The Little Mermaid
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Halle Bailey, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, Awkwavina
Released: May 26, 2023
Much like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, this is another remake of a Disney animated movie from the '90s. (Okay, so technically, The Little Mermaid came out in 1989, but, close enough). Much like the others I just named, it pretty much follows its animated counterpart, but with a few exceptions. There are added songs and there are more fleshed out scenes for character development and to explain something a little more better that perhaps wasn't so clear in the original. The animated Little Mermaid is a little under an hour and a half and this movie is two hours and fifteen minutes! Yes, there are added songs (about three news ones, I believe) and some scenes are extended, but it seems shocking that it's almost 45 minutes longer!
Okay, let's start with the new songs first. As I already mentioned, there are three new songs, plus a new reprise to "Part of Your World". The new songs...are not that great. Two in particular are really bad. Okay, to be fair, I've only listened to the new songs about four times: once when I watched the movie the first time, once when I watched it a second time to take notes, and I've listened to the soundtrack twice. One of the new songs is called "For the First Time" and despite it reminding me of the song from Frozen (well, the title reminds me, not the actual song), it's definitely the best of the three new songs, but nowhere as good as any of the original songs. Ariel (Halle Bailey) sings it when she becomes a human and she's being brought to the castle, but since at that point, she has given up her voice to Ursula, she's singing in her head. Luckily, they cast someone with a great voice for Ariel and she does justice to Part of That World, probably one of the most iconic Disney princess songs out there. However, I can't say the same for Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). Yes, Prince Eric has his own song. It's called "Wild Uncharted Waters" and he sings it after he's been rescued by a girl with a beautiful voice. You know how they gave Princess Jasmine a song in the live action Aladdin? Well, I guess they thought they needed to give Prince Eric a song too? For some reason? Jasmine, I understand, because at least she IS a Disney Princess and never had her own solo song. And then there's the last new song, which, thankfully, is only a little over a minute. It's called "The Scuttlebutt" and it's sung by Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Sebastien (Daveed Diggs) when it's been announced that Prince Eric is engaged. Of course, they think he's engaged to Ariel, but he's not! Look, I love Awkwafina. I think she has some really funny line deliveries in this movie (one of my favorites is how she says "Yessss-ahhhh!" when Sebastien asks Scuttle if she's listening to him), but singing is just not her forte. Yes, I realize that Scuttle is supposed to be a bad singer, but this song is just terrible. I feel like it's only in here because it's near the end of the movie and they realized they haven't had a song (aside from the second reprise of "Part of Your World") in awhile.
There are a couple of songs from the animated movie that didn't make it into this one. First of all, and this really doesn't surprise me, "Les Poissons" is not in this movie. It is a bit cartoony and I understand why they didn't include it. I'm not terribly upset about it because I would rank it last of the original songs. (Although I still love it: "Les poissons, les poissons, how I love les poissons!")
Another song (although much smaller) that isn't in the movie is "Daughters of Triton". I mean, it's not a totally big loss although I do like the song (or ditty, really). They most likely excluded it for two reasons: 1) Triton's daughters don't have the same names as the ones in the song. (So no Aquata, Adrina, Arista, Attina, Adella, or Alanna. Obviously, Ariel is the only one who kept her name cuz she can't change her name!) Do I remember the names of his daughters in this movie? No; no, I do not. There was no catchy song to help me remember any of them. And, 2), There's a Coral Moon ceremony that Ariel misses, she's not singing in her debut.
However, they do keep the four main songs which we all know and love (at least I hope everyone knows and loves!) from the animated film. I'll add my thoughts on each one when I get to those parts of the movie.
One thing they touch on in this movie that they didn't in the animated one is how mermaids have a siren song that lure men to their deaths. (Somebody read The Odyssey before they made this! I remember reading that in my ninth grade Lit class with Mrs. Bradley as my teacher.) While Ariel (and I'm assuming all mermaids) have beautiful voices, it's not like they're using them to lure humans to their deaths even though King Triton (Javier Bardem) believes that all humans are barbarians. We do learn that Ariel's mother was killed by a human, so I suppose Triton's disdain of humans is justified!
