Saturday, May 27, 2023

Review: Halle Bailey is the Heart of Disney's Eye-Popping "THE LITTLE MERMAID"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 23 of 2023 (No. 1912) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Little Mermaid (2023)
Running time: 135 minutes (2 hours, 15 minutes)
MPA – PG for action/peril and some scary images
DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
WRITER: David Magee
PRODUCERS: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Marc Platt
EDITOR: Wyatt Smith
COMPOSER: Alan Menken
SONGS: Howard Ashman (lyrics), Alan Menken (music), and Lin-Manuel Miranda (new lyrics)


Starring:  Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Norma Dumezweni, Art Malik, and Javier Bardem and Melissa McCarthy and the voices of Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, and Awkwafina

The Little Mermaid is a 2023 fantasy musical and drama film directed by Rob Marshall and released by Walt Disney Pictures.  It is a live-action remake of Disney's 1989, Oscar-winning, animated film, The Little Mermaid.  Both films are loosely based on “The Little Mermaid,” the literary fairy tale authored by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1837.  The Little Mermaid 2023 focuses on a young mermaid who longs to live in the human world and makes a terrible deal to do so.

The Little Mermaid introduces Ariel (Halle Bailey), a mermaid princess and the youngest daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem), ruler of the merpeople.  Ariel is fascinated with the human world despite never having seen it, as Triton forbids all merfolk from going to the surface.  However, Ariel collects human objects that sink below the surface of the sea.  She hides them in a grotto with the support of her best friends, Flounder (voice of Jacob Tremblay), a fish, and Scuttle (voice of Awkwafina), a seabird.  Furious that Ariel has missed a meeting with him and her sisters, Triton commands Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), a crab, to watch over her.

Ariel eventually swims to the surface where she comes upon a human sea vessel.  The ship, from an isolated island kingdom, is commanded by kingdom's Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King).  Eric tells his confidant, Sir Grimsby (Art Malik), the kingdom's Prime Minister, that he wishes to explore the unknown seas in a bid to help his people, but he knows that his mother, Queen Selina (Norma Dumezweni), is against such exploration.  Hearing that, Ariel considers Eric a kindred spirit.

After she saves Eric's life, Ariel is determined to visit him on his island home, but as a mermaid, she does not have legs.  Fortunately … the sea witch, Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), says that she has the magic that can make Ariel human so that she can be with Prince Eric.  However, the price is Ariel's beautiful singing voice, and, unknown to her, the fates of her father, their kingdom, and Eric.

I was not sure how Disney would pull off creating the undersea world of The Little Mermaid, especially the merfolk and other sea creatures.  Silly me: in the wake of Avatar: The Way of Water, The Little Mermaid could certainly pull off a water world that isn't nearly as ambitious as Avatar's – and still look good.  Under the sea and on land, the production design, art direction, set decoration, costumes, and environments are all dazzling.  The result is a stunningly beautiful film in which the undersea world looks a real, but still magical environment.  The island kingdom of Queen Selina seems like a kind of Caribbean utopia-lite, but it is both fantastical and inviting.  I want to see more of it.

The computer imagery creates merpeople that are beautiful, although it is not until the end of the film that we see the full dazzling array of merfolk, no two looking alike.  The special effects that turn Halle Bailey into a mermaid is try cinematic magic; she is a flawless, beautiful creature.  Ariel's trio of animal friends and helpers: Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle resemble real animals, and I was surprised how good Sebastian looked.  I thought he'd be a disaster as a CGI animal.

The performances – both acting and voice roles – are one of the elements that really makes The Little Mermaid work.  Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, and Awkwafina give winning voice performances as Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle, respectively.  Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric holds his own next to Halle Bailey as Ariel, which is not easy.  Melissa McCarthy is shockingly good as Ursula, and I didn't expect that.  I was sure she could not pull it off, although I am a fan of her work.  Her performance, which takes inspiration from the late actor, singer, and drag queen legend, Divine, gives this film the dark fairy magic energy that it needs.

Screenwriter David Magee cleverly spins something new out of old sources, but he is also respectful of the original film.  What the new film lacks in the original's charm, it makes up for by seeming more consequential.  Magee also benefits from having the classic songs of the late lyricist, Howard Ashman (1950-1991), and composer, Alan Menken, from The Little Mermaid 1989.  Also, contrary to some complaints, Lin-Manuel Miranda's new songs and new lyrics for two of the original songs both serve this film quite well.

The true star of this film is Halle Bailey, however.  Rob Marshall makes the most of Halle's natural gifts, especially her soaring singing voice, photogenic looks, and winning personality.  The ads for this film are not lying; when Halle sings, the waters part.  With Halle as his star, Marshall delivers his version The Little Mermaid that can stand on its own, apart from the Walt Disney animated classic that is its source.  Yes, I find The Little Mermaid 2023 to be a tad bit too long, but I was surprised.  The Little Mermaid is much better than I expected, and it feels like a true Disney fairy tale film.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Saturday, May 27, 2023

You may visit the Amazon LITTLE MERMAID page here.

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