‘The Little Mermaid’ Review: Halle Bailey’s Stunning Voice Can’t Save This Dull Disney Remake

Scott Menzel reviews The Little Mermaid, which he believes doesn't do anything to make it stand out from the animated classic.
User Rating: 4

Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid is the latest in a series of recent Disney live-action remakes that have many critics and audiences asking the same question, “Why are they remaking that?” The answer, as we all know, is money. These films have made massive amounts of money, and not just at the box office but through theme parks and merchandise sales. The Disney brand is all about “double dipping the chip,” so to speak, and they have it down to a science at this point between movies, tv shows, parks, and merch.

But back to the movie itself, does this Little Mermaid do anything to make it stand out from the animated classic? The short answer is not really. While Halle Bailey’s voice is nothing short of extraordinary, and Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Ursula is devilishly good, the film just feels uninspired, flat, and often lifeless. The visuals pale compared to many films that have come before it. While I wasn’t a big fan of Avatar: The Way Of Water, the underwater scenes in that film are nothing short of spectacular.

In The Little Mermaid, all of the scenes look fake and feel like CGI rather than actual water. The underwater scenes instantly took me l out of the film because I felt like what I was watching wasn’t real. Almost all of the scenes on land are better than the ones underwater, which is a weird thing to say, considering this is a movie about mermaids and sea creatures. When you watch films like Dune or Avatar, you feel you are being transported to another world or location, and I struggled to feel that when I was watching The Little Mermaid.

In terms of the story, the movie takes the previous film’s plot, which had an 83-minute runtime, and stretches it out for an unnecessarily long 135 minutes. There is zero reason why this movie needed to be over an hour and forty-five minutes. The creative tweaks to the story make the film weaker, not stronger. The “subplot” where Ursula puts a spell on Ariel to wipe her memory is not at all effective and sometimes feels like an afterthought. It feels like a rewrite where it is only considered when it is convenient.

Adding to the runtime are the new songs, which include a number where Prince Eric starts randomly singing while walking around. This scene feels like someone watched Barb and Star and said, “Hey, that’s clever; let’s try to turn that into a serious moment.” It doesn’t work, nor does the “Scuttlebutt” song, which, again, comes out of nowhere. I love Lin-Manuel Miranda, and his music has forever changed music and Broadway, but this number made me roll my eyes and prompted me to ask myself, “What the hell am I watching here?” It feels like something you would have seen in a bad family movie from the late 90s.

This leads me to the cast and the iconic characters they were tasked with bringing to life. As previously noted, I think Halle Bailey’s voice is spectacular, and the film only confirms why she has had such a successful career as a musician. Regarding her performance, like most of the cast, Bailey tries their very best to make the material work. She certainly makes the role of Ariel her own. However, I feel the poor direction, strange edits, bloated story, and iffy visuals work against her. I would like to see Bailey in another film. Her performance showcases that she has a lot of promise as an actress, but like most new actors, we need to see them with excellent material and filmmaking that fires on all cylinders.

While no one in the cast is bad per se (well, there is one), some characters/performances are more likable than others. Take Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, for instance. You can tell that Diggs is trying to give this his all despite the visual look and style of the character being dull and uninteresting. He makes Sebastian work to the best of his ability. Unfortunately for Awkwafina as Scuttle and Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, they are the film’s weakest links.

I like Awkwafina, but her voice is so recognizable that it is more distracting than entertaining. It also didn’t help that her character was annoying and over the top. I feel awful for Tremblay, who was tasked with bringing to life Flounder, who looked terrible as a character. How do you go from this adorable fat yellow fish with a childlike personality to this bland black and white striped fish? Nothing about Flounder works.

I know that it sounds like I’m coming down hard on this film, and to a certain degree, I am because so much of the film feels uninspired and lazy. Could you imagine if this cast was in an original, well-written, well-made movie that didn’t have to be compared to what came before? I felt I would have liked that movie. That’s the biggest problem in a nutshell. There is nothing extraordinary about this reiteration of The Little Mermaid that makes it stand out. Yes, most of the cast elevates the material, but that doesn’t make this a good movie. We’ve seen far too many great performances in mediocre films. Hell, some of them even won Oscars.

If you look at the history of the Disney live-action remakes this far, the ones that stand out the most, even if it is debatable whether they are good or not, are the ones that attempt something new like Pete’s Dragon or Cruella. Something is to be said about taking a well-known story or character and completely reinventing it. Films like The Lion King and The Little Mermaid take little to no risk and feel all too familiar to stand out.

I would have preferred if this film was called “The Other Mermaid” and Bailey played a new character who is tied into the world by being a cousin or a relative of Ariel. That would have allowed the film to do something new. Or, at the very least, take the concept or character from the animated movie and do something fresh and new with the story. I know I’m getting a bit repetitive at this point, but we need to push creatives that we want and deserve fresh perspectives, not lazy cash grabs where talented actors play roles that don’t match their talent.

The recent success of Moana, Coco, and Encanto proves that original stories with characters of color do sell tickets and merchandise. People of color deserve to have their own films, stories, and characters. They shouldn’t get sloppy seconds whenever a major corporation decides they want to make more money and remake something simply for “a new generation.” It’s lazy, and audiences should demand more.

Scott Menzel’s final rating for The Little Mermaid is a 4 out of 10.

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott Menzel has been watching film and television since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by the films of Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associate's Degree in Marketing, a Bachelor's in Mass Media, Communications, and a Master's in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name change occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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