Features Movie Review

The Little Mermaid (2023): Look at This Film, It’s Actually Neat!

The Little Mermaid (2023) Movie Poster

The bar for Disney’s live-action remakes is at the bottom of the ocean. It’s no surprise that people doubt any of the newest launches of Disney’s live-action remakes. One of them is a live-action with the same title, based on the beloved 1989 animation The Little Mermaid, which is also derived from a literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.

Rob Marshall, well-known for directing both Mary Poppins Returns (2018) and the Broadway musical Chicago (2002), took on the director role for The Little Mermaid live-action. At the same time, writing credits went to David Magee, the scriptwriter for the live-action, as well as the scriptwriters for the previous animated version: Ron Clements and John Musker. The film was joined by an all-star cast, including Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy, Awkwafina, Daveed Digs, Noma Dumezweni, and Jacob Tremblay. A first-timer as a leading actress in big-budget film production, Halle Bailey has been chosen to portray Ariel, the compassionate and curious leading mermaid (read: character). Jonah Hauer-King, another underrated and first-timer actor in big-budget film production, was cast as the dashing and adventurous Prince Eric.

The Little Mermaid live-action follows Ariel (Halle Bailey), a curious, free-spirited, good-natured young mermaid who is fascinated by the human world despite never seeing it. One day, she misses the Coral Moon meeting, where she and her sisters gather with their father, the king of all merfolk in Atlantica, Triton (Javier Bardem), as a result of collecting human objects beforehand alongside her best friends, Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) and Scuttle (Awkwafina). Her curiosity about the world above leads to constant arguments with her father. Triton forbade any merfolk to go above the surface after the death of his beloved wife. That does not stop Ariel from getting near a ship, which happens to be Prince Eric’s (Jonah Hauer-King) ship, and rescuing him from the shipwreck. After that, Eric becomes another reason for her to want to live above in the human world. It all goes downhill when Triton hears about the news and argues outrageously with Ariel, which drives her away to the sea-witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy). After making an unbreakable deal with Ursula by trading her voice, Ariel is now a human with a goal to win the prince’s heart in three days, or else she will turn back into a mermaid.

Disney’s live-action films are known to be only a cash grab without any new creativity or nuance. Although live-action films such as The Lion King, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast are box-office hits, critics and moviegoers alike are giving unfavorable reviews about them. Meanwhile, The Little Mermaid hit the box office with a 68% Tomatometer and 94% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with 7.2/10 on IMDb. Even though the casting choices had created a conflict among the fans early on, Halle Bailey proved them wrong when The Little Mermaid finally launched on May 26th. Halle Bailey was mesmerizing as she embodied the spirit of Ariel and her melodious, captivating voice. Bailey expressed the idea that her version of Ariel is more nuanced than the animated version. “I’m really excited for my version of the film because we’ve definitely changed that perspective of just her wanting to leave the ocean for a boy,” she says. “It’s way bigger than that. It’s about herself, her purpose, her freedom, her life, and what she wants.” 

A live-action remake usually has a few changes from the original material. This time, the live-action fleshes out Eric’s backstory. He’s not just the prince charming and love interest of Ariel anymore. The film depicts Eric as an adopted child of Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni), who loves to sail across the ocean and collects sea artifacts, a perfect contrast to Ariel, who loves the human world and collects human objects. Jonah Hauer-King brings out the adventurous yet gentle side of Eric. 

Nevertheless, it is unfortunate when a chosen character has more screen time in the remake while another character has less, such as Flounder. It is odd to watch Ariel without Flounder by her side most of the time. The idea of Ursula being an estranged sister of Triton in the early production of the animated version has been brought back in the live-action. Unfortunately, that idea is not delivered strong enough to impress me. Although the songs and singing sequences still have the same tone as the animated one, some of the live-action performance still suffers from the dullness of CGI, like Under the Sea and Poor Unfortunate Souls.

I remember feeling skeptical about the idea of The Little Mermaid being a live-action. The Little Mermaid animated version had been a constant companion throughout my childhood. If you follow the track records of Disney’s live-action, most of them lack the magical and alluring story that most people associate with Disney animation. After watching The Little Mermaid, I thought the film was not as terrible as its predecessors. Indeed, it can look dull and unappealing sometimes with the amount of CGI. Some performance changes, like Melissa McCarthy’s Poor Unfortunate Souls performance, can be pretty underwhelming compared to Pat Carrol’s original rendition. Most of the time, I enjoyed watching The Little Mermaid at the theater. I liked that the new version of Fireworks and Fathom’s Below became one performance. I squealed when Ariel answered Eric’s question about her name in her own way without the help of Sebastian, making their chemistry further explored. I love how the film starts with Hans Christian Andersen’s quote, “But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more”, and we never see Ariel shed tears once until the end of the movie, where she cries happy tears for finally becoming a real human and live happily ever after with Eric.

Compared to other live-action remakes I’ve watched, The Little Mermaid doesn’t damage the memory of the original that much. Because at the end of the day, Disney live-actions are cash grabs relying on people’s nostalgia and familiarity rather than further exploring new possibilities and delivering compelling visual storytelling.



Weaver, J. (2023, May 26). The Little Mermaid’s biggest success? It’s not as terrible as live-action remakes can be. CBC.

Murray, T. (2023, March 21). Halle Bailey says her Ariel will be more ‘nuanced’ than original: She won’t just ‘leave the ocean for a boy.’ The Independent.

Bahr, L. (2023, May 26). Movie Review: Disenchantment under the sea in live-action ‘The Little Mermaid.’ AP NEWS., O. (2023, April 12). Halle Bailey says the live-action “Little Mermaid” will show more of Ariel’s “passions and what she wants for herself” alongside her love story. Insider.


Journalist: Kenar Syalaisha Kanayana

Editor: Nanda Pratama Putera Tomasila, Ruth Tirza Arina (QC)


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