Entertainment, Film

The Little Mermaid review – brings Disney magic to life

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Featured image: Disney


“Never thinking somebody like me would be doing this, is beautiful. And the fact that I get to represent all of these little young black and brown boys and girls who are to come, is really special to me.” – Halle Bailey


The Little Mermaid (2023), the remake of the 1989 Disney classic finally arrived. Directed by Rob Marshall, the film stars Halle Bailey as Ariel and Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric. This beloved classic holds a special place in our hearts, evoking cherished memories from our childhood. With its enchanting storytelling, the film offers a sense of nostalgia, encouraging us to embrace our true selves.

Bailey’s casting as Ariel was received with extreme reactions; on the one hand, celebration of this example of diverse casting and positive Black representation ensued, but on the other hand, the actor was subject to a tirade of trolling. In the face of online abuse, Bailey remained resolute and empowered, and focused on the positive impact of her performance, rather than the hate she received. Speaking to Variety she said: “I feel like I’m dreaming. I’m just grateful, and I don’t pay attention to the negativity.”

Halle Bailey’s portrayal of Ariel in the new adaptation is brilliant, capturing the essence of the character in an inspiring way. Her performance deserves celebration and appreciation for the positive impact it brings. Additionally, the inclusion of a cameo by the original Ariel, Jodi Benson, from the 1989 film, further supports and honours the creative decision to embrace change in this fresh interpretation of The Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid rose to the top of the global box office charts upon its release, thanks to the performance of Bailey and the changes incorporated into the film. Notably, the introduction of the seven sisters, including ‘Indira’ portrayed by the talented Simone Ashley, acclaimed for her role as Kate Sharma in the widely popular series Bridgerton (2022), added depth and intrigue to the storyline.

To further enhance the movie’s magic, the film welcomed the successful and original composer Alan Menken, who collaborated with renowned songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda. Together, they created a collection of enchanting new songs that seamlessly intertwine with the timeless melodies of the original soundtrack. This collaboration between two musical powerhouses brought a blend of nostalgia and fresh inspiration to The Little Mermaid, contributing to its phenomenal success around the globe. Both adaptations through the film’s storytelling, memorable characters, and iconic songs have left a mark on pop culture. Ariel’s journey of sacrifice and personal growth, combined with the vibrant underwater world depicted in the film, create an immersive experience that stays with viewers long after the credits roll.

The plot follows Ariel, the beloved daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem). Yearning to explore the world above the sea, Ariel embarks on a adventure alongside her sea friends: the loyal Flounder, (Jacob Tremblay), the charismatic crab Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), and the witty seagull Scuttle (Awkwafina aka Nora Lum). It is during one of her daring escapades that Ariel crosses paths with Prince Eric, a charming human whom she rescues from the treacherous shipwreck. Love blossoms between the two, but their union is anything but easy. Faced with the realisation of her impulsive actions and longing to return to her underwater home, Ariel confronts opposition from her father, King Triton, who disapproves of her desires. In her quest to find a solution, Ariel seeks guidance from the cunning Sea Witch, Ursula, portrayed with frightening brilliance by (Melissa McCarthy). Unbeknownst to Ariel, Ursula is not only a wicked sorceress but also her own aunt, constantly driven by a desire to outshine her brother, King Triton. Seizing the opportunity, Ursula lures Ariel with a promise of a life above the sea. However, the price Ariel must pay is large: she must relinquish her voice and bind herself to a contract sealed in blood.

Melissa McCarthy, above as Ursula, Disney.

According to the directors of the film, Bailey was the “first and best choice” for the role of Ariel, and I wholeheartedly agree. Her portrayal exceeded all expectations, instantly capturing audiences hearts and immersing me to be ‘part of her world.’ Bailey’s ethereal voice had an enchanting effect, as anticipated from the very first notes of the iconic song ‘Part of Your World’ to her delightful ad-libs in ‘Under the Sea’ and the heartfelt ‘Vanessa’s Wish.’

Throughout the film, Bailey’s voice poignantly intertwines with the storyline, evoking a range of emotions and allowing us to intimately connect with Ariel’s journey. There was never a moment where Bailey’s voice failed to capture every thought, elevating the film’s emotional depth and enabling us to experience Ariel’s joys and struggles first-hand.

Jonah Hauer-King, left as Prince Eric, and Halle Bailey in Ariel’s human form, right. Disney.

Bailey’s performance is further elevated by the introduction of a new song, ‘Uncharted Waters,’ performed by Eric. The song by Lin-Manuel Miranda, renowned for his acclaimed works such as Hamilton (2020) and In the Heights (2021), adds an extra layer of depth and emotion to the film. Eric, filled with a longing to find the mysterious girl who saved him, encounters Ariel as she arrives on a boat, having acquired her newfound legs. Their fateful meeting brings them together, and Ariel is whisked away to the castle. The on-screen connection shared by Ariel and Eric can be described in two words: instant chemistry. The actors effortlessly portray the natural ease and authenticity of their relationship, despite Ariel being without a voice, every glance, touch, and shared moment becomes a testament to their emotional connection. Bailey’s powerful expressions speak for themselves.

Given that the movie took around three years to create and master, and with the already existing Disney live action films to compare to, The Little Mermaid did a great job building a cast that was dedicated to making it feel not only authentic, but you could  feel the love and passion that they had for the already existing film. If you are a fan of the Disney live-action films, or already existing films you should definitely make your way to the cinema (or go the second time, like myself). The moment you hear Halle’s voice, you will not have any regrets.

The Little Mermaid is currently showing in cinemas across the UK.

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Latifa Akhtar

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