The Little Mermaid Review: Halle Bailey Shines Amidst an Ocean of Missed Opportunities


Despite the thrum of anticipation echoing like a siren’s song before its release, Disney’s 2023 live-action remake of The Little Mermaid struggles to ride the wave of its own potential. It drifts in a sea of unfulfilled promises, casting an alluring net of expectation that quickly unravels in the swell of its execution.

Halle Bailey dons the fins and fiery red hair of the iconic Ariel with all the elegance and energy her fans had hoped for. Her dulcet tones radiate both warmth and strength, bringing a richness to Ariel that rings with authenticity and feeling. Her rendition of “Part of Your World,” in particular, is an enchanting display of raw talent. This young woman’s voice has the power to captivate, evoking a blend of powerful emotion and youthful longing that elevates the musical scenes to new heights.

Unfortunately, despite Bailey’s resplendent portrayal of Ariel, the movie falters. Awash in a sea of missed opportunities, its narrative clings to the 1989 original with a confounding rigidity that drowns the potential of its distinguished cast and modern retelling. There are sparks of ingenuity, a sprinkling of novel character exposition and an intriguing shift in Ariel’s motivations, but these small waves are quickly flattened by an overarching structure that remains faithfully subservient to the original.

Disney attempts to parade a vibrant ensemble of Ariel’s seven sisters, each supposed to reflect the dazzling diversity of our world. Yet, their roles are little more than fleeting blips on the radar, their potential to enrich the narrative squandered by lack of character development. In a similar vein, the star-studded cast members, including Javier Bardem as King Triton, and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, fail to make a lasting impression. McCarthy’s Ursula, devoid of the bombastic flamboyance and menacing charm that defined the original sea witch, leaves us yearning for the character’s previous iteration. Jonah Hauer-King’s Prince Eric, while handsome, lacks the charm and charismatic vulnerability that made the character so appealing in the original film.

Visually, the movie does little to make waves. The shift towards photorealism in place of the animated magic of the original results in an uncomfortable uncanny valley, stripping away the delightful whimsy that once brought the underwater world to life. The scenes, particularly those set at night and underwater, are muddled, dampening the color palette that should be vibrant and enchanting; a problem we saw in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Someone needs to hire the Avatar: Way of Water team ASAP!

Disney’s 2023 live-action remake of The Little Mermaid presents itself as a modern, progressive adaptation, but it feels more like a ship lost at sea. The spirited performance of Halle Bailey is its guiding star, yet it is swallowed by the vast ocean of the movie’s failings. As such, as a fervent admirer of the original animated film, I am left with a sense of disappointment. This remake promised a significant step forward but instead slipped back into familiar tides.

RATING: 2.0 out of 5.

The Little Mermaid is in theaters on May 26th.

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