‘Little Mermaid’ Avoids Disney’s Live-Action Curse

Halle Bailey, sumptuous visuals power solid, if unspectacular update

Printing money comes too easily for Team Disney.

The studio keeps cranking out live-action versions of its beloved films, and each new production earns serious coin for the mega studio.

Will Smith’s “Aladdin” proved clunky, but those cinema turnstiles spun to the tune of $1 billion worldwide.

Each new version summons the same critique – the original films are great enough, thank you. Why bother updating them?

Now, it’s “The Little Mermaid’s” turn and the results are better than expected. It helps that star Halle Bailey proved a fine choice for the titular mermaid, and that the director in question previously snagged an Oscar for bringing a classic musical to the big screen.

Just know the film’s ambitions are too modest to eclipse the source material.

The Little Mermaid | Official Trailer

Bailey stars as Ariel, a headstrong mermaid who is endlessly curious about the human realm. Her stern father King Triton (Javier Bardem) warns his daughter that humans took her mother’s life and cannot be trusted.

Ariel can’t stop imagining what earth life is like, though, and when she saves the life of a kind-hearted human (Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric) it’s clear their paths will cross again.

And, along the way, the two might just fall in love if not for a deep-sea villain (Melissa McCarthy as the tentacled Ursula) sabotaging those plans.

The Little Mermaid | Unfortunate

The update features the lovable sidekicks from the 1989 animated film, from Sebastian the Crab (Daveed Diggs) to Flounder (Jacob Tremblay). Sebastian’s punch lines are more awww, cute than laugh-out-loud funny, a wasted opportunity.

Scuttle the seagull fares the best, thanks to Awkwafina’s singular line readings. Her bird’s musical number, though, is more punishing than required.

It’s Bailey’s show, ultimately, and the “Growin-ish” alum handles the sizable task as well as can be expected. Her vocal range is more than enough to make numbers like “Part of Your World” soar, and her screen presence cuts through the maze of CGI.

About the effects…


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The Little Mermaid (@disneylittlemermaid)

The film demands some heavy lifting from all those ones and zeroes, but director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) and his FX team rely too heavily on their magic. It leaves even rudimentary scenes looking as if the CGI artists didn’t know when to stop, shattering the live-action spell.

Artists should know when to put the brush down and walk away from a canvas.


The story’s pacing could be tighter, no doubt, but there’s nothing wrong with McCarthy’s interpretation of the core baddie. The actress purrs and growls, underplaying Ursula’s menace so effectively that even the audience might buy into her trickery.

It’s a primer on how to do a villain right.

The film’s love story matters, of course, and here the film earns a solid, unspectacular B. 

Hauer-King’s Prince Eric may have more depth than in the animated film, but he’s still too bland, too Mary Sue-esque, to stretch that phrase’s meaning, to make the romance pop.

Javier Bardem's Daughter Got Emotional When He Told Her He'll Be in 'The Little Mermaid' | SiriusXM

The film’s sweetest stretch involves Bardem’s fatherly instincts. He’s dour and protective like any undersea patriarch should be, but he learns that keeping his daughter on a short leash can only lead to trouble.

It’s delivered with a feathery touch, and rightly so.

Those fearing “The Little Mermaid” would be another Disney woke-a-thon will be glad to see the film mostly avoids that trap. Yes, Bailey’s colorblind casting raised eyebrows initially, but the star’s pipes and presence should silence that debate.

This live-action yarn isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t stop cold to lecture us or push the kind of strained, girl-power shtick that immediately wears thin.

The original story shines through, despite a few new unremarkable songs and other modest tweaks.

HiT or Miss: “The Little Mermaid” is another unnecessary live-action adaptation from the Mouse House, but the film’s sly casting and visual splendor make it well worth a look.


  1. come on… casting wasn’t “color blind”

    doesn’t necessarily make her a bad ariel, but acting like disney set out to just cast the best ariel and happened to land on a black actress is gaslighting.

    1. Of course Disney’s casting “wasn’t ‘color blind'”. Disney’s villian Ursula is played by a White.

  2. Disney had its worst stock year since 1974, for reasons attributed to Blacks portraying traditional white icons and “adding queerness” to children’s programming. Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) is destroying the country, American values and white culture with no regard for profits or financial performance.

  3. Disney is looking to save billions by restructuring the company, cutting back on its content spend and trimming payroll. Getting rid of the black Tinkerbell and black Little Mermaid will save Millions in box office loss.

    1. @Sam Smith

      Please. The lead in the 1990s live action remake of Cinderella movie was a Black actress, Brandy Norwood. And the Fairy Godmother was Whitney Houston!:

      No one back then no matter race, sex, politics, etc. cared that Cinderella wasn’t White. Which explains why the film was a hit.

      So, what changed between then and now? Blame it on influencers, who want to make money off those who are “ignorant or insecure or bigoted” to quote Steve Shives.

      Shives goes into detail about these influencers (grifters) selling such grievance in his video, “Why Are People So Angry About the New Little Mermaid?”

      The solution to the influencer/grifter problem is obvious. Ignore the grifters pushing grievance, and watch whatever film interests you.

      1. The 1990’s version of “Cinderella” still stank in comparison to earlier versions. Don’t get me started on a more RECENT version.

  4. “Each new version summons the same critique – the original films are great enough, thank you. Why bother updating them?”

    Every 15 -20 years constitutes a new generation of viewers many of them who DIDN’T GROW UP RACIST SCUM LIKE MOST OF YOU! So we remake movies that have HIT before for NEW AUDIENCES with BETTER SPECIAL EFFECTS as both Technology and Acting styles, “23 skiddoo, anyone?” HAVE CHANGED.

    SINCE THE WORLD HAS CHANGED AND BECOME LESS RACIST we move away from the RACIST CASTING OF THE PAST WHICH EXCLUDED others who are no longer discriminated against. I hope this explanation shuts your stupid uninformed racist mouths.

    1. KD, I am charitably assuming that you were attempting sarcasm but failed.

      By the way, has anyone else noticed that Disney still portrays their witch Ursula as white?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button