its running time is 135 minutes.

Who is Ariel's dad in The Little Mermaid 2023? ›

Javier Bardem as King Triton, Ariel's strict and overprotective father and the ruler of Atlantica who is prejudiced against humans due to the death of his wife at hands of one of them.

Is The Little Mermaid losing money? ›

“The Little Mermaid” could very well break-even, but it won't make much of a profit. Anything in the low $400M global threshold and this fish is apt to be sinking to a loss of around $20M. Should Little Mermaid break even, it would be a rare feat for a tentpole to do so on the back of its domestic box office.

What religious morals are taught in The Little Mermaid? ›

Disney's version portrays a more censored moral: one is able to achieve true happiness and acceptance by undergoing extreme change for the one they love. Through minor sacrifice and patience during said change, eventually they will gain the love and respect of those they changed for.

What is the sad story of The Little Mermaid? ›

After the prince and princess are married, the little mermaid is devastated as she thinks about all the sacrifices she has made for her man, she's also terrified that she'll die when it's dawn. But her sisters try rescuing her by giving her a knife they took from that damn witch by sacrificing their gorgeous hair.

What race is Ariel in the original Little mermaid? ›

Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
FamilyKing Triton (father) Queen Athena (mother) Attina, Alana, Adella, Aquata, Arista and Andrina (older sisters) Ursula (paternal aunt in some media)
SpousePrince Eric
13 more rows

Is John Stamos in The New Little mermaid? ›

Joining Stamos and the previously announced cast including Auli'i Cravalho (Ariel), Queen Latifah (Ursula) and Shaggy (Sebastian) is The Good Wife alum Graham Phillips, who will return to his live theater roots in the role of Prince Eric. The Little Mermaid Live! airs Tuesday, November 5 at 8 PM on ABC.

How is Little mermaid doing at box office? ›

The Little Mermaid has made $130 million domestically and another $79 million from overseas territories, for a running global haul of $209 million. The movie cost a reported $250 million to produce (minus marketing), which means that there is an ocean currently separating it from success.

How did The Little Mermaid do in box office 2023? ›

The sequel to the long running vehicular franchise has struggled at the domestic box office, earning a dispiriting $113.6 million after two weeks. It has performed better overseas, where it has earned nearly $400 million to bring it global haul north of $500 million, making it the third highest-grossing movie of 2023.

Is The Little Mermaid too scary for 3 year old? ›

Common Sense Media recommends The Little Mermaid for children ages 5 and up, due to some scary moments (e.g., when King Triton angrily destroys Ariel's collection of human objects, or when Ursula the Sea Witch becomes gigantic) and the French chef's bloodthirsty attempts to kill Sebastian the crab; but their review ...

Who does Ursula turn into? ›

However, Ursula is determined to sabotage Ariel's and Eric's budding romance at any cost; when she realizes that Ariel and Eric are falling in love, Ursula transforms herself into a beautiful young woman named "Vanessa" and hypnotizes Eric, tricking him into agreeing to marry her instead.

Is Poseidon Ariel's father? ›

Poseidon is the father of King Triton, and therefore the paternal grandfather of Ariel and her sisters.

Is Sebastian a lobster or a crab? ›

Sebastian (full name Horatio Thelonious Ignacious Crustaceous Sebastian) is a crab and one of the main protagonists in Disney's 1989 hit film The Little Mermaid, its prequel film, its TV series, and its sequel.

Is King Triton Ariel's dad? ›

King Triton is the ruler of Atlantica who has white hair, a white beard, and a white mustache (in the prologue of prequel film he has auburn brown), husband of Queen Athena, the father of Ariel and her sisters and grandfather of Melody.

What is the sad ending of Little Mermaid? ›

The prince and princess celebrate their new marriage aboard a wedding ship, and the Little Mermaid's heart breaks. She thinks of all that she has sacrificed and of all the pain she has endured for the prince.

Did the Little Mermaid save Disney? ›

Along with the major success of both Disney's 1986 animated film The Great Mouse Detective and the 1988 Disney/Amblin live-action/animated film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid is given credit for breathing life back into the art of Disney animated feature films after some films produced by Disney were ...

When did the little mermaid lose her head? ›

The headless mermaid

Twice she has lost her head, once the arm was sawn off, and several times she has had paint poured on her.

Who is the god in Little mermaid? ›

Triton (/ˈtraɪtɒn/; Greek: Τρίτων, translit. Trítōn) is a Greek god of the sea, the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, god and goddess of the sea respectively.

What is the mermaid religion called? ›

Often depicted as a queenly mermaid, Yemaya is considered the Ocean Mother Goddess in Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion practiced around the world.

What horror movie is based on Little mermaid? ›

The Lure (2015 film)
The Lure
Screenplay byRobert Bolesto
Based onThe Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen
Produced byWłodzimierz Niderhaus
StarringKinga Preis Michalina Olszańska Marta Mazurek Jakub Gierszał Andrzej Konopka Zygmunt Malanowicz Marcin Kowalczyk Magdalena Cielecka Katarzyna Herman
14 more rows

What is the real story of mermaid? ›

One of the earliest mermaid legends appeared in Syria around 1000 BC when the goddess Atargatis dove into a lake to take the form of a fish. As the gods there would not allow her to give up her great beauty, only her bottom half became a fish, and she kept her top half in human form.

