Remake of the 28th Disney Classic released in 1989 directed by Ron Clemens and John Musker in turn inspired by the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid is the new Disney live-action film to hit the big screen since Maleficent 2 (2019), after the subsequent Lilli and The Tramp, Mulan, Cruella, Pinocchio, and Peter Pan & Wendy (here is our review of Peter Pan & Wendy) have all passed for the small screen of the on-demand streaming platform Disney+.
The Little Mermaid tells the beloved story of Ariel (Halle Bailey), a beautiful and vivacious young mermaid seeking adventure. Ariel, the youngest daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem) and also the most rebellious, wants to find out more about the world beyond the sea and, while exploring the surface, falls in love with the handsome Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). However, mermaids are forbidden to interact with humans, but Ariel must follow her heart and makes a pact with the evil sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), who offers her a chance to experience life on land, but endangers her life and her father’s crown.
The Little Mermaid: under the sea
Let’s address the sore point right away, because not everything is to be thrown away in this new effort by the Disney big man Rob Marshall (legendary Chicago director who now works on a permanent basis for the House of Mickey Mouse, and here he blatantly quotes his Pirates of the Caribbean): the elephant in the room is of course James Cameron’s Avatar: The Waterway, which has elevated the contemporary blockbuster in ways that The Little Mermaid cannot even conceive.
If they had they been released on opposite dates probably the remake of the Disney Classic would have seemed more authentic to us, but today almost seven months after the second chapter of the saga set on Pandora, specifically in the oceans of Pandora, the seas of King Triton and Ariel and Ursula and Prince Eric find a sense of authenticity only in the scenes on the mainland, when it appears far in the background. Similarly, the sea creatures that populate it do not hold a candle to them, and the choice to accentuate their realistic features does not pay off as it did in the remake of The Jungle Book or in that of The Lion King. Here, when it goes well, the crabs and fish and feathered creatures look like genetic mutations created by the High Evolutionary of Guardians of the Galaxy 3, and the sequences featuring them on the side take on paradoxical, if not disturbing, traits.
Another cudgel on your teeth (or rather your eardrums) is given to you by the dubbing, from the Nuremberg trials: even the press preview deprived us of the original version, so final judgment is to be postponed to an upcoming second viewing between home-video or Disney+.
Halle Bailey’s consecration
But to arouse the desire for a rewatch, evidently the remake of The Little Mermaid has its strengths. First among them is definitely Halle Bailey, a divine creature out of the grace of the heavens (and the seas) who plays an innocently sensual Ariel, a gracefully bewitching and naively attractive mermaid, a body and figure in every way dominant in the two-way relationship as much with the beloved prince (a Sleeping Beauty who embodies to perfection all the insecurities of the contemporary non-male, or sucker or at the mercy of the female figure) as much as with the retrograde father (emblem of yesterday’s man who will have to come to terms with The new worldview brought by the next generation).
Admittedly 130-plus minutes versus just 82 minutes in the original animated film all feel like a lot, and the biggest loser is the love story between Ariel and Eric: it is the best thing in the whole film, but it comes too far from the beginning and passes in a flash. With a little more courage, a half-hour cut, and a lot less CGI fake sea, The Little Mermaid could have aspired to perfection in the genre (because it is now a genre, or at least a label) of the live-action remake.