The Little Mermaid review

Disney’s live-action reimagining of THE LITTLE MERMAID is a beautiful rendition of the classic musical with Halle Bailey meeting all expectations as Ariel. The characters are much more fleshed-out, and director Rob Marshall takes some liberties with the storyline fitting for a modern iteration. There are some minor inconsistencies that detract a bit, but overall it’s a solid remake.

Ariel is a curious mermaid and daughter to King Triton (Javier Bardem) whose thirst for adventure in the human world, leads her to take a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula. Ariel trades her voice and fin for legs in hopes of finding the Prince she saved.

Let’s be honest about the 1989 Disney film. It’s a little too vanilla in the sense that it’s essentially the plot line of just about every classic Disney film. An innocent girl, a female villain, a prince, and the obstacles keeping the maiden and her prince apart. Nonetheless, young and grown fans count it as one of their favorite films.

Director/writer Rob Marshall (CHICAGO, MARY POPPINS RETURN) and writer David Magee (LIFE OF PI, FINDING NEVERLAND) bring to the live-action remake a bit more grit and substance. Prince Eric, played by the dreamy Jonah Hauer-King, is much more of a layered character and someone who matches Ariel’s dreams of adventure. They also include a hint of messaging about climate change.

Halle Bailey belts out the tunes in a way that will inspire applause at the end of her songs. The actress brings innocence and curiosity that matches the animated version’s spirit. She’s wholesome and she’ll take your breath away with her voice.

Most animated Disney princes are bland males, but the live-action Prince Eric, played by English actor Jonah Hauer-King, is an interesting character who like Ariel is an adventurer by heart. His mother, the Queen also wants her son close to home.

Jonah Hauer-King is the brunette version of Ryan Gosling, with those longing eyes and empathetic nature will make women and men swoon. The actor is a good match with Bailey with chemistry that jumps off the screen. Viewers will immediately root for the romantic pairing.


There were doubts any human actor could do Ursula justice, but Melissa McCarthy brings the cackle and humor to the classic villain. It’s no surprise the talented McCarthy is a worthy sea witch. According to my young niece who accompanied me, McCarthy matched the dark nature of the original and she was truly frightened of the character.

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in The Little Mermaid 2023 Disney remake ursula

The filmmakers infused more of the father/daughter relationship in this version. A common theme that resonates with every parent. The same theme applies to the Queen and Prince relationship.

Daveed Diggs (“Sebastian”), Jacob Tremblay (“Flounder’) and Awkwafina (“Scuttle”) are hilarious as the voices behind the CGI sea creatures. Diggs imitates the original character’s Caribbean accent which is required. Changing it would certainly cause an uproar. When you hire Awkwafina with her unique voice, expect something different for Scuttle. It may be jarring for hard core fans, but her take is just pure fun.

While the majority of the film is endearing with breathtaking visuals, the underwater scenes are questionable. The characters don’t actually look like they’re in the water. There were other minor details that were debatable as well.

James Wan’s AQUAMAN did a much better job of recreating human-looking sea life. In THE LITTLE MERMAID, the surroundings look underwater but the actor’s faces did not. Perhaps they should’ve consulted or hired the same VFX team from the DC film.

Another strange choice was King Triton’s diverse-looking daughters. Ariel’s sisters were of mixed race with different accents and the actors looked like runway models. It could have easily been explained away by suggesting that Triton perhaps plays the field rather than suggesting they all have one mother. However it is a Disney film, and in this political climate - it’s probably not a wise choice. But why did they cast model types? Perhaps these mermaids are your stereotypical sexualized version of mermaids - the sirens. Regardless of their intentions, you don’t connect with those characters, presented as merely rainbow eye candy.

The setting is the Caribbean and the film celebrates the culture beautifully. It makes sense the Queen played by Noma Dumezweni would be Black, a change from the original, but it’s a bit jarring at first based on the fact that Prince Eric is white. In this story, Eric is adopted so he’s not of royal blood.

The complaint of Disney’s live-action remakes is that they’re shot by shot of the original, so why bother? THE LITTLE MERMAID 2023 version takes risks, and the events of the third act stray from the animated version. Some will always find issues regardless of the choices, but THE LITTLE MERMAID is nearly perfect family entertainment. 

THE LITTLE MERMAID is in movie theaters on May 26. 

the third act is a bit different from the original

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