Speaking of family dynamics, Ursula is Ariel's aunt; Triton is her older brother. We find this out when we first meet Ursula and she's able to see everything with her magical orb. When she sees the Coral Moon ceremony, she mentions how they "forgot to invite Auntie Ursula to the party." I wonder how that works, though, since Triton is a merman and Ursula is an octopus. Yes, she does have the upper body of a human, but how did she get eight tentacles? I wonder if she transferred herself that way when she went to the dark side. We need an Ursula origin story!
Also, speaking of mermaid anatomy, don't mermaids need to go up for air? Aren't they, like dolphins? In that they can stay under water for a few hours at a time, then come up for air? Okay, I just looked up how long dolphins can stay underwater at a time and I was way off. It looks like they can hold their breath anywhere from five to ten minutes, maybe even twenty minutes, but not hours at a time. Maybe I'm thinking of whales. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that since mermaids are half human, you'd think they would need to come up for air too! But I guess they are part fish too, so the question is, do they breathe with lungs or gills? Mermaids are effing weird if you think about it.
"Part of Your World" is the first big song we hear and I think it's the best song in the movie and the one that translated best to this new film. Halle Bailey has a phenomenal voice that suits a Disney princess quite well. It still has the essence of the original, but she adds her own touch to it. I do love that when she later turns into a human, we see her reacting to a fire that's burning in the castle's fireplace and she reaches out to touch it, before recoiling from its heat. That's a nice callback from the line, "What's a fire, and why does it, what's the word? Buuuuuurrrrrrrrnnnnnnnnn!"
A difference between both movies is how much both species hate each other. In the animated movie, Triton is very anti-human, telling Ariel she's forbidden from going to the surface, but I don't remember the humans being so vitriolic towards the mermaids. If anything, they're just curious about them. After their boat has been capsized, the Queen attributes the shipwrecks and hurricanes to the "sea gods" and believes that "they are eroding our land from under us, stealing it back into the ocean." On the other hand (fin?), when Ariel is helping her sisters clean up the wreckage from the shipwreck, they all pretty much act like the humans did this on purpose. WTF? At least Ariel is like, "I don't think they intended to have a shipwreck." Yeah, and if you asked the Queen, she would tell you it was the fault of the sea gods. I could understand the mermaids being angry if they found trash thrown overboard by the humans, but that isn't this case at all. One of the mermaids says, "They'd kill us if they had the chance" which echoes what the Queen says about them. So both species thinks the other wants to kill them. This reminds me of Romeo and Juliet. Wow, I'm just name dropping all the literary greats!
Ariel has now become smitten with the prince and is humming to herself. Triton thinks this means she is in love, but he thinks it's with a merman. When he asks Sebastien about it, the little crab is so flustered and spills the beans that it's a human man, not a merman Ariel is in a haze about. Honestly, I'm kind of surprised that Sebastien was so nervous about it because Triton is joking with him because at this point he thinks it's a merman that has stolen the heart of Ariel, that Sebastien could have just denied the whole thing or tell the King he doesn't know who it is. But he lets it slide that Ariel is in love with a human and Triton is pretty upset about this. After he forbids Ariel from going to the surface and destroying the statue of the prince, Ursula appears in her magical bubble and Ariel asks who she is and Ursula replies, "You must not remember me. I'm your Auntie Ursula." There's a funny moment when Ariel replies, "The Sea Witch?" and Ursula drops her sickly sweet voice and deadpans, "The what?" I loved Melissa McCarthy's delivery there. She convinces Ariel to come see her, telling her she can help her and Ariel does, escorted by the two eels. Now the eels in the animated movie are named Flotsam and Jetsam, but I don't think they're named in this movie. They also don't talk like they did in the '89 movie, although they don't talk often in that one if I remember right.
So Ariel swims to Ursula's creepy underwater lair (okay, to be fair, I guess everything is under water!). As she goes through it, there's a skeleton of a mermaid, lots of mermaid skulls, creepy aquatic plants with eyes, fire that blows out of holes when she passes by, and weird sea plants that look like claws and grab at her when she swims by; one even grabs her around the throat. If I were her, I would have a lot of questions and concerns! I'd also be like, hell no, I'm getting out of here! Ursula calls it her "aggressive garden" and she calls her relations with with Triton "squidley rivalry".
