The Little Mermaid was the first film I ever saw in cinemas.
It single-handedly (thanks to my dad for taking me to see it when I was a kid) inspired my love for film, animation, the fantasy genre, Disney, and both theatre and movie musicals. Because The Little Mermaid was my first, you can understand that I was truly terrified about the 2023 live-action retelling of our beloved princess-mermaid-turned-human-but-still-a-princess fairy-tale.
I have always applauded Disney for their unique twist on the Hans Christian Andersen classic where the mermaid finally gets her happy ending. However, as soon as the 2023 film started to play in the cinema during my screening, my eyes curiously darted as I silently investigated and made constant comparisons to the original 1989 animated feature.
Yes, I was extremely hesitant and cautious, but can you blame me? We have been burned before. The Disney live-action films that have been dished out thus far have been an inconsistent mix of hit and miss. Some have been wonderfully heart-warming, ones that I would gladly curl up on the couch with a blanket and hot chocolate, and rewatch over and over again. While others have been severely disappointing, making fans wish that the live action version didn’t exist as it is a scar on the celebrated original film’s legacy.
Despite my fears, as a Disney fan, a fan of animated features, a fan of musicals, and considering the significance of The Little Mermaid to me, I felt a wave of relief wash over me the moment I witnessed the iconic scene of Ariel, played in the live action by Halle Bailey, sing her rendition of ‘Part of Your World’ as well as its reprise.
It was in this moment did I realise that the 2023 version of The Little Mermaid is extremely respectful to its original source. It is spectacular in its own way with its unique blend of spices, sounds, and flavours, but is still enough to make the retelling have its own identity while still enjoyable for everyone, regardless on whether you’ve dearly loved the 1989 animation, like me, or if this version is the first time you’ve ever watched the mermaid tale.
Directed by Rob Marshall, screenplay by David Magee, existing music and lyrics by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, with new music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Little Mermaid (2023) is a wonderful visually spectacular and heartfelt royally entertaining film about two worlds and one love story.
Things I adored; Prince Eric’s kingdom being part of the Caribbean Islands. With the music the original film had, including a talking red crab with a Jamaican accent, it honestly just made sense.
Ariel’s sisters all being different races with their names representing the different oceans and seas that they came from, brilliant. Seeing Jodi Benson, the original Ariel, make a brief appearance filled me with so much joy.
Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal as the sea witch Ursula, despite my fears, did really damn well. Daveed Diggs is so good as Sebastian, Jacob Tremblay’s Flounder is sweet, and I thoroughly enjoyed Awkwafina’s Scuttle.
While Javier Bardem does a decent and convincing job of portraying the intimidating but warm King Triton, and I feel like he could have shown more emotion in his facial expressions. I don’t think his performance was as emotional as it could have been. More could have been explored in the relationship with his adventurous daughter, their chemistry and his feelings.
I did love our new Ariel and Eric. I love how Prince Eric, played by Jonah Hauer-King, finally gets his own song and it’s one of the best among the new tunes. I also adored how he has so much in common with Halle Bailey’s Ariel. It’s not just purely because she rescued him and has a pretty voice. Lastly, Halle Bailey is gorgeous and so adorable as Ariel. Not only does she make the mermaid character her own with her own unique quirks and charm, I genuinely love her Ariel.
I could say so much more, but instead, you should just go see this version of The Little Mermaid in cinemas now. It’s far from perfect, yes, but its lovingly respectful with many clever changes that will make your heart swoon both with joy and with pride. Disney did this one right, and I am so thankful, and more importantly, relieved.