The Little Mermaid: Critics torn between ‘ugly visuals’ and ‘luminous’ Halle Bailey

Many critics are divided over the hugely anticipated Disney film

Annabel Nugent
Tuesday 23 May 2023 05:25 BST
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Little Mermaid trailer

The Little Mermaid is finally here, and the reviews are in.

The much-anticipated live-action film is a remake of the 1989 animated film, which featured the voice of Jodi Benson as Disney princess Ariel.

The forthcoming film stars Halle Bailey as the red-haired mermaid and Melissa McCarthy as the villainous sea witch Ursula.

Its soundtrack is co-written by Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda (previously behind Disney films including 2016’s Moana and 2021’s Encanto) and The Little Mermaid’s original Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken.

The Little Mermaid is slated for a UK theatrical release this Friday (26 May). Ahead of its release, early reviews of the movie have landed and the verdict is… out.

The Independent’s Clarisse Loughrey gave the film two stars, writing in her review: “Nice casting can’t cover up the ugly visuals and lack of creative risk.”

Loughrey singles out Bailey as a highlight, writing, “There’s such a luminous quality to her desires, and an intensity to her desperation, that she digs down deeper into Ariel than anyone ever has before”.

Ultimately, however, the actor cannot escape the “real stink of obligation” that surrounds the film.

Film Review - The Little Mermaid

The Guardians Ellen E Jones agreed, writing in their own two-star review of the film that besides the casting of Bailey, “almost everything else about this flops about like a dying fish”.

Jones praised the talented voice cast of Daveed Diggs (Sebastian), Jacob Tremblay (Flounder) and Awkwafina (Scuttle), but noted that “the things that are cute or funny when done by an anthropomorphised cartoon cuddlies are no longer cute or funny when done by computer-generated sea-life approximates with no recognisable facial expression”.

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NPR’s Aisha Harris wrote that The Little Mermaid “is the latest of Disney’s poor unfortunate remakes”.

“Yet while Bailey is charming and expressive, her interpretation of Ariel doesn’t fully embrace the edgier, mischievous side of the character that came across so clearly in the 1989 version’s animation and as voiced by Jodi Benson,” wrote Harris, who noted that it’s “certainly lovely” to see Bailey’s casting as Ariel given she is the first Black Disney princess since Tiana in The Princess and The Frog.

“Nor can a Black Ariel make up for subpar renditions of classic songs (the vibrant Oscar-winner ‘Under the Sea’ is dead in the water here) and the cringe-y addition of new songs by the studio’s current go-to music man Lin-Manuel Miranda, which include a dull, forgettable ballad for Prince Eric,” added Harris.

Film Review - The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid fared better with Empire magazine’s Helen O’Hara, who awarded the film three stars.

“It’s longer than the original, and its colours less vibrant, and it doesn’t entirely justify its existence,” wrote O’Hara. “But credit where it’s due: a solid cast and heroic VFX effort carry it along, and the new songs are pleasantly catchy.”

Peter Dubruge at Variety largely praised the film, writing: “Halle Bailey is all the reason that any audience should need to justify Disney revisiting this classic.

Film Review - The Little Mermaid

“Director Rob Marshall found his Ariel, and together, they’ve made a keeper.”

Similarly, Alex Diggins at The Telegraph was a fan, awarding the film four stars.

“Halle Bailey brings charm and vocal power to Rob Marshall’s excellent reboot of the Disney classic, never mind some bizarre special effects,” he wrote.

The Little Mermaid hits cinemas in the UK on Friday (26 May).

In a new interview with The Observer, McCarthy – who plays Ursula – recalled how she once worked for someone who created such a “hostile” set environment that it made her “physically ill”.

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