Growing up, I have fun memories of watching The Little Mermaid (1989) multiple times, often as a means for my parents to entertain my siblings and me. When I heard it was getting the live action remake treatment, I was skeptical of Disney’s ability to recreate a movie that took place underwater a majority of the time. Then I saw the extended runtime and thought they changed the movie completely. Every live action remake so far has made changes to the original that seemed unnecessary, and while this one may fall to the same flaw, there were some changes I really enjoyed.
When Mulan was released, one common criticism was the absence of any original songs in the movie. However, Disney took a complete turnaround in this remake by not only retaining the original songs, but also introducing new songs. The new songs provided additional context to characters we hadn’t gotten with the original. I personally feel that these new songs were not necessarily required, but I found them enjoyable. I am relieved that the familiar and beloved songs remained faithful to the original. Halle Bailey was really impressive as Ariel, and gave a stunning performance for “Part of your World”, along with the other musical numbers. Daveed Diggs, who portrayed Sebastian, truly carried the film with his incredible voice acting. The best example of this is without a doubt my favorite part of the movie, “Under the Sea”. The digital effect artist found ways to bring the fun animation of the original into live action for all the songs, but I was particularly impressed by this one.
The decision to release this movie six months after Avatar: The Way of Water really did not help the CGI in any way. While overall it appeared decent, there were noticeable discrepancies in the level of effort put into certain scenes compared to others. It seemed as though the production team relied on the notion of “if we showcase the character swimming from a distance, we don’t need to animate as much,” and used this approach the entire film. At least five minutes of the additional 45 minute runtime was Ariel swimming in an empty ocean. The main issue I had with the CGI was hair, which is understandable and difficult to portray underwater, but Ariel’s iconic red hair is crucial to her character and it was hard to not watch for mistakes in the animation when they were common. On the other hand, I thought the general marine life was animated pretty well, creatures that looked realistic enough to be recognizable.
Unlike previous remakes, it appears that Disney took a different approach with The Little Mermaid. In the past, their strategy seemed to target fans of the original movie, aiming to attract them to the new live-action adaptation. The Little Mermaid felt like they were trying to create a fresh version for a new generation to fall in love with. The film succeeded in not taking anything away from the experience for those who deeply cherish the original film. However, it is evident that they have also made efforts to introduce certain additions or alterations to the story, aimed at reaching a broader audience. While it may not be a visual masterpiece, or win best original song at the Oscars, it’s the best Disney live action remake yet and worth the watch.