The Little Mermaid (2023)

It’s here!! It’s finally here!! After what felt like an eternity of waiting, countless criticism and scrutiny, we finally have the live action version of The Little Mermaid, starring the one and only Halle Bailey!

If you know me, you know I love The Little Mermaid. This story has been so special to me since I was a little girl, so of course I was over the moon excited when we learned that it wasn’t only being remade into live action, but that the casting meant a whole new look for my favorite siren, one that’s much closer to my own look than the Ariel I grew up with. I immediately fell in love seeing Halle as Ariel with her locs, it’s everything I could have wanted as a little girl.

Going into the movie, while I was excited, there were headlines that gave me pause and made me think, “great, they’re going to change the plot” because people, in my honest opinion, seriously misinterpreted Ariel’s ambitions in the 1989 film. Watch the movie again, people, she NEVER “gave up her voice for a man.” Ariel wanted to be a human way before laying eyes on Eric. When people go on and on and on about how The Little Mermaid is a bad story for young girls and how they’d never let their daughters watch it because of “regressive” themes, I just know they either haven’t actually watched the movie or they lack the skills to understand the plot of a PG-rated film. And it really did make me nervous, going into the film, that Disney was going to go back on the story and change Ariel to be uberfeministic (not that feminism is a bad thing, obviously, but I think Ariel was feminist enough back in 1989 without shoving it down our throats). But even with that possibility in mind, I couldn’t help being excited to finally see this movie.

Even though the official release date is today, May 26, I got tickets to go see it yesterday on May 25, and I took my favorite lady with me to see it: my mom. Shoutout to her for introducing me to The Little Mermaid all those years ago. 🙂 Now that I’ve had some time to sit with the film, I’m ready to talk about this silly little story, the changes that made me so nervous months ago, and why I think we all need to chill the fuck out a little bit when writing think pieces about Disney films.

The Music

  1. I have to admit, Halle’s rendition of “Part of Your World” left the tiniest bad taste in my mouth, simply because it was so different than Jodi Benson’s, with all the extra flourishes… but then I remembered, that’s Halle’s thing. Her singing style is pretty unique, and once I got over the fact that she sings the song differently than how I’d been used to hearing it since I was, like, 3, I really enjoyed it. Now I love it. I think it’s a beautiful version of Ariel’s signature song, and they picked a perfect voice for it.

    Ariel’s also got some new songs, too, which I really appreciated. When she finally makes it on land sans voice, we still get some songs that act as inner dialogue for Ariel as she tries to win over the prince and that was pretty fun.
  2. Scuttlebutt: A lot of people are going to say Scuttle’s new song is horrible. I am no Awkwafina fan, and you will be hard pressed to find me defending the woman ever, BUT… I thought Scuttlebutt was a cute little addition to the movie, and that’s all I’ll say. It was cute.
  3. Prince Eric’s song was a much welcome addition, as well! He’s not the most interesting part of the movie (how can he be when the movie’s about a freaking mermaid?) but I really appreciated getting more emotion and desire out of this version of Prince Eric than we did in the original. I quite liked his song.
  4. Poor Unfortunate Souls: Now this one, I had to have a little talk with myself about my purist ways when it came to the lyrics of this song. Like I said earlier, I was very nervous going into this knowing how people who misinterpret cartoons felt about this song, and I kind of thought they’d outright just not have Ursula’s big number in the movie at all. Silly, I know, but this movie’s had a ridiculous amount of scrutiny attached to it from the jump and I don’t think it’s crazy to think the minds behind it would want to appease the loud and incorrect as much as possible, and one of those ways being to just get rid of this unnecessarily controversial song altogether.

    Thankfully, that’s not what happened; Melissa McCarthy gave us a damn good song… minus a few lyrics. Instead of telling Ariel “it’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man” the movie just brushes right past that part and fills it with dialogue until it continues with the “go ahead, make your choice” line. Initially… I was annoyed. I cursed Disney as cowards (I still think so a little, honestly) for bending to the will of people who don’t seem to understand that, yeah, Ursula’s lyrics are problematic… but she’s a f*cking VILLAIN. WE AREN’T SUPPOSED TO AGREE WITH OR CONDONE HER WORDS. It’d be a totally different story if King Triton or Sebastian said those words, they’re on our heroin’s side. But Ursula isn’t and I wish Disney would’ve stuck to their guns and left the lyrics in. Why is it such a bad thing that the bad guy said something bad? Did y’all expect Ursula to give Ariel good advice? Use your brains.

    And this is why I had to have a little talk with myself. Sure, I think the choice to take those lyrics out was misguided, but I don’t think the movie suffers from it overall. It does, however, make this villain anthem a hell of a lot less fun.

    I could go on for years about how stupid I think people’s dislike of Poor Unfortunate Souls is, but on a happier note, I did think Sebastian’s rewrite of one line in Kiss the Girl was cute. “Use your words, boy, and ask her” is a change I can live with.

