The Little Mermaid


‘…the whole package shouldn’t offend the memory of those who enjoyed the original as kids…it’s a measure of how ground-breaking the 1989 film was that most of the elements still shine brightly today…’

With CNN, Fox and most other media outlets preparing to divest Trump and DeSantis of their considerable fundraising war-chests as they fight to win what remains of a fragmenting GOP base, Disney perhaps wisely seem to have decided to dodge taking political sides as much as possible with their live-action version of The Little Mermaid. A venerable IP dating from 1837 that a spider-guzzling hermit living off-the-grid in a cave made from his own teeth might recognise, The Little Mermaid was the film that turned Disney’s fortunes around way, way back in 1989, and with a sky-high recognition factor, plus some iconic songs and characters, Rob Marshall and co clearly decided that not much change was required to a winning formula. That means no drag queens, no civics lectures on lesbian rights or other recent virtue-signalling Disney staples: we’re pretty much all set for an old-school sea-faring romantic adventure with Ariel (Halle Bailey).

You’ve probably heard this one already; Ariel is a little mermaid who falls for hunko Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) when she sees him falling foul of a storm. Ariel’s recently widowed and over-protective father King Neptune (Javier Bardem) forbids Ariel to have a relationship with a human, but his naughty sister Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) strikes a deal with the cheeky mermaid. Ursula offers Ariel the chance to walk the earth in return for her voice, with the proviso that Ariel must return if Prince Eric doesn’t kiss her within three days. That sets up our conflict, and despite Ursula’s interference, we sense a happy ending coming…

The Little Mermaid’s 2023 version is a far more relaxed affair than might be imagined in fractious times; there’s little of the forced wokeness or virtue signalling that critics like to complain about, aside from some added care about Eric’s motives when he tries to ‘Kiss the Girl’; women aren’t expected to take male actions as their cues and that’s worth a tweak. That song remains from the original, as does bumptious steel-drum showstopper Under the Sea; Sebastian the crab is now played by Daveed Diggs, with Awkwafina ideal as his seagull pal for an added song Scuttlebutt; the new musical material is affectionately mixed in by Lin Manuel Miranda, and the casting choices are generally spot on with McCarthy in particular a riot as the filthy sea-witch incarnate.

Despite generally copper-bottomed bankability, Disney’s live action films (Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, The Lion King, Aladdin) have been a pretty patchy collection to date, but The Little Mermaid should strike home with audiences; the songs undeniably pop, the fantasy appearance of the film is smartly realised, and the whole package shouldn’t offend the memory of those who enjoyed the original as kids. While the 80’s seem a long time ago now, it’s a measure of how ground-breaking the 1989 film was that most of the elements still shine brightly today, and while some will still seek to take up cudgels with the Disney brand to satisfy their own political base, The Little Mermaid should swim like a fish, so darling it’s better, just go where its wetter, that’s why it’s hotter, under the water; it’s still off the hook when you take a deep dive with Ariel and co under the sea.

Thanks to Disney for big-screen access to this title.

The Little Mermaid opens US/UK/everywhere May 26 2023.


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  1. There’s a fair chance I’ll miss this. it didn’t make the cut tlast week and won’t this week so who knows when I’ll ever get to see another rehash. How will I ever survive?

  2. Great review! You know, that film is not really high on my watchlist, but I kind of feel bad for all the hate Halle Bailey got/is getting. I saw an interview with her the other day and it almost made me want to see it!

    • I made a point of not mentioning the ‘can mermaids be black’ controversy because I’m bored with hearing about it; given that the story is set in the Carribean, it’s a non-starter as an argument. This wasn’t high on my watchlist either, having hated other Disney live action adaptations, but I can totally see how this should work for a family audience. What if they threw a culture war and nobody came?

  3. Well nope really, I had the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales book when I was a kid and The LM was my absolute favourite. The Disneyfication wasn’t great.

  4. Would you say it’s better or worse than the live-action “Beauty and the Beast”?

    Like B&B, I was the target audience when the cartoons came out, and loved them, so I’ve got a soft spot for these live-action nostalgia-fests. I’ll probably see this one.

    • I think it’s better than the Beaty and the Beast reworking, which was one of the better ones; Dumbo, Lion King, Aladdin, most of them are just horrid. This one should work for kids, families and yes, nostalgic adults. You should be in for a nice afternoon at the flicks with this one.

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