"The Little Mermaid" (2023) Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Disney live-action remakes are a hit or a miss. There have been great films, such as "The Jungle Book" and "Cruella", but they are overshadowed at times by the more mediocre live-action movies, such as "The Lion King" and "Pinocchio". Therefore, it is justifiable that audiences were worried when a live-action remake of the beloved classic "The Little Mermaid" was announced, facing controversy for switching some of the characters' genders or race. However, I'm here to alleviate your fears as the Rob Marshall remake is wonderfully joyous and fun, capturing that same beauty from the beloved animated classic many have grown up with.
The 2023 adaptation pretty much follows the same synopsis as the animated film it is based upon. Ariel (Halle Bailey) is the youngest of King Triton's (Javier Bardem) daughters, and also the most stubborn. Unlike her sisters, she wants to explore the human world, romanticized by their objects that are lost at sea. Alongside her friends Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Flounder (Jacob Tremblay), the trio scavenge for new items for her collection. When Triton starts to learn that Ariel has been getting reckless, he sends his most trusted advisor Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) to keep an eye on her.
This is around the time that Ariel starts to fall in love with Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), a prince of a nearby kingdom. When a ship wreck causes him to nearly drown, Ariel saves the prince, which prompts him to start a chase around the kingdom to find the beautiful girl that saved him. Now both of them madly head over heels with each other, Ariel must now figure out a way to win the heart of the person she knows she can never have. What she doesn't know is her evil aunt Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) is lurking in the wings, waiting to start her devious plan to get back at Triton once and for all.
There are numerous times throughout this movie that remind me how much I love the original, while also making me fall in love with this new remake in various different ways. The film as a whole is just excellent and really captures the magic that John Musker and Ron Clements created all those years ago. Unlike some of the other remakes that has graced the audiences over the past few years, this movie isn't simply a rehash of what happened, but rather adds more substance to an already classic and loved story. I think Marshall does an excellent job of really bringing that magic back to the screen, and charms a whole new generation of those that love "The Little Mermaid".
In terms of Bailey's performance, I honestly couldn't imagine a better person to play the titular mermaid. She practically oozes charisma and grace, charming her way throughout the movie. I adore everything that Bailey brought to the role, and I applaud her for rising up and not allowing the harsh critics bring her down before the movie even came out. Just from her mannerisms to her innocent wonder when up in the human world, she is able to bring Jodi Benson's Ariel to life right in front of our very eyes. I would even go as far as to say Bailey has given the best live-action princess performance to date in a remake.
What I really like here are the scenes added to give our characters a more human-feel. The movie is nearly an hour longer than the movie it is based off of, and they don't waste any of that time. Consider the scene where Ariel and Eric rush back to the castle after having their boat flipped by Flotsam and Jetsam. They are truly having the time of their lives, and just love being with one another. The chemistry between Eric and Ariel is impeccable, and it makes me wish we had more of that in the animated film because it is beautifully present here.
What is great about this movie though is that the minor characters are just as great. Tremblay, while brief in the movie, really embodies the character of Flounder and is easily able to entertain the audience. The same can be said for Bardem, who is a great embodiment of what Triton was like in the animated film. Hauer-King is easily great as the Prince, and he did everything he needed to to be charming and irresistible. The biggest shock to me, however, was how great McCarthy was as Ursula. It is no secret I'm not the biggest fan of McCarthy's work. I find her being typecaste in the same dim-witted roles, but I adore her presence here. She is practically an embodiment of Pat Carroll' Ursula, and she is (literally) larger than life on the screen.
The two stand-outs here though are easily Awkwafina and Diggs. In fact, I think a part of me likes these versions of the characters more than their animated counterparts, which is simply hard to beat. Diggs really gives Sebastian new life that is so much fun and entertaining. From his quick quips to the great songs he sings throughout ("Scuttlebutt" is easily a major standout between both Sebastian and Scuttle), he really showcases his talent as this classic Disney character. Scuttle, on the other hand, is just as goofy and hilarious as you would imagine. Awkwafina gives this character this newfound sense of humor and life, which practically builds upon and respect what Buddy Hackett did in the original. They are always tons of fun when they came on the screen, and Marshall gives us just the right amount of screen time for them.
This is easily among the standout greats in the Disney live-action remake series. I truly love everything they did here, and Marshall and his cast show how they were able to make a live-action classic. I certainly can't wait to watch this one again, and I applaud everyone involved for not only delivering a great remake, but a fantastic time at the movies for all.