From “I’m sure I’m going to love it” through to “I’m going to hate it, she doesn’t even look anything like Ariel” has all been said before the film has even reached cinemas. Now it has been released it is easy to see that despite some cheesy moments The Little Mermaid is actually a pretty decent watch.
For those who don’t know the story – Ariel (Halle Bailey – The Last Holiday) is a mermaid that yearns to know more about life on the surface – the world of the humans. Despite warnings from her friends Flounder (Jacob Tremblay – Room) and Sebastian (Daveed Diggs – Hamilton) she spends most of her time combing shipwrecks to find human artifacts. She then relies on the often-wrong information from Scuttle (Awkwafina – Renfield) to determine what she has found. She dreams of going to the surface but does not wnat to anger her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem – Skyfall), who forbids it after her mother was killed by humans.
Meanwhile on the surface, Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King – A Dog’s Way Home) is constantly fighting against his mother, The Queen (Noma Dumezweni – Mary Poppins Returns) and her aide, Sir Grimsby (Art Malik – True Lies), to be able to leave the Kingdom and explore the world in a bid to make life better for their subjects.
Ariel and Eric’s worlds soon collide when Ariel rescues him from a shipwreck. Romance doesn’t run smoothly though as Eric can’t remember who exactly saved him. Spotting an opportunity to try and get revenge, the evil sea-witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids) casts a spell that will give Ariel three days on the surface as a human but also means that if Eric hasn’t kissed her during that time she becomes the property of Ursula – something that would break her father.
While this adaption of The Little Mermaid does tell basically the same story as the original animated versions, it is the ‘updates’, so to speak, that make the heart of the film. First of all, there is the fact that director Rob Marshall (Chicago) uses all of his talents as a director to bring the right mix to the film. He takes his skills as a musical director – which we have seen on show with Chicago and the under-rated Nine – and mixes it with the fact that he has been at the helm of epic films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
It is that ‘epic’ feel that separates this version from the animated film, and then there is the fact that Marshall has once again teamed up with cinematographer Dion Beebe (Memoirs of A Geisha) to make this film look spectacular. The underwater world looks like a special kind of fairyland that just makes you want to explore while he even manages to make what appears to be a bayou swamp become one of the most romantic places on Earth. While the extended shots of Triton’s Kingdom do stretch the film’s run time, it is well worth it to see the work of Beebe, who has created something beautiful.
Screenwriter David Magee (Life of Pi) also has his moments. For the most part the film is made up of some true dramatic moments and the scenes between Ariel and Eric are very natural. The one-liners delivered by the creatures, namely Sebastian and Scuttle, also hit their mark and are guaranteed to make the audience chuckle. Sadly, though, there are some weaknesses with the script. A lot of Urusla’s scenes seem to be cliché and certainly needed to be darker. There is also a kind of cheesy second ending that feels like it has been tacked onto the end of the film after the events all slow down. It feels completely out of place because just minutes earlier the story basically came to an end with a conclusion that most fans would have already been happy with.
Of course, the big questions around The Little Mermaid revolve around the cast and it must be said that they do a pretty decent job. Halle Bailey is perfect as Ariel and it is easy to see that she has a big career ahead of her. Likewise, Jonah Hauer-King is likable as Eric and together the two do feel like they have genuine chemistry.
Javier Bardem is stoic as King Triton and shows a great brooding side and while Melissa McCarthy is under-used, she does seem to be having fun with what she is given. The stars that steal the show here though are Art Malik and Awkwafina. Scuttle’s lines are some of the best of the film while Malik puts in an A+ performance as the often-worried Sir Grimsby and he gets the opportunity to be the ‘hero’ at times and he truly embraces it.
It is hard to see too many fans of the original The Little Mermaid being disappointed in this adaptation. The classic songs are there, and delivered in unique reworkings, with some extras also thrown in. Yes, the story has been expanded and that works to an extent, and you can’t fault Halle Bailey as Ariel as she ends up being perfect for the role.
This is one to savour if you are a fan of the original and one that will blow your mind if you are a newcomer. Yes, it is different from the animated version, but if you go into The Little Mermaid with an open mind you will enjoy the ride.
The Little Mermaid is currently screening in Phuket and is rated ‘G’
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus
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