Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) directs this live-action version of the beloved 1989 animated The Little Mermaid film. Loosely based on the 1837 fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, the new film features a screenplay by David Magee (Finding Neverland, Life of Pi, Mary Poppins Returns). After saving Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from a shipwreck, Ariel (Halle Bailey), a young mermaid, makes a deal with Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), a sea witch, to trade her voice for legs so she can explore the human world above water and reunite with Eric. (135 min.)
Glen: I’m one of the rare few who never saw the 1989 animated Little Mermaid. I think someone may have read me the original fairy tale as a child, I know the basic mermaid myth, and I did see Splash (1984). This new version is billing itself as “live action,” and there are certainly some actors and not just their voices on-screen, but there’s so much CGI on the actors as well as voiced characters, such as Sebastian the crab (Daveed Diggs doing a Jar Jar Binks impression), Flounder the fish (Jacob Tremblay sounding trembly), and Scuttle the seagull (Awkwafina, a true highlight of the film). What you’re seeing is a deftly assembled mix of live action and very sophisticated computer-generated images. The filmmakers have created a wonderous world, the songs are catchy, the story’s sweet with some good action, and Halle Bailey is terrific in the title role. This is a kid film, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Anna: As a redheaded, flowing-locked young girl, I was absolutely obsessed with the 1989 Disney animated flick, and not much has changed in the 35ish years since. Summers were spent in the pool long before someone had the brilliant idea to sell wearable mermaid fins, legs wrapped around each other, pushing ourselves up the side of the pool and attempting, in the clumsy manner that kids do, to achieve that iconic hair flip Ariel has after saving Prince Eric. Not going to lie, my eyes welled up a couple of times in the live-action version: The nostalgia was palpable for me. As I’ve wandered into adulthood, I will say that Ariel becomes a little more ridiculous with each passing year—I think in the original story the mermaid was just 14, not nearly old enough to be chasing after princes or giving away her most precious possession to her weird aunt. Halle Bailey was the perfect choice for this role; her voice truly is a treasure, and this young, gorgeous woman handled the iconic role beautifully. I’ll be watching this for a second time on one of those days where I want to feel like a kid again.
Glen: The story certainly has some lessons to impart: Use your voice, don’t trade it away; don’t be afraid to dream big; friends are important, so count on each other; don’t smother your kids (this one’s for you, King Triton (Javier Bardem)); hunger for power often has the reverse effect (Ursula, you big meany!); and peace and common ground can be found despite huge differences, such as legs and tails. I doubt I’ll be seeking out the 1989 animated version or even watching this one again, but I’m glad I saw it. It’s a visually arresting film.
Anna: One big win for Disney here is bringing diversity to this cast. While the animated film sits firmly in the 75 or so years that we only had princesses who would definitely check “white” on the census, this live-action role works hard to present kids with a much broader look at who’s included in this story. Ariel’s sisters are from the seven seas and all represent an ethnically different part of the world. From the “oohs” and “aahs” that were coming from the kids in the audience, I’d say this is a hit.
New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Spun Screen. Glen compiles listings. Comment at [email protected].