‘The Little Mermaid’ makes a surprising splash in this reviewer’s heart

I’ll be honest — when I sat down to see “The Little Mermaid” live-action remake opening day, I was not excited. However, as I left the theater, I was surprisingly satisfied with it. The movie itself is an enjoyable rendition of a classic film with a few questionable changes. 

If you haven’t been living under a rock (or a coral reef), then you’ve heard of the redheaded siren who sacrificed her voice for the handsome Prince Eric by making a deal with the sea witch Ursula. This rendition of the classic film, however, stars Halle Bailey as Ariel and Jonah Hauer-King as the charming Prince Eric, along with other big names such as Melissa McCarthy, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina and Javier Bardem. 

The movie set designer outdid themselves with the island Eric and his kingdom live on. The vibrant, bustling tropical feel could not have been done with animation. The sequence of Eric showing Ariel around the village through a chaotic marketplace with pushy vendors visually highlights Ariel’s inner thoughts and allowed the audience to see the world through her eyes. Here I saw a real charm that I didn’t get from the original when watching, allowing me to connect with how she already feels at home in this strange new world. 

The casting for this movie was perfectly done, Melissa McCarthy did a phenomenal job playing Ursula, paying homage to Pat Carroll in the 1989 animated film with a gravely alto voice that is iconic of the sea witch. McCarthy’s performance in “Poor Unfortunate Souls” eased my worries over the casting decision. Along with her, Halle Bailey was a creative choice that I wouldn’t have originally thought to play Ariel but worked so well. Bailey’s energy was bubbly as well as oblivious, encapsulating the naive mermaid from the original film well. 

A lot of the changes to the film connected us more to the above land world, which I enjoyed. Nothing was major, cutting a couple of songs underwater, fleshing out the conflict of the islanders’ fears of the oceans and other minor details that allow us to find the charm on land, putting us in Ariel’s viewpoint. 

Some of the alterations, however, either made no sense whatsoever or just didn’t work the way they were intended. A lot of the musical numbers in the film felt bare without the addition of the ensemble. We were left with a duet and trio in songs like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” instead of a sea full of singing aquatic animals. While the warm tenor of Daveed Diggs and bright timbre from Halle Bailey worked well, it would’ve been amplified with other voices backing up their duo. 

I could forgive all of that if the editor simply raised the exposure when editing by five notches. Throughout the movie, I couldn’t see parts of the scenes simply because it was just too dark. I remember when the trailer came out, I was talking to a friend about how the movie felt just dark and that it didn’t feel like the classic colorful bright colors that Disney is known for, however, this has been a trend for most Disney live-action remakes. To make the film seem more mature, they suck the color out of the movie and darken it, which not only makes it feel lackluster but it doesn’t feel full of joy and passion as the originals.  

Go see the movie. It does a good job of changing a story enough that you are still on your toes wondering what will happen next. Some of the changes I will say were not my favorite, and personally the lack of “Les Poissons” hurt me to the core, but I still think that it is a surprisingly good watch. Three out of five stars.