Review – Something’s Fishy (“The Little Mermaid”)

In the never-ending and depressing saga of Disney turning all their beloved animated classics into live-action remakes (because $$$), we have The Little Mermaid, the teenage mermaid who wants to be a human. However, with all of the lousy Disney remakes, a light finally shines through!  

Taking elements of the 1989 animated feature film, the Broadway musical, and an original screenplay by David Mcgee (Mary Poppins Returns) and mashing them all together, we have Ariel (Halle Bailey), the youngest of King Triton’s (Javier Bardem) seven daughters and, even though she’s forbidden to check out the human world she does it anyway, saving Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from drowning after a terrible shipwreck. Ariel gets advice from Flounder the fish (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), a bird-brained underwater diving Gannett–not a seagull this time around–named Scuttle (Awkwafina), and the King’s majordomo, Sebastian the crab (Daveed Diggs). . . which are screen accurate as to their appearance instead of being cartoonish.

Triton, whose hatred of humans stems from them killing his wife, forbids Ariel from ever seeing Erik again, which makes Ursula, the sea witch (Melissa McCarthy) very happy. She’s ready for some sweet, sweet revenge on her brother (King Triton) and does the deal with Ariel for her voice. Ariel, now human and mute, meets Eric and the movie now switches to a full-on rom-com, as Eric’s caretaker, Grimsby (Art Malik), and his adoptive Queen mother (Noma Dumezweni) look on. Eric and Ariel really hit it off, much to the ire of Ursula who decides to become human (Martina Laird) and fool Eric into believing she’s his one true love. Oh no! The third act is a triumphant spectacle of recreating the 1989 animated finale and wow! They really pull it off with impressive results!

I hate remakes, especially the recent batch of Disney remakes and reimaginings that have been dredged up lately. This movie, however, is the one that breaks that cycle. . . finally! Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into The Woods) knows how to shoot a musical and does it right. Starting with Magee’s screenplay which spins the already well-known story into familiar and new uncharted waters, makes this remake a cut above the others that tried so hard and failed so epically. It still retains its whimsy and kid appeal, while flavoring it with a Lifetime rom-com spin, and throwing in some dark, harrowing moments. A tricky balancing act, but it pulls it off beautifully with only a few plot holes and gaps along the way. Marshall takes his time in this long 135-minute film which lets you really know the characters and care for them. And his direction is outstanding.

Speaking of outstanding, Halle Bailey as Ariel is awesome and gives the signature song, Part Of Your World, a fresh new R&B beat. Damn, this girl can sing! Her chemistry with Hauer-King is wonderful and she treats Ariel less like a spoiled brat and more grounded. Just terrific. Bardem is great as Triton, but the scene-stealer is by far McCarthy as the treacherous Ursula. Honestly, it’s the best role I’ve seen her in years! She captures Pat Carroll’s oozing, sensual voice and really belts out her Poor Unfortunate Souls song. Some reimagined songs don’t quite work (Under The Sea) while others do (Kiss The Girl). There are even some new songs like For The First Time which is quite good and a rap ditty (The Scuttlebutt) which is goofy and for kids. You can thank Lin-Manuel Miranda for those. All in all, this is finally the winner we’ve been waiting for in the sea of ghastly remakes. Grab the kids (or just yourselves) and go see it!

**Now playing only in theaters

The Little Mermaid (1989)

This is the one. The classic Disney animated musical that kicked off a resurgence in Disney animation; a new Golden Era, if you will. Prior to this, they made the disappointing The Black Cauldron, The Fox and the Hound, and Oliver & Company. After Mermaid came a stream of animation masterpieces like Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast, and The Lion King.

Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s horribly depressing story for kids (read it sometime!), this beautifully animated and colorful feature film sees Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson), an impetuous and strong-willed 16-year-old mermaid who, against all her father’s many rules, swims to the surface and sees a ship passing by. Naturally, she falls head-over-flippers for handsome Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) on board, completely forgetting about her concert debut with her six other sisters, and her very cantankerous vocal coach, Sebastian the Caribbean crab (Samuel E.Wright). Balled out by her dad, King Triton (Kenneth Mars), Ariel seeks solace in her Cave of Solitude but is found out by daddy and her BFF, mischievous Flounder (Jason Marin).

Utterly depressed, Ariel is approached by the nasty sea witch, Ursula (Pat Carroll) who offers her a deal/trade: her voice for a pair of human legs! This way she can go on land and woo the Prince, but there’s a price to pay. Mute Ariel must get the Prince to fall in love with her and kiss her in three days. . . or else!! Helping her out are Sebastian and Flounder, but when things start to get dicey, Ursula decides to cheat and use her black magic. Written & directed by the super team of Ron Clements & John Musker (Aladdin, Hercules, The Great Mouse Detective), this movie won over both children and adults. Throw into the mix the amazing songwriting duo of Alan Menken & Howard Ashman, and you had yourselves an instant winner with catchy songs that were all #1 hits.

So popular was this movie that it broke box office records, won a slew of awards (including three Academy Awards), spawned a direct-to-DVD sequel and prequel, and a TV animated series. And let’s forget the incredibly popular Broadway musical which made tons of money. It also has had its share of controversy, not so much in the movie but in the cover artwork. The original The Little Mermaid VHS cover showed, what many have described it as, “a penis castle”, due to the obvious phallic-looking tower in the background. I have it and yeah, it’s pretty apparent. Rumor has it, a disgruntled Disney artist did it on purpose just after he was fired. Whether that’s true or not, we’ll never know.  

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