Monday 12 June 2023

REVIEW: The Little Mermaid (2023) Starring Halle Bailey

Review by Jon Donnis
In the latest attempt to upset people, Disney have released their woke remake of The Little Mermaid, a live action remake that no one asked for, and no one really wanted. Will it go the way of all of the other woke remakes that come out to great fanfare, everyone hates, and they get quickly forgotten about or will this one change the fortunes of Disney and prove that you can make films that are woke as well as good? Read on to find out.

Ariel (Halle Bailey), the youngest daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem), is a mermaid princess residing in Atlantica, the underwater realm ruled by her father. Despite being forbidden from exploring the human world after her mother's tragic demise at the hands of a human, Ariel's fascination with the surface dweller's realm only grows. She finds solace in collecting human artifacts, aided by her loyal companions, Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) a sergeant major fish, and Scuttle (Awkwafina) a Northern gannet seabird.

One day, Ariel fails to attend the important Coral Moon gathering with her sisters, resulting in a reprimand from Triton. Feeling disheartened, she gazes upon the night sky and witnesses a mesmerizing display of fireworks above the ocean's surface. Intrigued, she decides to venture upward for a closer look. As she emerges, a mighty storm strikes, causing a nearby ship, helmed by Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), to crash against treacherous rocks. With swift action, Ariel saves Eric from a watery fate and brings him ashore. Utilizing her enchanting siren voice, she sings to him, aiding in his recovery. However, she quickly retreats before he regains full consciousness. Once Eric is back on his feet, his adoptive mother, Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni), strictly forbids him from embarking on further sea voyages.

Ariel's absent-mindedness becomes a topic of discussion among her sisters, and Triton, curious about her recent actions, consults his advisor, Sebastian the crab (Daveed Diggs). Sebastian reveals Ariel's heroic act of saving a human life, inciting anger and disbelief in Triton. Fueled by fury, the king confronts Ariel in her secret grotto. Demanding her allegiance to never surface again, Triton resorts to destroying her cherished collection of human trinkets. Left devastated, Ariel finds herself approached by a pair of moray eels who introduce her to Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), the banished sea witch and Triton's estranged younger sister. Ursula, offering her assistance, presents an enticing proposition to Ariel.

Ursula says she will transform Ariel into a human for three days, during which Ariel must receive a "true love's kiss" from Eric to remain human permanently. If she fails, she will transform back into a mermaid and Ursula will claim her.

So it is pretty much the classic Little Mermaid story, but with a lot of race swapping to keep the far left happy, and a way to tick a load of diversity boxes, which in turn opens them up to the award nominations, which are now all based on affirmative action, as opposed to a film actually being any good.

With that said, I thought I would be fair and judge this film as a stand alone film, I will ignore the race swapping and diversity hires, and just try to enjoy the film. The first thing that struck me was the look of the film, Ariel just looks very dull, where as in the cartoon the hair is bright red, here it is kind of dirty brownish. They have tried to make the sea creatures look as real as possible, but then gave them little mouths to talk with that just looks a bit creepy. Just everything lacks vibrancy. It is like they took everything from the cartoon and thought "how can we make it look a bit crap".

Halle Bailey does a decent job as Ariel, she has a wonderful voice when singing, but she is terribly miscast here. I understand they wanted a black actress to play the part, but Halle Bailey is a relatively light skinned woman, and with the dull brownish hair, her entire appearance just seems washed out. In the first scene there is a shot of all of Ariel's sisters, bizarrely a mix of races, they all looked so much better, more attractive, the outfits more dazzling, and there is a dark skinned black woman Sienna King as Tamika, (which itself is a rewrite/race swap of the Aquata character from the original) with a huge afro that looks INCREDIBLE! Now I am not sure exactly how an afro would work underwater, but if we can accept talking fish then we can accept afros under water.

Either way why wasn't that actress cast as Ariel. If you are going to race swap, then do it properly, and do it in such a way that it is so visually incredible, that you soon forget that there was even a race swap. And actually how about instead of race swapping at all, why not create a NEW Mermaid story about a black skinned, afro haired princess, a story that can exist alongside the original. It is beyond offensive to just race swap beloved characters and think that will keep minorities quiet. I understand why Disney chose Halle Bailey, as they needed someone who they could digitally make even lighter skinned for the Chinese release. Keep in mind Disney have no morals, and have happily worked with China in the past, and used slave labour from the genuinely oppressed Uyghurs.

So the look of the film is a dud, Halle Bailey is miscast, what about the rest of the film? Javier Bardem as King Triton is an ok choice, I like Bardem, and he plays the role of King in an acceptable way. Prince Eric is ok I guess. Melissa McCarthy as Ursula is a strange choice, doesn't really work. Remember to ignore all of the various accents which exist despite everyone living in the same area.

This is a hard film to like, mainly because it looks so god damn awful. The CGI is poor, Ariel's hair makes no sense. The new songs in the film are terrible, and even the songs you know from the cartoon, are just filmed in a weird way. The magic and colour of the cartoon has gone, and has been replaced by a dull film that is just not pleasing to the eye.

Young kids don't care about realism, they want to be entertained, and this film fails in that respect.

Poor casting choices, a dull appearance throughout, awful new songs, and just a not very good film.

If you are going to remake a classic, from cartoon to live action, just do a near perfect recreation, don't try to change it, as it will only make it worse, and in fact if you want to remake a classic STOP, don't do it, it will be awful regardless. Instead write NEW and exciting stories.

The Good
Halle Bailey has a wonderful voice. I loved the look of the sisters at the start of the film, all beautiful actresses, and the outfits looked amazing.

The Bad
Just everything else, a dull film, a dull look, dull new songs, just dull.

You can't be half pregnant, and unfortunately this is what this film is. Poor casting, unoriginal characters, awful new songs and such a dull appearance.

I understand I am not the target audience for this, but much like all of the other woke Disney remakes, this will be quickly forgotten regardless of box office numbers.

I score The Little Mermaid a generous 5/10 (I gave a few extra points because I liked Sienna King as Tamika, and wish the film would have been about her).

Out now in cinemas.