    Moving right along.

The Cast

I can’t say enough how much I love Halle Bailey having been cast as Ariel. I love it a million times over. Jonah Hauer-King, however?? I was blown away by his portrayal as Prince Eric! I thought he was fantastic, and he even looks like Prince Eric, down to the dimples! I never cared much for Eric in the animated version, but Hauer-King’s portrayal of the prince was simply delightful. He brought the much-needed charm to the role that made me actually root for him and Ariel getting together in the end.

Surprisingly, as well, while I initially wasn’t thrilled with her casting, I thought Awkwafina did a pretty good job voicing Scuttle. Her nails-on-a-chalkboard voice is actually very fitting for a seagull. Good job, Awkwafina.

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, on the other hand, felt… stiff. I think she did a fine job overall but she almost seemed uncomfortable giving some of her lines, and that took me out of the movie a little. In some places it was all too obvious that she was a person playing a character. Plus, her dialogue was waaaayyyyy too expository for me. Disney still hasn’t quite grasped the concept of “show, don’t tell” and I think it’s a disservice to Ursula’s character and the audience. Just because the movie is intended for kids doesn’t mean we need to be spoon fed character motivations. Give the audience some credit and let them figure it out for themselves. But that’s not Melissa’s fault, I know.

I don’t have much to say about Daveed Diggs as Sebastian. His Caribbean accent was… certainly an accent. But his line delivery was pretty good in some places, and I thought he was actually pretty funny.

The casting choices might not have been my top picks for these roles, but after watching the movie, I’d be lying if I said they were horrible choices. I think each actor did their best to make their character fit who they are as people, instead of trying to fill the shoes of the actors from the original film.

“Daddy, I love him!”

Another glaring omission, but, honestly, I don’t mind it. I can’t say if removing it necessarily added anything to the story for me, but it’s a change I can also live with. I guess they were going for “See? She’s not boy crazy in this version!” But she wasn’t boy crazy in the first version either, so…

Ariel’s Sisters…

Now, this one is a gripe. I was excited to see Halle as a mermaid, and just as fascinated with her sisters, who are supposed to be from each of the seven seas. A fantastic concept that I felt like wasn’t explored even a fraction of how much it should’ve been. Yeah, the story’s about Ariel, but with the movie being over 2 hours long, surely they could’ve shown us a little more of Triton’s daughters.

Also… who did Simone Ashley piss off? I saw pictures of Princess Indira all over the internet leading up to the film and as far as I recall she appeared for maybe half a second on the screen. And in one of the shots her head was cut off and I could only tell it was her by her tail. Weird.

Prince Eric… Was A Foundling?

I’ve been watching The Mandalorian lately, forgive me. But I thought Prince Eric being the adoptive child of the royal family was a pretty neat expansion of the prince, in addition to his song. For me, it made a lot more sense that the castle’s helpers would bring Ariel to the castle because Eric was also once found at sea. Without that detail it just makes no sense why anyone would bring a random mute girl to the royal palace. But they did include that bit of our Prince and it really worked for me.

Ariel’s Return to Eric

Okay, last real gripe with the movie. At the end of the original, Triton and Sebastian watch Ariel, reunited with the sea and her voice, look longingly at Eric after they defeat Ursula. Triton decides to turn her back into a human and she’s given a beautiful sparkly gown. She meets her prince and they’re given Triton’s blessing to be together. Well, that kind of happens in the live action, but instead of a gorgeous gown, Halle’s Ariel just kind of pops up behind Eric in the same little dress she went galavanting around town in earlier. LAME. Give me some drama, Disney, damn. You took away the importance of ✨body language✨ the least you could do is give me a sparkly dress.

All in All…

Those were the most noticeable changes made in the live action version for me. If I missed any, they must not have been big enough changes for me to really care. All in all, I really enjoyed watching this film. I even shed a little tear at the end when Ariel and Triton say their goodbyes.

It’s no surprise that this movie is going to get a lot of negative criticism. From the jump people were frothing at the mouth to speak ill of it. They’ll disguise their disdain for representation with flowery phrases that really just boil down to “Disney went woke and I’m mad about it” but if my hypercritical behind can enjoy this film, anyone can. It’s far from perfect, and I, too, am growing weary of live action remakes being announced every three business days, but I think a big part of being able to enjoy a movie like this involves taking off your critical thinking cap, and just watching it for what it is: a fun story about a little mermaid.

Once I stopped being so damn critical and pessimistic about the remake, I really enjoyed it. And I’m not just saying that because I love The Little Mermaid (1989) or because I’m excited, as a Black woman, to have Ariel be reimagined as a Black woman. If I didn’t like this movie, I’d say so. But I loved watching it, because it was fun and that’s all it’s intended to be.

I’m so incredibly happy we finally have this version of The Little Mermaid, and I hope everyone who goes out to see it this weekend enjoys it as much as I did. 🩷

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