big shiny robot | ‘The Little Mermaid’ review

There are two main thoughts when it comes to remakes/reboots of beloved classics and those are, “how dare you play with perfection” and “show me what you got”. I am in the latter category. As film techniques change and writing and acting improve, I am always open to seeing how a story can be retold in a modern age. Disney’s remakes, however, have been on shaky ground for most of their outings because many almost feel like nostalgia cash grabs. Sure, the jungle book it was fantastic but Aladdin, Beauty and the Beastand to a lesser extent, The Lion Kingthey all felt like they existed simply to make us relive our childhood and hopefully buy some toys if we had children of our own now. The little Mermaid I had every chance to get it right, and the trailers promised us that this was a world we wanted to be a part of, so it’s so disappointing that it feels as lifeless and boring as it should be exhilarating and magical.

I think we all know the story of the animated classic, so we can skip the synopsis, okay? Alright.

I want to touch on the positive aspects first. Halle Bailey, who plays Ariel, is phenomenal and has the vocal chops to sing the tunes better than ever. Her curiosity about the world above is genuine, and the excitement she shows when she wears a dinglehopper for the first time or when she learns to dance is contagious and captivating. In a word, she is perfect and has a long and successful career waiting for her that she deserves.

Melissa McCarthy is perfect as Ursula chewing up the scenery with delight as she teases and tempts Ariel from within and above the depths of the ocean. She knows exactly what her role is supposed to be, and she revels in it.

I wish everything else was as tall as them.

When you have this fantastic world under the sea full of bright colors, talking fish and singing mermaids, it should be one of the highlights of a movie. But why does it feel so dull and lifeless? It’s not that it’s not pretty or vibrant, but it doesn’t feel special. Things get a lot better when you’re on dry land, but there seems to be something missing that makes these underwater moments so smooth. This is where we should have the most fun and sing, but there’s no energy and it feels like a broken promise. Maybe it’s the lackluster CGI or the bizarre artistic choices used to anthropomorphize Ariel’s animal friends, but it almost feels creepy.

What doesn’t work either are the new songs. Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) can sing decently well, but his song doesn’t sound as strong as Ariel’s song “I want,” and we won’t even get into Awkwafina’s performance. Who thought it was a good idea to give him a musical number?

Ultimately this had a chance to be great and not just great but a new classic. The pedigrees of the story, the music, and the lead actors gave it a huge advantage (pun intended) in creating something none of us could ever forget. Instead, we got a half-hearted remake that feels cold and dead. I’m extremely happy that this should launch Halle’s career, but other than that and the occasional few flashes of promise scattered throughout, I can’t recommend it enough. There’s not much here worth saving, and I doubt even making a pact with the Sea Witch is enough to make this the movie it should have been.