Sun | Oct 1, 2023

‘The Little Mermaid’ - A ‘see’-worthy adaptation

Published:Monday | May 29, 2023 | 12:32 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
Halle Bailey shines as she plays the role of Ariel.
Halle Bailey shines as she plays the role of Ariel.
Halle Bailey as Ariel (left), and Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric.
Halle Bailey as Ariel (left), and Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric.
 Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in ‘The Little Mermaid’.
Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in ‘The Little Mermaid’.

With a live action sheen and a fresh new cast, The Little Mermaid makes its way to cinemas. Remaking a movie is usually hit or miss. Remaking a beloved classic leans more miss than hit. The film is almost an hour longer than the original. Not all of it feels necessary, but its best changes are striking. Especially for the young black girls in the cinema, dressed in garments covered with a princess that looked like the faces they see in the mirror.

Everyone’s favourite red-headed mermaid is brought to live action, as Halle Bailey becomes Ariel for a new generation. For a role that’s dependent on a voice you can fall in love with, Bailey performs her duty with aplomb. She knocks her iconic solo out of the water, and gets more chances for performance than her animated counterpart. When the character loses her voice, the audience hears her internal monologue in song. Not only does it give Ariel more depth, but it’s an opportunity to enjoy another dose of Bailey’s beautiful belting.

Other changes to the original worthy of praise lie with the film’s depiction of Prince Eric. A love smitten scatterbrain now has a greater sense of purpose. Aligned with modern ideas of royalty like Prince Harry, Jonah Hauer-King delivers a young royal who seeks to be better than his father before him, with a mind towards embracing his people rather than keeping them at bay.

Bailey shines, but the film also has to contend with the iconic vocal performances of Pat Carroll’s Ursula the Sea Witch, and Samuel E. Wright’s Sebastian the Crab. Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula goes for a blend of theatrical, yet relatable. Ursula is a drama queen through and through, but her moments of humanity do well to make this depiction distinct.

As Sebastian the Crab, Daveed Diggs portrays the adequate level of stressful empathy the character demands. His attempt at a Trinidadian accent, with bits of Jamaican, may sound off to the native ear, but the result is better than most. Sebastian’s utterance of lines like “I coming” keep Diggs’ Crab performance from being a mere cheap imitation. Still, it doesn’t help that he shares scenes with Trinidadian actress Martina Laird, who shines through every moment she’s onscreen.

Where the film falters is in its underdone elements. The movie hints at a brewing conflict between the sea and the surface world, but it never goes beyond the conceptual. New renditions to the musical numbers range from highly enjoyable, to bordering on karaoke. As for the modern additions to the soundtrack, one can only wait to see if they’ll stand the test of time.

When it comes to live action Disney remakes it’s easy to be cynical. The stories are proven concepts, and the familiar music and visuals are enough to stoke the flames of nostalgia in even the most indifferent audiences. By and large, these films are a licence to print money, but their worth comes with what big swings they take with such a safety net. To that end, with its new takes on iconic characters, The Little Mermaid takes bigger swings than most.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.