So of course this is when Ursula tells Ariel she will create a portion for her to become human for three days and before the sun sets on the third day, she and the prince must share a "kiss of true love" and if that happens, Ariel will remain human permanently. If she doesn't complete this task, she'll turn back into a mermaid and will belong to Ursula. If were Ariel, I'd be asking, What do you mean I belong to you? What exactly does that entail? Ursula also adds that Ariel won't have her "siren song because that wouldn't be fair", which, okay, I get that, but why not at let her least talk? I know, I know, they're going by the animated movie and, also, Ariel could just basically tell Eric what's going on. Okay, that was a stupid question. Forget I asked it!
This is when we get "Poor Unfortunate Souls", another great song, although it doesn't have the oomph that the original did. You could tell that Melissa McCarthy as Ursula was channeling Pat Carroll (the original Ursula). I have stated before that "Be Prepared" (from The Lion King) is my favorite Disney villain song, but this is in strong contention for my second favorite.
When asked if she wants to go through with it, Ariel is hesitant and replies, "I don't know." I feel like the animated Ariel was also a little hesitant, but more ready to take the plunge (or opposite of plunge in this case!) while this Ariel seems to be weighing the consequences. Honestly, I think both options are pretty horrible. Yes, if she manages to kiss Prince Eric, she can remain human, but she'll never see her family again and even if she does come back as a mermaid, she's basically Ursula's little mermaid. I don't think I'd want to depend on Ursula to make the rules for me! But, of course, Ariel signs the contract (which includes plucking a scale from her tail and giving a drop of blood) and she gives up her voice to become a human.
Okay, before I continue, I forgot to mention "Under the Sea" which comes after "Part of Your World" and before "Poor Unfortunate Souls". It's the song that's probably the most popular from the movie, but it just isn't the same. The main issue I have with it is that Ariel harmonizes along with Sebastien, singing "Under the Sea" (uh, I mean those literal words, she doesn't sing the entire song with him, just to be clear!) In the animated film, she does humor him and bops her head a little at the beginning, but then towards the middle, she's barely paying attention anymore, and by the end, we see her swim off with Flounder. In this movie, she still swims off with Flounder, but it makes no sense that she's singing along with Sebastien and dancing to the music.
So Ariel becomes human right there in the depths of the ocean. You would think Ursula would let her swim up to the surface first, but this is Ursula were talking about. She's pretty deep underwater, wouldn't she get the bends? I don't think Ariel really thought this through because when she does surface (complete with the hair fling - which I know is an iconic moment from the animated movie, but I don't think it translated as well to the live version, but I do understand why they felt like they had to have it), she's completely in the middle of the ocean. Now in the animated movie, she's near land and she meets the prince within, like, five minutes, which was pretty convenient. Here, she (and Flounder and Sebastien) get caught up in the net of a fishing boat. Obviously, she is naked, but the nets and seaweed are covering her up. I'm sure this is one of the reasons why they changed it. This is when Scuttle scoops down and lands on Ariel's knee and makes a comment about how there's something different about her and Sebastien gets so irritated with her and says, "She's got legs, you idiot!" I love how frustrated Sebastien gets with Scuttle. Before the fisherman notices Ariel, Sebastien tosses Flounder back in the ocean and hides in a crate with other crustaceans. When the fisherman does notice her, he thinks she's a victim of a shipwreck and gives her something to cover up in.
They added a little twist to the plot when we get a scene of Ursula talking to her eels, telling them that she made sure Ariel won't remember she needs to kiss Eric. Wow, that's way harsh! I don't think this plot point was in the animated movie and not sure why they changed it. I guess this Ursula thought this Ariel would be able to make it happen and just wanted the security that it wouldn't.
Ariel is taken to the castle (I can't remember why she's taken there) and the maids give her a bath and when she tries to eat the soap, they just think she's really hungry. I laughed at the look Ariel gives one of the maids who tells her "Let's get that seaweed stink off of you."
I mentioned earlier how I thought it was way convenient how Ariel just comes across Eric at the beach in the 1989 version, but in this one, as the maids are dressing her (and they're giving this poor girl who's literally just learning to walk high heeled boots!), she hears them talking about him and how he won't rest until he finds the girl that saved him. As they say this, they realize that the girl in front of them might be the one he was talking about and they retrieve him. When Eric asks her what her name is, the maids tell him she doesn't speak and he realizes it can't be her since his mystery girl was singing to him. He tells her she's welcome to stay at the castle for as long as she needs.
