This Disney remake sinks and swims.
I’ve met Jodi Benson twice in my life, and told her both she and Ariel were beautiful, and she couldn’t be anymore delightful towards me and all the adoring fans who were glowed by her performance in Disney’s 1989 animated classic “The Little Mermaid.” She’s also the kind of person who sympathizes autistic people, especially the way Ariel had to lose her voice, and anyone who needs to see a friendly face in such troubling times.
She can also see the glowing nature inside Halle Bailey, who is a singer within the sister musical duo Chloe X Halle, and the new leading lady of the live action remake. And the minute she finishes singing the first verse of “Part of Your World,” the audience is clapping, not booing.
We have our reactions towards the live action Disney remakes. They can be massively entertaining like “The Jungle Book,” or mediocre like “The Lion King,” or disastrous like “Pinocchio.” And I have my reservations towards this “Little Mermaid,” directed by Rob Marshall (in his first entry since “Mary Poppins Returns”), and while it still doesn’t keep all the magic John Musker and Ron Clements put in the classic, it’s miles ahead of how Robert Zemeckis remade “Pinocchio” last year.
You know the story as Ariel dreams of being part of the human world, falls for the human Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), and makes a deal with the evil sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) to become a voiceless human for three days. And she has until sunset to have him “kiss the girl.” That’s why she has sea friends like the King’s major domo crab Sebastian (voiced by Daveed Diggs), the preteen fish Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), and the gender-swapped feather brained seagull Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina).
A laughable comment that has been burning in fans is Scuttle being able to breath and talk underwater, which is impossible, according to science. And I suppose the filmmakers thought that if SpongeBob can have fire underwater, then why can’t Scuttle talk and breathe underwater. And I better stop saying “underwater” pronto. At least, that’s for a short while, because Awkwafina is actually comical in this voice role.
And I think Jacob Tremblay is a little overexposed as the voice of Flounder, while Javier Bardem isn’t all that convincing as Ariel’s father King Triton. This little fish should have been voiced by someone a little more mature at this time, and Bardem has nothing on Kenneth Mars’ powerful voice.
But the casting isn’t without its benefits. Bailey shares a near-similar magic as Benson with her youthful spirit and singing voice. And she’s not alone. McCarthy has a wickedly fun attitude as Ursula. Diggs does a better job singing and speaking with a Jamaican accent than Sebastian’s dinner appearance can give him credit for. Hauer-King has courage as Eric; Art Malik channels nicely on Ben Wright as his butler and confidante Grimsby. And Noma Dumezweni does a wise job playing his adoptive mother.
The songs here are also better and more vibrant than the cover versions in “The Lion King,” especially since Lin-Manuel Miranda gives Alan Menken a hand with some new songs, including a rap song between Sebastian and Scuttle. And I actually had more fun seeing them on land, than “under the sea,” because they can be more fun and less gimmicky, especially when a familiar face shows up.
I’m sure little kids won’t appreciate Ariel’s entrance in Ursula’s lair or when she has to cut off a scale from her tail in the contract. In fact, being real, it’s apparently supposed to be darker than the animated version. All I can say to the parents is, “At least this mermaid doesn’t turn into foam,” which isn’t really saying much.
No mermaid movie can top the 1989 animated classic. You remember my reaction towards “The King’s Daughter.” This remake can be magical thanks to Bailey’s voice and Marshall’s direction.