Review: The Little Mermaid
The track record for Disney's recent spree of live-action remakes has been bumpy at best. None of them have surpassed their original and some, looking at you The Lion King, are just bafflingly awful. Washing to shore this summer is the next film in this string of remakes of animated classics, The Little Mermaid. This is a particularly beloved film and director Rob Marshall (Chicago) does it justice, mostly.
Let's get some things out of the way up front. The original animated film is 83 minutes and damn near perfect with memorable songs and striking visuals. This new take is 2 hours and 15 minutes and despite some visually impressive moments, is often murky when underwater. The added songs are kind of dull but the originals still soar.
The added runtime allows The Little Mermaid to expand on some themes and relationship dynamics. Ariel's curiosity about human culture is matched by Prince Eric's curiosity for uncharted waters. This creates a new theme about bridging cultures that mostly works and adds a bit more heft to the romance. It handles this better than the second Avatar film but has nowhere near the jaw-dropping visuals. This gives the film a Romeo & Juliet vibe where Ariel and Eric's relationship could actually better their worlds.
To add to the romance, stars Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King have real chemistry on screen. Both actors bring depth to these characters and it is hard not to want to see them get together. Bailey's singing is wonderful and the music leans heavier on the calypso sounds of the culture where the story is set.
And then there is Ursula. Melissa McCarthy forgoes the more campy, queer take on the classic Disney villain in favor of a power-hungry manipulator. She is good in the role, especially in her big musical number. However, fans of the original may have a hard time with this less flamboyant take on the character.
The Little Mermaid may not have the leanness of the original. The added runtime hurts the pacing often. However, as Disney remakes go, this is a pretty respectable take on a classic. The set and costume design adds a lot to the film. The new music isn't great but the classic numbers are done well. What it gets right is the central romance. We care about these two getting together and it makes the film work even when you may be checking your watch.