As Disney continues to develop more and more remakes of their classic films, it is starting to feel more and more like an uphill battle to become excited or even optimistic considering how little of an impression most of them seem to make. The original The Little Mermaid in particular is one of Disney’s most beloved films they’ve ever made, and continues to stand the test of time with its outstanding visuals, lovely character work, timeless story, and of course – the fantastic music. Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid, which only really expands upon the original instead of taking liberties with the story, feels like it has a lot to prove right out of the gate; as it truly feels like more than any of these other remakes thus far, nothing captured with today’s VFX can rival how lush and grand the animation from the original film is. There has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding the films’ visual style and the quality of the VFX, and while I can’t say it’s quite as bad as it looked from the trailers at times, it does feel quite a bit uninspired and uninterested in creating its own visual style aside from pure competency at times. In terms of a multi-million dollar remake of one of the most beloved family films of all-time… you’d hope for a little more attention to detail than that.
Halle Bailey takes over the role of Ariel this time around, and she truly is exceptional in every sense of the word. In terms of her signing capabilities, she will floor you from the moment the Part of Your World sequence begins and she absolutely crushes every single note. Outside of just her vocals, she really nails everything that you’d want and expect from the character of Ariel. She is so effortlessly charismatic and charming from the moment she appears on screen, and even when she (spoilers if you’ve never seen any iteration of the story before I suppose) loses her voice, she maintains a great performance that carries the entire film. On the flip side, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric is also really solid and the two share some really nice chemistry together, despite the fact that I wish the film spent even more time developing their romance.
Rob Marshall tries his hardest to recapture the magic of the original film and the entire cast and crew genuinely feel like they’re putting in the effort, but the whole thing just ultimately feels a bit artificial and like a hollow shell of what the original was. A large part to why I think the film feels so lesser-than is due to how by-the-numbers it feels.. it tries to hit all the same notes with a little more context and explanation for certain things, like giving Ursula a little more reasoning and motives.. but a lot of these additions feel a bit pointless in the long run, whereas I feel like the film could’ve spent more time with Ariel and Eric’s relationship.
It’s also hard to ignore the fact that these films are getting more and more visually off-putting with each release. This truly feels like a film that was rushed in the post-production process. It’s not even just the designs of the sea creatures and how small-scale the city of Atlantis feels in comparison to the original film – but just purely the depth of water and the entire foundation of which a majority of this movie takes place feels so unbelievably artificial and like a pre-viz version of what we were supposed to see; not the final product. It’s even harder to take a lot of these visuals seriously when we just had Avatar: The Way of Water come out last year to show us how mesmerizing underwater visuals can truly be when the work is properly put in.
By the end, the film is left with merely moments that work instead of the whole film being a worthwhile experience that is in any way different or as worthwhile as the original. As I said before, Halle Bailey is absolutely phenomenal here and there’s a moment towards the end with her that is so powerful… but it hardly affected me, because the film opts to gloss over that emotional conflict and it wasn’t properly built-up to. The Little Mermaid is a film that knows the beats it wants to hit, but it doesn’t take any of necessary steps to properly hit those beats for their full potential. In terms of it being a kids movie, I’m sure they will love it! I truly hope families have a great time and that Halle Bailey is rightfully praised for her work here as she turns in perhaps the best performance out of all these remakes combined – but the power of her performance and the undeniable effort of everyone else on-screen only emphasizes how much I wish the rest of the film felt up to par with them.
Not terrible, not great… just pretty middling.