The Little Mermaid review: Disney’s most animated live-action remake to date

More than many of Disney’s recent live-action remakes, director Rob Marshall’s The little Mermaid expresses his love and reverence for the animated classic he is updating through expansion rather than large-scale reinvention. Even with all his new ideas, this Little Mermaid keeps so close to the beats of Disney’s 1989 film that there’s no denying it was made with longtime fans in mind, and there’s a lot here for them to love. But for all the care obviously put into the film, The little Mermaid is also a great example of how easily VFX-heavy features like this can feel decidedly unmagical when studios forget the importance of fine-tuning their fictional worlds to feel like something based on consistent, thoughtful reality.

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale, The little Mermaid tells the familiar story of Ariel (Halle Bailey), the youngest, most curious and – apparently – smallest daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem), ruler of Atlantica. Ariel cares deeply about her father; her friends Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) and Scuttle (Awkwafina); and her six glamorous older sisters Tamika (Sienna King), Perla (Lorena Andrea), Indira (Simone Ashley), Mala (Karolina Conchet), Karina (Kajsa Mohammar) and Caspia (Nathalie Sorrell). But this Ariel, like her 2D animated counterpart, is something of an adventurous rebel whose fascination with humans and the surface world they come from puts her at constant odds with her family, all of whom wish she could take on her duties as a princess. would take. more serious.

Unlike the 1989 Little Mermaidwhich made little mention of Ariel’s mother, the new film uses her off-screen death at the hands of humans – a plot point from 2008’s direct-to-video The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginnings – as the basis for Triton’s fear and mistrust of humans. The tragedy of Ariel’s past does not obscure her light in the present. But it’s one of them The little Mermaid‘s more notable updates due to the seriousness it adds to Ariel and Triton’s ideological disagreements over humanity and the merpeople’s decision to avoid them as they avoid Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), the sea witch and Triton’s sister.

Watching The little Mermaid after seeing big budget features like Aquarius, Black Panther: Wakanda ForeverAnd Avatar: The way of the water is an interesting experience. As different as all these aquatic films are, they all worked towards the common goal of creating believable underwater worlds inhabited by humans that we need to understand as living, breathing, organic creatures. Some of that realism tends to drop live actors into actual bodies of water (whether they include sets or not). But when we talk about Disney’s “live-action” remakes of animated films and how “realistic” they are, we’re really talking about their ability to create places that feel alive and defined by a reliable set rules that the public can understand.

The effort put into Ariel’s hair is at odds with the inconsistent way light behaves underwater

Aside from the white savior fantasy of it all, very little left The way of the water‘s Pandora would probably be as grounded as it is were it not for how much work (and time and money) has gone into nailing down the fine details of how elements like light, water and wind interact with each other and with things like characters’ skin and hair in different contexts. It’s only when all those seemingly small but in fact very important components of a fictional world work together to support each other that things start to feel ‘real’, no matter how otherworldly they actually are.

The little Mermaid‘s creative team clearly understands this concept to some degree, as evidenced by Ariel’s underwater musical numbers, in which you can clearly see the hours spent animating her bountiful red locomotives with a playful grace reminiscent of the 2D cartoon. But the effort put into animating Ariel’s hair is at odds with things like the inconsistent way light behaves underwater and the overly clean sound design that makes Atlantica feel like a well-miceated soundstage.

At multiple points in the film, Ariel is so full of conflicting emotions that she has transitioned into a subtle but still very visible state of near-tears that are touching and speak to Bailey’s skills as a performer, but also shatter the fantasy that she is a mermaid . live at the bottom of the ocean.

It’s really only under the sea in the first third of the film before she makes her fateful pact with Ursula that you get the best idea of ​​how studied a performance Bailey delivers as Ariel. While she’s definitely a bit sharper and more proactive and ready to stand up for herself more than the 2D cartoon Ariel, there’s a pointed Disney Princess™ lilt in her speaking voice and magic in her singing voice that’s fitting that makes you appreciate just what all she gives up on traveling to the surface in search of Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) after a fateful encounter.

As compared to The little MermaidThe film’s underwater scenes make the film’s land time work much, much better in that you don’t always wonder why things feel so bad. But the lackluster chemistry between Bailey and Hauer-King puts Prince Eric and Ariel’s budding romance with a magically muted Ariel at the heart of the matter. The little Mermaid‘s story — harder to buy than it should be. The way this Little Mermaid‘s songs just starting out of the blue instead of guiding the film through its acts also make it somewhat difficult to buy the film as a true musical, which will likely come as a disappointment to some theatergoers.

Where The little Mermaid falls, ranking-wise, in comparison to Disney’s other live-action remakes is a matter of personal taste. But the movie feels very much like a reflection of Disney’s plan to keep making these things with just enough of the essence of the originals to appeal to diehard adult fans and kids for whom these kinds of projects are. the canon.

The little Mermaid also stars Noma Dumezweni, Art Malik, Daveed Diggs and Jessica Alexander. The film is now playing in cinemas.

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