The Little Mermaid

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Little Mermaid
dir Rob Marshall
scr David Magee
prd Marc Platt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, John DeLuca, Rob Marshall
with Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Art Malik, Noma Dumezweni, Martina Laird, Jessica Alexander, Simone Ashley, John Dagleish
release US/UK 26.May.23
23/US Disney 2h15

mccarthy bardem awkwafina

Is it streaming?

bailey and hauer-king
Oddly murky and dark, this live-action remake of the 1989 animated classic is so extended and oversized that it leaves young viewers fidgeting. The memorable songs are here, performances are charming and there are flashy visual effects, but director Rob Marshall loses clarity and resonance in the under-lit settings, swooping-shaking camerawork and shredder-style editing. There's also the problem that the violence feels properly vicious when it looks so real.
Worried about his over-curious mermaid daughter Ariel (Bailey), undersea King Triton (Bardem) assigns crab Sebastian (Diggs) to watch her. But this isn't easy, as she rescues drowning Prince Eric (Hauer-King) after a shipwreck then makes a deal with her sinister aunt Ursula (McCarthy) to swap her voice for legs so she can go live with him. Of course, Ursula double-crosses her, and Ariel gets some help from Sebastian, sparky gannet Scuttle (Awkwafina) and nervous fish Flounder (Tremblay) to get the boy. Then Ursula further complicates things, and Triton steps in, setting up a big confrontation.
Fans of the original will enjoy seeing the characters and songs reworked fairly faithfully. But it's unclear who this movie is for, as the running time and sinister nastiness will strain a child's attention, while adults will bristle against the shallow storytelling and imagery that only rarely manages to dazzle. And much of this remake is still animated, digitally this time. Marshall's direction also leaves much of the action incomprehensible, and there's a problem with perspective as the story shifts occasionally to Eric's point-of-view.

Easily the best thing about this film is Diggs' Sebastian, who is animated and voiced cleverly. He also gets the best songs, including the buoyant Under the Sea, the cheeky Kiss the Girl and the sparky new rap-style number The Scuttlebutt, an enjoyable collaboration between Diggs with Awkwafina. On-screen, Bailey and Hauer-King find some simmering chemistry, even if their characters are very thinly written. Bardem brings his own emotive gravitas to the film, and McCarthy has a ball as the slithery villain of the piece.

There's enough solid material in here to make this movie a hit, so it's a shame that it never quite realises its potential. A more consistent tonal quality would have helped, as would brighter visuals that made the most of what should be colourfully eye-catching settings. But the real problem is that Ariel's yearning for the human world feels so vacuous this time around, like it's just a childish intrigue that isn't remotely ready to turn into happy-ever-after romance.

cert pg themes, violence 21.May.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall