Disney has been on a mission to remake all of their animated classics with the help of live-action and CGI elements ever since Alice in Wonderland managed to make money at the box office. One would assume that the critical and box-office failure of Alice Through the Looking Glass would bring things to a halt. But the massive success of The Jungle Book motivated them to churn out every bit of nostalgia in the world while using the skills of the most talented artists to make the most lifeless pieces of art. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Mouse House switched gears to OTT releases, and I guess people realized that they were getting glitter-filled sewage water and not the (Googling for Disney-themed drinks) Kungaloosh Spiced Excursion Ale. I don’t know if anyone has actually saw Lady and the Tramp. Mulan was awful. Cruella managed to not be bland by not being a straight-up remake, yet overall, it was bad. Pinocchio, as well as Peter Pan and Wendy, were horrendous. How does The Little Mermaid fare? Let’s find out.
Apart from some minor tweaks, there’s not a lot of difference between the original The Little Mermaid and this remake. Eric is a human who wants to travel the seas and learn about the lands that lay beyond his kingdom, along with his Prime Minister, Sir Grimsby. He is forbidden to do so by his adoptive mother, Queen Selina, because she thinks the sea gods hate humans. Ariel is a mermaid and King Triton’s daughter. She is forbidden to interact with humans because they are responsible for killing her mother. But Ariel is determined to go beyond the borders of Atlantica and learn more about the world of humans, along with her sidekicks Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle. However, Triton’s evil sister, Ursula, seeks to ruin all this by holding Ariel hostage with a blood oath, thereby forcing Triton to relinquish his hold over the seven seas. The oath causes Ariel to lose her voice; there’s the usual nonsense about true love’s kiss, and of course, everyone gets to sail off into the sunset, happily ever after.
The biggest sin that this movie commits is that it takes a whopping 135 minutes to tell a story that was previously told in 83 minutes. I know that David Magee is a competent screenwriter. Life of Pi is certainly one of my favorite films. I didn’t mind Lady Chatterley’s Lover. And then there is A Man Called Otto which, I believe, one of the better films that came out his year. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, all three of these are adaptations. So, what came over Magee that compelled him to turn John Musker and Ron Clements’ take on Hans Christian Andersen’s story into such a mind-numbing slog? Mirroring Eric’s adventurous nature with Ariel’s isn’t that good of an excuse. I’m sure it could’ve been written more efficiently. But therein lies the problem. With the exception of Cruella, Disney doesn’t want writers to stray too far away from the original while adding subplots and themes that only have the appearance of relevance. They want people to be nostalgic, and they want to earn the “remake” tag. And this push and pull just adds to the running time as well as my misery.
Visually speaking, the VFX department has definitely done a lot of work to create this hybrid iteration of the animated classic. There are a lot of realistic and unrealistic elements on display. And they’ve tried their best to immerse us in its water-based sequences. But does any of it hold a candle to the animated film? Does it go toe-to-toe with some of the recent live-action films that featured extensive water sequences, e.g., the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (I don’t acknowledge the existence of any other PotC movies), Aquaman, and Avatar 2? The answer to both of those questions is a resounding “no.” That said, I’m not really all that surprised. The previous live-action and CGI-heavy Disney remakes, as well as the trailers for The Little Mermaid, had prepared me to set my expectations to zero. Every frame that feels remotely “inventive” is a recreation. There are a few match cuts and transitions that seem competent. The songs are well-sung, with the exception of “The Scuttlebutt,” which is so bad that I wished for John Wick to show up in the theater and burst my eardrums with a pencil.
None of the performances in The Little Mermaid are good, and if they are somewhat tolerable, it’s hindered by the inexpressive CGI renditions of the creatures. There’s no doubt about the fact that Halle Bailey is an incredible singer. She has made a whole career around it, for crying out loud. So, there aren’t any complaints about her vocals. But when she has to act and emote, she totally fails. The same can be said about Jonah Hauer-King, who absolutely kills it while singing “Wild Uncharted Waters.” Other than that, Jonah is just a pretty face. Nowadays, it has become the industry norm to put two conventionally attractive actors in a romance and hope that people are too blown away by their beauty to notice that they share no chemistry. And that can be acceptable for a lot of people, but it didn’t work for me. The casting director has also chosen to do the whole color-blind thing, and I have an issue with that too. I’m all for diversity because I’m a person of color myself. However, if the actor’s ethnicity is a part of the character, and yet all of them exist in this utopia where the color of their skin doesn’t come with the history that it has endured in the real world, the whole endeavor feels mighty performative. To be honest, it feels like Disney’s attempt at whitewashing its history of racism. If you don’t believe me, you can look into the news about Disney adding a “content warning” for all the bigotry in their animated films.
In conclusion, no, I really don’t recommend the remake of The Little Mermaid. If you want to waste your time, go right ahead. If you don’t want to waste your time, just watch the original. It’s much more concise in terms of its storytelling and vibrant in terms of its visuals. Also, if you’re already giving your money to the Mouse House through Disney+, why give them more? Technically, you’ve already paid to watch this “remake” on the OTT platform. So, just wait for it to arrive there and feel the relief that you didn’t take the trip to the theater for a worthless pile of rubbish. There are numerous other films, ranging from original stories to sequels, that are available on the big screen right now, and they require your money and your attention. Go and give them the love they deserve, and reject tired and lazy rehashes of classics that only exist to milk your nostalgia.