Rob Marshall’s interpretation of Disney’s beloved film, The Little Mermaid, takes us on a familiar journey, reminiscent of previous live-action remakes that have sparked discussions about their purpose. Starring Halle Bailey as the enchanting underwater creature and featuring a stellar cast including Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Daveed Diggs, Jonah Hauer King, and Awkwafina, this rendition aims to leverage the wonders of CGI and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fresh musical compositions.
While the questions posed by this faithful adaptation may seem repetitive, their significance is limited. Nostalgia proves lucrative, while adjustments serve as publicity. For the conglomerate’s financial gain, reimagining these timeless tales for contemporary audiences is a worthy endeavor. The fact that these already tempered fairytales are revamped to suit modern sensibilities is an added bonus.
Marshall’s portrayal of Ariel, brought to life by Bailey, introduces a captivating element. Her performance contributes to an edginess that enhances the overall experience of the film. Whether she is passionately singing a reimagined version of “Part of Your World” or silently observing the social constraints faced by her less charming prince, played by Jonah Hauer King, Bailey’s charisma shines through. As a prodigy of Beyoncé and one-half of the Grammy-winning duo Chloe x Halle, she gracefully presents her own interpretation of Ariel. While the character retains her sweetness and sharp wit, there is a newfound defiance and depth in Bailey’s portrayal. Her ethereal voice, integral to the narrative, adds to the film’s allure. However, reconciling the strength of Bailey’s performance with the rest of the movie requires some effort.
Similar to recent Disney productions, such as live-action remakes, The Little Mermaid directed by Marshall exhibits sentimentality and occasionally uneven storytelling, seemingly driven by a desire to avoid controversy. There is a palpable sense of risk aversion, particularly in the narrative aspect, which results in the fun elements feeling somewhat sanitized. Like its predecessors, this rendition of The Little Mermaid comes wrapped in a neatly packaged story with a focus on representation. While it provides enough entertainment for an evening, it evokes a sense of déjà vu rather than inspiring a deeper connection.
The film opens with a photorealistic depiction of the sea, situated off the coast of a fictional Caribbean island. Flounder, voiced by Jacob Tremblay, resembles an actual fish with its slimy, slightly puckered skin. Ariel’s tail shimmers with vibrant scales as she explores a shipwrecked area in search of treasures, diverging from her usual meeting with her father, King Triton, portrayed by Javier Bardem, and her sisters. The coral reefs are visually stunning, reminiscent of a National Geographic spread. Initially, the transition to this new rendition of Ariel’s world may feel disorienting, but one eventually becomes immersed in the hyperrealistic ambiance of her underwater domain.
For the most part, Marshall’s version echoes the vision of John Musker and Ron Clements in their 1989 adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic tale. (I hold hope for a future rendition that delves into the author’s disconcerting original narrative, exploring the menacing reality of the sea.) Memorable scenes, like Ariel and Flounder’s narrow escape from a voracious shark, highlight the sharpness and three-dimensionality of the predator. The changes in the mermaid world manifest through Triton’s daughters, representing different races and acting as emissaries of the seven seas. Unfortunately, not much is done to develop or explain this cosmopolitan group of mermaids, leaving their inclusion somewhat underutilized.
Marshall and his team invest considerable effort in capturing Ariel’s life beneath the waves, resulting in moments of enchantment. Bailey’s rendition of “Part of Your World.
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