Cinematic Releases: The Little Mermaid (2023) - Reviewed

Image courtesy of Disney

In 1989, Disney released what is arguably one of its best classic animated features. The Little Mermaid sparked a renaissance for the studio then and is still a popular film today – so it was just a matter of time before it received the same treatment as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast with a live-action and CGI blended reimagining. Director Rob Marshall creates a richly imagined tropical kingdom in which to set the adventure, fleshing out the characters and enhancing the story.


Young mermaid princess Ariel (Halle Bailey), youngest daughter of the undersea King Triton (Javier Bardem), is obsessed with the world of humans on dry land, collecting everything she can salvage from shipwrecks and pining over her own lack of legs. When the King’s sister Ursula the sea witch (Melissa McCarthy) realizes she can blackmail Triton with Ariel’s life, she tricks the little mermaid into a deal by which she will become a human for three days – but she must receive the kiss of true love from her crush, the prince of the kingdom, Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). Ariel gives up her voice as collateral, and sets out to win the young prince’s heart, while he continues to search for the woman who rescued him from drowning with intention to wed his savior.


Eric, as a character, was practically a cipher in the original animated version, but he is given a lush backstory here as a shipwrecked foundling adopted into the royal family, who himself keeps a grotto of treasures from all over the world. The relationship that forms between he and Ariel feels much more natural, as he slowly discovers his twin flame in the strange, silent girl who combs her hair with forks. Ariel’s animal friends are rendered more realistically here, Scuttle (Awkwafina) designed as a northern gannet rather than a seagull. Daveed Diggs takes the role of the calypso crab Sebastian, who joins Ariel in the castle to watch over her while the sea king has no idea where she has gone. 


As a whole, the adaptation is colorful and enchanting; the seaside castle and town square are bursting with diverse life, and most of the songs from the original film (composed by Alan Menken) are performed with enthusiasm. A few new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, including a song Eric sings to the waves as he struggles with his feelings, add some satisfying notes to even out the score. As classic as the original is, this version feels a bit more complete, giving voice to the personalities of characters that didn’t have much of a role before. Stylistically, the underwater scenes especially are done with wildly lively, dynamic shots. The diversity both in and out of the water are celebratory details, and there are even some scenes which added a darkness to the film that didn’t exist in the animated story.


The Little Mermaid has always been an enchanting tale about sacrifice and belonging, and it stands as a charming reimagining of the beloved tale alongside its predecessor. While some of the original Disney animated canon might not work quite as well in these varieties, this one tells its story with beautiful visuals and fantastic music. It’s a perfect film for families to dive into.

—Dana Culling