The Little Mermaid Is Charming Spectacle Of Sights And Sounds

I must admit that I may be biased about this movie, being a huge fan of all things Disney. However, the popular and beloved original The Little Mermaid was released in November 1989, about 6 months before I graduated high school. Not really the age to be that interested in an animated movie about a mermaid who trades her voice away to be able to live where the people are. But of course, I still watched it and I, like many, definitely loved the songs. The storyline? Not so much.

When I first heard a live-action version was in the works, my initial response was tepid, “That’s nice.” Only when I heard a person of color would play Ariel was my curiosity really piqued. As a minority, when many asked, “Why?”, I thought, “Why not?” I was very moved when I saw the videos of young Black girls reacting excitedly to the first trailer when they discovered Ariel looked like them, further answering the many still asking “Why?” with “This. This is why.”

If you’ve seen the animated version, then you know the gist of the story – young mermaid Ariel, played beautifully by Halle Bailey, is fascinated by the world above the water and collects all the human thingamabobs that litter the sea floor. She rebels against her father, King Triton, the handsome Javier Bardem, by giving in to her curiosity and ends up rescuing the merchant Prince Eric from drowning when the ship he’s sailing is caught in a treacherous storm. Ariel is instantly smitten and Prince Eric, played by the perfectly-cast Jonah Hauer-King, is equally obsessed with the voice he heard as he was revived by Ariel’s siren song.

While obviously geared towards a younger audience, I found much to love about this movie. Jodi Benson’s original version will always be perfection, but Halle Bailey’s emotional rendition of “Part of Your World”, coupled with her luminous and expressive face, was just phenomenal. I had to temper my applause after her performance while a few appreciative “Whooo!” sounded through the audience. Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula and her iconic “Poor Unfortunate Souls” was definitely a highlight. Daveed Diggs as Sebastian (also inspired casting) and Awkwafina as Scuttle need their own spinoff. They’re hilarious together.

Alan Menken’s classic songs from the original were given new life by McCarthy, Bailey, and Diggs, and Lin Manuel Miranda’s signature touch is easily identifiable in the new ballads for Ariel and Prince Eric, and a Hamilton-style rap by Awkwafina and Diggs.

I appreciated the parallel stories with the prince just as curious about the world beyond his island as Ariel is about the world beyond her ocean, both bound by duty to their parents and their people, while yearning to explore the great “out there”. In all my Disney and Pixar movie-watching experiences, it has consistently been Pixar movies that get me emotionally compromised, so I was a bit surprised to find myself reaching for a napkin at the end of this movie, after a scene between Ariel and her dad. I will blame it on the nostalgia.

4 out of 5 stars just for the musical performances alone.