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The Little Mermaid (Film Review)

3 min read

Capturing the raw magic of an animated classic like is no easy feat. Steeped in decades of nostalgia, this tale has had fans charmed since its release in 1989; to see it come to life in was an announcement that roused excitement, and dread. Could it find its feet in modern waters? 

The Little Mermaid (2023), directed by Rob Marshall – known for Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Chicago (2002), and Mary Poppins Returns (2018) – is a joyful rendition that marries together the old with the new. New songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a perfectly chosen cast help rejuvenate the for contemporary audiences. And while it will undoubtedly bring childlike glee to all who see it, there is an obvious issue that's difficult to ignore: the CGI. 

All the vibrancy and depth this film attempts to explore cannot save it from the lacklustre finish of its visual effects. It's not that the CGI is poorly done, but rather it still isn't at a good enough level to allow audiences to fully immerse themselves in Ariel's world. We can't be a part of it because we're constantly reminded that this stunning world, colourful though it may be, is an illusion of a green screen. 

It isn't just the uncanny valley features of Flounder, Scuttle, and Sebastian that has viewers cringing through what's meant to be touching moments, but the very movement of the mermaids themselves. Their hair in particular feels disjointed from their bodies, its visually enhanced fluidity only succeeding in reminding us that these actors were very much on land. Every aspect, however well executed it was for its budget, felt off. 

Dramatic scenes of Eric risking his life to save Ariel, or of Ursula commanding the waves with venomous ferocity, can't hide the fact that The Little Mermaid isn't meant for live action. Marshall's interpretation is a spectacle, one which certainly leaves you feeling the warmth of childhood beckoning you back to a time of innocence, but it's missing that spark that turns a good film into an iconic classic. 

Still, while the visuals, or rather the technology behind them, lets this film down, the actors can't be praised enough. From the moment swims onto the screen, she is Ariel, without any shadow of a doubt. Her looks, her hair, her voice – they are nothing short of perfection. The same can be said of Melissa McCarthy's Ursula too, with her voice sometimes sounding exactly like Pat Carroll who voiced her in the animation. There were moments where, if you closed your eyes, you could be listening to the original word for word. And as for Prince Eric, Jonah Hauer-King finally gave Eric some character, some presence; he wasn't just this dark haired man with a title, he actually had something endearing about him. If this film is to be called a triumph, which is debatable, let it be because of the cast. 

Yet, for all their hard work, this live action remake still felt redundant…? It lacked innovation, with the story so untouched it delivered only what we already knew, with few surprises or alterations. Any changes that were included didn't manage to transport audiences somewhere new, but rather simply rounded out a tale we know oh so well. 

The Little Mermaid comes close to greatness, but it falls short because its ambition isn't matched by the final product. It never underwhelms, but every now and again it disappoints. Not in the actors who've made the roles their own, but in the way it can't translate the story we expect in our heads onto the silver screen. Ariel's world is too fantastical to condense down into two hours and 15 minutes of special effects, and no matter how much Bailey embodies the Ariel we know and love, her dedication to the role can't change that fact. 

The Little Mermaid is in cinemas now.