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The Little Mermaid review: Halle Bailey's musical fantasy should just have been a bedtime story

The Little Mermaid has the right intentions, but it isn't as enchanted a timepiece as it could have been.


Last Updated: 11.55 AM, May 24, 2023


The Little Mermaid tells the story of Ariel (Halle Bailey), a beautiful little mermaid who longs for adventure. The youngest and most independent of King Triton's daughters visits the surface and falls in love with the handsome Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). Even though mermaids aren't supposed to talk to humans, Ariel has to do what she thinks is right. Her life and her father's (Javier Bardem) throne are in danger as she makes a pact with the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) to gain land expertise.


The deepest ocean holds the deepest secrets and a lot of shipwrecks. The Little Mermaid introduces Ariel (Halle Bailey) while she is away from her home, where King Triton (Javier Bardem) is holding a meeting with his daughters, different mermaids who are inclusive. However, Ariel, being the youngest and most rebellious, is far away and inching towards the shipwreck along with her cute fishy friend Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay). There she finds man-made stuff, which includes monoculars, iron statues, and even the whole ship.

This shows that she is different from others in every way. The mythical tale added to our bedtime stories while also giving an imagination of how a fish-tailed beautiful woman aspired that people above the surface of water are more colourful than the sea people. But that's the nature of things: what we can't attain is desirable, and we wish to ask for more.


However, we are treated to the dark world of the ocean as the live-action brings out more of the real side, which the animated version whisks off like a child's play. When a rock strikes Prince Eric's ship and causes it to sink, thriller mode starts. However, Ariel comes in to rescue him and instantly gets attracted to him. Well, that's the fairytale we have been taught about for decades.

The musical fantasy film has music that keeps on hitting like waves but is snoozier until the peppy track Kiss the Girl comes in. Well, it's also filled with fantasy moments, which are mesmerising to watch when it's under the sea. However, two hours and 10 minutes is too long a runtime for a film whose story is known by every generation around it. If it was a bedtime story, we would have been wrapped up in a jiffy to have a sound sleep. The movie does the same, and that's not a good thing.

Rob Marshall, who has directed the film with a screenplay by David Magee, fails to stay afloat and makes you feel intrigued by the mythical love story between a human and a mermaid.

There are a few scenes that could have been cut short, especially those featuring Bardem, whose magnificent presence hardly becomes a catalyst for the story. Even the sister mermaids, featuring Lorena Andrea as Perla, Simone Ashley as Indira, Kajsa Mohammar as Karina, Nathalie Sorrell as Caspia, Karolina Conchet as Mala, and Sienna King as Tamika, are introduced as characters, and that's it. They all feature to show that all mermaids are fair, as the earlier story featured. The inclusivity that sparked a controversy over casting was blurred out when you watched it on screen, as it's a beautiful world, be it on land or in the deepest of oceans.

Moreover, the carriage journey for Eric and Ariel after she becomes a human and the dance sequence on the beach add more minutes to the running duration, making it a drag. When there's a Kiss the Girl song coming up, these sequences just don't add anything to the screen time, even though they show Ariel's first day as a human on land.

In performances, Halle Bailey is so beautiful as Ariel and mesmerising to watch. When the hint of sunlight hits her face while she rests on the ocean bed, you know the casting has been done right. The actor's melodious voice, which is an asset in the movie, is also soothing to listen to, but when she is mute, her childlike innocence keeps her performance rolling well.

Jonah Hauer-King as Eric doesn't bring that charm that the animated character actually brought, and yes, that's too much of an expectation. Bailey becomes the show-stealer throughout, which lacks his mere presence.

The talented Melissa McCarthy portrays the main antagonist, Ursula the Sea Witch, whose tentacles enhance both her appearance and her evil laugh. The actor, however, is overwhelmed by the CGI, which dips down her performance, which could have been a great watch on Broadway.

The best were the voiceovers by Awkwafina as the voice of Scuttle (the northern gannet) and Daveed Diggs as the voice of Sebastian, the loyal crab to the King. It's too much fun to watch their banter regarding the kiss between Ariel and Eric. Especially the song The Scuttlebutt, which awakens you instantly. Well, the rap between a gannet and a crab—who will not enjoy it? The fact that Awkwafina is now voicing Scuttle in place of Buddy Hackett is a welcome change.

The Little Mermaid has its moments, but it's not something that aspires to stay with you despite breaking the monotony in many ways. It takes you out of the world, but not with out-of-the-world content.


If Lin-Manuel Miranda is involved in a musical project, you expect magic, which we saw with Disney's Encanto, released in 2021. However, The Little Mermaid has its heart in the right place, but not a magical watch as it should have been.


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