Did the Little Mermaid turns into foam? ›

The prince is captivated by her appearance but fails to recognize her - he only remembers being saved by a girl with a magical voice. Eventually he marries someone else. Broken hearted, the Little Mermaid throws herself off a cliff and turns into sea foam.

Is Ariel the first black princess? ›

I'm old enough to remember the first "Little Mermaid" from back in '89 and to know that Disney princesses were historically white women. It took Disney, a company founded in 1923 all the way up until 2009, to introduce its first Black princess, Tiana, in the original animated film "The Princess and the Frog."

How old is Ariel when she gets married? ›

Occasionally she meant to turn back and return to Eric, but somehow it never happened. The feeling that he once inspired in her was now how she felt about the wider world. She also finally figured out that she was only sixteen when they got married, and you know, people change.

What happened to Ariel's mother? ›

Unfortunately, she died as a result of a run-in with a big pirate ship when Ariel was very young, fueling Triton's hatred of humans and music as a result.

Is Halle Berry in The New Little Mermaid? ›

Halle Berry Isn't Ariel in Live-Action 'Little Mermaid': The Mixup, Explained. That's singer-actress Halle BAILEY playing everyone's favorite mermaid.

Is Ursula in The New Little Mermaid? ›

Melissa McCarthy on playing Ursula in 'The Little Mermaid' remake.

Who's going to play Ariel in The New Little Mermaid? ›

LOS ANGELES, May 9 (Reuters) - Black American singer Halle Bailey has said she was "honored" to play Ariel in the live action remake of "The Little Mermaid", adding she hoped to inspire children of colour with the new iteration of the beloved Disney animation.

Why did Chloe Grace Moretz quit The Little Mermaid? ›

Now, aged 21, Chloë explains what prompted that decision. “I pulled out of a bunch of stuff I was attached to, to reconfigure who I was and reconnect with the projects that I will be choosing in the future,” the actress tells Yahoo Movies UK.

How much did the Little Mermaid 2023 cost? ›

The film, which cost $250 million to produce, has so far brought in $68.3 million internationally, bringing its worldwide gross to $185.8 million.

How much has the Little Mermaid 2023 made so far? ›

Box Office Revenue of The Little Mermaid 2023

The box office earnings of The Little Mermaid remake have surpassed $209 million worldwide thus far.

Did Little Mermaid do well at the box office? ›

Disney's “The Little Mermaid” hooked nearly $96 million over its first three days in North American theaters. That opening is on par with the $91 million “Aladdin” secured in 2019 on its way to more than $1 billion at the global box office.

How much money does The Little Mermaid make? ›

Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' rakes in $117 million at the US box office on opening weekend. CNN Business.

How much did Halle make from Little Mermaid? ›

Halle Bailey was reportedly paid 25 times that amount for starring as the red-headed mermaid Ariel in The Little Mermaid. The actress was compensated a whopping $1.5 million, according to Showbiz Galore.

What age is Little mermaid appropriate for? ›

Why is the mermaid rated R? ›

Content: -3 Excessive sex, violence, immorality, and/or worldview problems. (Sometimes excessive content such as violence is in otherwise redemptive movies.)

Is The New Little mermaid appropriate for kids? ›

Parents Need to Know

Ursula's territory is dark and creepy, with merfolk bones and skulls scattered around, and Triton and Ariel's frequent disagreements might upset sensitive viewers. Ariel and Eric flirt and dance but don't kiss until the very end of the movie; language is limited to words like "stupid" and "idiot."

Is Ursula a drag queen? ›

Unlike other queer-coded villains that are based on a pastiche of the “idea” of a gay person or a drag queen, Ursula is very specifically based on the drag queen Divine.

Is Ursula the daughter of Poseidon? ›

Ursula and Tritons parents are Poseidon and Amphitrite. When Poseidon died Ursula got Amphitrite's shell and half of the sea and Triton got the trident and half the sea. Triton married Athena and Ursula recalls having feasts.

Why did Ursula hate Triton? ›

Ursula hated Triton for being ruler of the sea and she wanted his reign and powers. Hence, she used his land / human curious, naïve, and rebellious daughter Ariel to overtake his throne.

Is The Little Mermaid a good musical? ›

"One of the most ravishing shows I have ever seen on a Broadway stage. More than just a visual feast. Combines story, song and inventive staging into something that lifts our spirits and renews our faith that theater for 'children' can be enjoyed by everyone." "Disney's done it again!

Is Little mermaid doing well? ›

It's now made $299 million domestically. The performance of “The Little Mermaid” represents something of a bounce-back for Disney's animated-to-live-action remakes, and makes it likely they will keep coming indefinitely.

Did The Little Mermaid do well? ›

Disney's “The Little Mermaid” hooked nearly $96 million over its first three days in North American theaters. That opening is on par with the $91 million “Aladdin” secured in 2019 on its way to more than $1 billion at the global box office.


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