Sebastien makes his way up to the room where Ariel is staying and at first he wants to get her back to the King and see if she can be a mermaid again, but he also doesn't want Ariel to be miserable for the rest of her life, so he agrees to help her kiss the prince. He realizes that Ariel doesn't have any recollection of this, that she just gives him a blank stare. As he later tells Scuttle when Ariel is out, "the thought jumps clear right out of her head". We get a funny moment (and perhaps a nod to the original fairy tale?) when Scuttle tells Sebastien that Flounder has filled her in on what's going on and asks, "Has Ariel killed the prince yet?"
In this version, they basically make Eric into a male human version of Ariel. Seriously, it's a little too on the nose. When Ariel is at the castle, she finds a huge room that is just filled with lots of paraphernalia from the ocean. So just like Ariel likes to collect human things from land, Eric likes collecting things from the sea! He has a little figurine of a mermaid that he found off the coast of Cartagena that he calls his "little mermaid" and tells Ariel that he "never believed all that lore about mermaids luring sailors to their deaths." He gives Ariel the mermaid as a gift since he has so much stuff from his voyages. He also shows her a huge fossilized sea stone and when he gives it to Ariel to look at, he's horrified when she smashed is on the ground, but then when she reveals a beautiful gem inside the stone, he's amazed. He's also amazed when he shows her a large conch shell and she blows into it, making a sound like a horn.
Ariel and Eric join in dancing to calypso music and Ariel picks out a straw hat for Eric. This hat will come in play later when it's becoming dusk and she and Eric are heading back to the castle. Scuttle nabs the hat and flies off with it and Ariel and Eric chase after the bird and end up at a lagoon where Scuttle has dropped the hat in a row boat. Eric sees that Ariel is interested in the boat, so they get in and start paddling. Scuttle tells Sebastien and Flounder (who are also there), "I think it's time for a little vocal romantic stimulation" and proceeds to do a "bow chicka wow wow" routine. I love how Sebastien just simply says "Please, no." If you haven't already guessed, this is when we get "Kiss the Girl". While I think it is so much better in the animated movie, I think it's really cute in this one. For one thing, in the animated movie, Sebastian has a whole orchestra of animals (fish and flamingoes among them) singing along, while in this one, it's only Flounder and Scuttle singing along with Sebastien so it's not as epic. When they sing the chorus, Scuttle screams "he's gonna MISS THE GIRL!" and Sebastien tells her, "pull back, Scuttle, pull back."
During the song's interlude, Eric shows Ariel the different constellations and tells her what they're called and mentions he still doesn't know her name and starts guessing random names. In the animated movie they just have Sebastien whisper her name in his ear, but in this one she pointes to the Aries constellation and when he says it, she puts her finger over his lips on the second syllable and I guess tries to make him say the "L" sound? I'm not really sure, but he gets Ariel and she nods enthusiastically. At first, I was wondering why she just didn't write it down on a piece of parchment, but then realized she probably doesn't know how to read and write. In reality, she probably shouldn't know English as if mermaids DID exist, they would probably have their own language. In the animated movie, there is some slight criticism because Ariel signs her name on the contact Ursula produces for her so it would make sense for her to just write down what's going on....although maybe she only knew how to sign her name? I don't know, but that's probably why they changed it to Ursula binding the contract with a scale and and a drop of blood. Anyway, the song continues and they are about to kiss, but their boat is tipped over and you see the two eels swimming away.
We see Ursula witnessing this with her magical orb and she says it was too close and she can't "let that happen again" and she decides to take "matters into her own tentacles." Obviously we know that this means turning into a beautiful human herself with Ariel's angelic voice.
While Ariel and Eric were out, carriages had been sent out to try to find the "mystery girl" and when they return from their outing and Eric has said goodnight to Ariel and she's gone to her room, Grimsby tells Eric that they didn't find his mystery girl. He asks him if they should continue the search for her. Eric seems unsure so Grimsby offers him some advice: "Don't be held back by what you think should be. Think only of what is." In other words, he's telling him he's obviously smitten with this girl he's already met and has gotten to know her and why would he bother looking for another girl who may or may not exist?
