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Review: Disney's 2023 'The Little Mermaid' is heavy on nostalgia, light on purpose

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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The Little Mermaid
3 out of 5 Stars
Rob Marshall
Writers: David Magee, Hans Christian Andersen, Ron Clements
Starring: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rated: PG for action/peril and some scary images

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Studio Synopsis: The beloved story of Ariel, a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure. The youngest of King Triton’s daughters, and the most defiant, Ariel longs to find out more about the world beyond the sea, and while visiting the surface, falls for the dashing Prince Eric. While mermaids are forbidden to interact with humans, Ariel must follow her heart. She makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, which gives her a chance to experience life on land, but ultimately places her life – and her father’s crown – in jeopardy.

Review: Let’s start with a confession and a disclaimer. I’m not a fan of Disney’s animated adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Released in 1989, the film came at a time in my life when I was in the early stages of being a doom and gloom bunny who wasn’t interested in a loose, romantic adaptation of a Danish cautionary tale. To be perfectly clear, I hadn’t read Hans Christian Andersen’s story, I was only aware that radical revisions had been remade. It was simply unacceptable for a 14-year-old pessimist.

I’d like to tell you that my bias against the 1989 version wasn’t a factor in how I viewed 2023’s adaptation. I can't. The problem being that 2023’s version does everything it can to take audiences back to the look and feel of the 1989 film. For those of you who loved the original, this is good news. As someone who found it lacking, none of the minor changes and additions made any difference. In fact, some of the changes just don’t really make any sense. And while there will be those who say the altered lyrics, an inserted spell of amnesia, additional time spent with the prince, and the happiest of endings forward some kind of “woke” agenda. I don’t see it. For me, the film doesn’t really say much at all. It’s not like the narrative challenges the audience or ends with a question mark. It’s all tied up in the nicest of bows (while giving space for a sequel).

Performances are strong across the board. I have zero issues with Halle Bailey as Ariel. I don’t think that Prince Eric needed an expanded part in the film, but Jonah Hauer-King plays the clueless entitlement that is royalty with the proper amount of pretty-boy aloofness. I like Melissa McCarthy as Ursula.

The film is too long. There are numerous beauty shots where nothing is happening. The visual effects aren’t great. I found most of the underwater scenes to be incredibly cartoonish and unconvincing. I disliked the design of Sabastian. I would have cut Flounder entirely out of the film (or given him far fewer lines).

There are four new songs. They aren’t seamlessly inserted into the story, but they mostly work well enough. The exception being Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap performed by Awkwafina and Daveed Diggs. It is terrible.

2023’s “The Little Mermaid” is largely 1989’s “The Little Mermaid.” If you’re a long-time fan of the 1989 adaptation, I think you’ll at least enjoy this new version’s faithfulness to Disney’s first adaptation. If you weren’t a fan, I don’t really see anything here that is going to radically change your opinion.

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