[Nightmarish Detour Review] THE LITTLE MERMAID

[Nightmarish Detour Review] THE LITTLE MERMAID

To be honest, I’ve never connected with Disney princesses. The fantasy and fairytale genres were never relatable to me. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. They lacked diversity and felt almost closed off to me, but I LOVED musicals. So, Disney’s “Renaissance” era of animation films still caught my attention because they gave us so many Broadway-worthy ballads. Two of the most popular of them were Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. Both were composed by Broadway musical icon Alan Menken, whom horror fans will know for his work on Little Shop of Horrors, the music was really what drew me to them. So, despite not really identifying with the main characters, I watched them repeatedly on VHS. I learned all the words to the songs. I sang them at the top of my lungs.

Another element I connected with, especially regarding Disney films, was the embrace of the darker side of things. The elements of horror that Disney peppered into their movies enthralled me. They always had amazing hair and makeup. They were ambiguous. Sometimes they weren’t even human, and they also always had the BEST songs in the movies. So, when I had the chance to see the live-action version of THE LITTLE MERMAID, all these elements that I loved, needed, and wanted came together to make a thoughtful and diverse film.


Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID l Disney.

THE LITTLE MERMAID has the same bones as the original animated movie, but it’s not afraid to be its own thing. It spends its time really putting detail into its characters, fleshing them out, and making sure their connections and interactions are meaningful. With a new look at an old classic, this also means an opportunity for new and updated songs. It’s not a Disney Renaissance property without everyone singing about their feelings.

Composer Alan Menken returns this time collaborating with Lin-Manuel Miranda to bring us two new songs. Audiences will get to enjoy “Scuttlebutt” sung by Daveed Diggs (Sebastian) and Awkwafina (Scuttle) as well as “Wild Uncharted Waters” sung by Jonah Hauer-King (Prince Eric). Then there are the classic songs, the ones that have become almost cult-level iconic bits of pop culture. Halle Bailey’s version of “Part of Your World” had the audience applauding immediately after she hit the last note. You can hear the longing and the soul in her voice – pure and sweet – as she completely transforms into Ariel.

Halle Bailey IS Ariel

[Nightmarish Detour Review] THE LITTLE MERMAID
Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID l Disney
Halle Bailey embodies Ariel, especially in defiance of initial backlash from some fans regarding the blind casting. Blind casting in Disney films has proven to be a successful choice. We’ve seen this with 1997’s Cinderella featuring Brandy, another black actress who broke barriers playing a character that was initially portrayed as white in the animated version of their film. Halle Bailey is no exception to this circumstance.

Even when she can’t speak, she executes a warm and expressive performance. She more than fills the shoes (or should I say fins) of her predecessor, Jodi Benson, the original voice actress for Ariel. Halle Bailey really is the heart of this film, and I cannot wait for an entire generation of black children to see her shine and feel the connection to a Disney princess that I wish I had when I was their age.

But what is Ariel without her counterpoint and antagonist Ursula, who is portrayed by Melissa McCarthy. When I was a kid, the scene in the animated version of The Little Mermaid where Ursula grows to a towering height once she finally gains King Tritons’ powers was horrifying and delightful to me. Disney always manages to drop elements of horror into their films and the live-action film intensifies these scenes. Even the ocean itself becomes an adversary to the characters from the beginning of the film and, at its center is Melissa McCarthy, our Ursula.

Ursula came to play

Melissa McCarthy as Ursula in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID l Disney

We experience this within the first few minutes of her interactions with Ariel. This is also where some of the cinematic elements from the film stand out as they are much darker and more gruesome. Sharp-eyed horror fans can even spot a possible nod to The Evil Dead. This version of Ursula feels like the stakes are higher. She’s craftier and even more desperate for power.

While McCarthy has all the elements of Ursula and nails the voice, I would have loved the same amount of work put into fleshing out her character and giving her meaningful motivation. She is the most like the original character in this iteration, but she left me wanting something more. I would have loved to see more time spent developing her character especially since she is one of the central characters in the plot.

Overall, the live-action version of THE LITTLE MERMAID is one of the most successful adaptations of a previously animated film I have seen. Children will love the classic story and adults will appreciate the thoughtfulness in updating a movie from their childhood. I hope Disney will continue to make bold choices when fostering diversity and I can’t wait for an entire generation of kids to enjoy both a character that looks like them and the songs that the character sings.

THE LITTLE MERMAID splashes into theaters on May 26th.

Ashleeta Beauchamp
Nightmarish Detour

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