We see Eric outside on the beach, contemplating, I guess, when he seems to have an epiphany and starts running towards the castle. He stops suddenly when he hears the same singing voice that he heard the day he was rescued. He sees a beautiful girl with dark hair just standing on the rocks in the ocean like she just appeared there. Now in the animated movie they give her the name Vanessa, but I don't remember anyone ever calling her by a name.
The next morning Ariel finds out that Eric is getting engaged (through that horrible song I mentioned earlier!) and she thinks she's the lucky girl, but soon discovers that she's NOT the lucky girl he's engaged to. Of course, this devastates her and she runs away. She doesn't even seem to notice that Eric seems to be in a trance. (Because he's being brain-washed, that's why!) It's Scuttle who discovers that Vanessa (I'm just going to call her that) is actually Ursula and she goes to warn Ariel and the others. When she does, Ariel heads back to the castle and Sebastien tells Flounder to tell King Triton what's going on (we did get a scene of him earlier with his other daughters discussing how they've searched all seven seas and no sign of Ariel anywhere) and he tells Scuttle to fly him to the castle. There's a hilarious scene where Scuttle is getting close to the castle (she's holding Sebastien in her beak) and he tells her that he'll let her know when he wants her to drop him. He dumbly asks her, "Got it?" and when she replies, "Got it!", she drops him and he falls into the ocean below. Oh, man, I was laughing so hard at that part. I love how he screams, "You idiot!" as he's falling.
In this movie, it's the engagement party that they crash, not the actual wedding that they have in the animated film. I guess they thought it was a tad too early for Eric to get married to a girl he literally just met the day before! Scuttle starts attacking Vanessa, and Max, Eric's sheepdog, also joins in. There's a lot more creatures in the animated movie (I remember seals being there) that go after the disguised sea witch, but this one they keep the chaos down to a minimum. I also like how in this film it's Ariel who grabs the necklace around Vanessa's throat and just rips it off her and smashes it on the ground and regains her voice. In the animated movie, the necklace comes off during all the pandemonium and breaks on its own and Ariel's voice finds her way back to her. Eric seems to snap out of his trance when he realizes that Ariel is the girl he was looking for all along, that she was the one who rescued him and sang to him on the beach. They are about to kiss, but of course the sun goes down and it's too late - the curse has been broken and Ariel turns back into a mermaid as everyone gasps. Even more alarming, Ursula becomes her sea witch self again and she grabs Ariel and they both dive into the ocean where King Triton is there to meet them. Ursula tells him that if he gives himself and his trident up to her, she will let Ariel go and he takes that deal. She turns Triton into a small, pathetic part of her garden and takes his trident. Now I'm not sure exactly how far deep down they are in the water, but Eric swims down with a harpoon, trying to puncture Ursula, but misses. Ursula sends her eels after him and points the trident at him, but Ariel grabs her arm and she accidentally kills her eels with the trident instead.
Ariel is able to escape (although it's not like she was restrained) and she swims to the surface with Eric, telling him he needs to get out but he tells her he's not going to lose her again. This is when Ursula becomes a giant version of herself and creates a huge whirlpool. In the animated movie, it's Eric who saves Ariel by impaling Ursula with the bowsprit (I had to look that up on Wikipedia) of his wrecked ship, but in this movie they flip the script and have Ariel save Eric by doing the same thing. Since Ariel is still a (little!) mermaid, she can't exactly walk to the wheel and steer it in the direction it needs to go; instead she sort of slithers towards the wheel and it's very uncanny. It honestly kind of creeped me out and made me think of this book I read a few years ago called Into the Drowning Deep which is about creepy, murderous, bloodthirsty non-English (or any known language) speaking mermaids with grotesque bodies. It's a super gory book, but I loved every second of it and there is a shoutout to The Little Mermaid in it when one of the characters calls one of the mermaids "Ariel". If you don't mind your fairy tale image of mermaids being ruined and can handle a bit of gore, I highly recommend it.
So Ursula is killed and Triton and the other merfolk that Ursula had captive are released and returned to their natural size. Triton sees how much his daughter wants to be with Eric, so he transforms her into a human she's able to be with him. I really liked her wedding dress with the relaxed, beachy island vibes.
Overall, I think this movie was pretty good. Yeah, the songs just weren't the same, but at least they tried with making Ariel's and Eric's relationship based more on physical looks.