Halley Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay
Walt Disney Pictures
I'm not blind to the fact that Rob Marshall's live-action remake of The Little Mermaid has its flaws, though the truth is I for the most part wasn't bothered by them at all as Halle Bailey proves herself to be a superstar in the making here and Marshall maintains just enough of the 1989 original's sense of heart and wonder that I found myself utterly entertained throughout the film's slightly too long 135-minute running time.
We all know that Disney has been on a bit of a tear in turning its classics into contemporaries. The Little Mermaid is one of its better efforts, a faithful fish-out-of-water tale brought wondrously to life by, yep, fleshed out characters and such a strong turn from Bailey that she practically wills this musical to work on her own. The Howard Ashman and Alan Menken tunes are as magical as ever here, perhaps most notably the Oscar-winning "Under the Sea." Marshall and screenwriter David Magee have added layers of strength and soulfulness to Ariel and Bailey hits all the right notes both in song and soul. Bailey manages to both honor everything we've always known and loved about Ariel while also finding her own nuances, layers, and magnificent beats. I would watch The Little Mermaid again and again for Bailey alone.
Disney has struggled a bit when it comes to bringing their animated princes into the live-action world. While Jonah Hauer-King rises above this to a certain degree as Prince Eric and is easily one of the more satisfying of Disney's recent princes, he's still one of the weaker singers here and his "I Want" song particularly pales in comparison to the soundtrack that surrounds it. That said, he shares a strong chemistry with Bailey and the two create a more believable and more contemporary love story to life. The relationship is fleshed out here in rather inspired ways and kudos to both Magee and Marshall for finding ways to make it all work and to Bialey and Hauer-King for bringing that inspiration to life.
The always tremendous Daveed Diggs is marvelous as Sebastian the Crab. While his animated life is questionable, Jacob Tremblay does fine vocal work as Flounder and Awkwafina does what Awkwafina does as Scuttle, the wisecracking seagull who is definitely here for the laughs.
Much has been said, appropriately so, about Melissa McCarthy's marvelous work as the dastardly Ursula. Taking over a role made famous by Pat Carroll, McCarthy turns in one of her best performances to date and creates memorable magic along the way. Javier Bardem was an inspired choice to play Triton and rewards audiences with a performance that is both warm and wise and richly paternal.
Director Rob Marshall has already proven he knows his way around a musical, though certainly some of the animation in The Little Mermaid lacks the seamless magic one expects from Disney. While there's much to love here, The Little Mermaid never quite achieves the immersive magic one would expect from a story that takes quite often takes place under the sea.
Modest quibbles aside, I enjoyed The Little Mermaid thoroughly from beginning to end and found myself completely captivated. A few minor missteps can't erase the fact that The Little Mermaid is one of Disney's best live-action remakes to date and a film that should entertain parents and children alike.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic