The Little Mermaid 2023 Movie Review
The little mermaid ( The Little Mermaid , 2023) is a remake of the 1989 film of the same name, which in turn was based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen published in 1837. In the same way as the animated film of the The eighties significantly altered the original story, the 2023 film has enormous differences with its predecessor, although it uses most of the songs and a large part of its script. The big difference is that one is animated and the new one is with live actors, or something like live actors, since they are surrounded by digitization on all sides.
Most movies reflect the values, themes, and fashions of the time in which they are made. The little mermaid is no exception, but it is always good to remember that ideological demagogy is not a current invention, although today it feels more exaggerated than ever. A movie desperate to fit in like The Little Mermaid will always be less interesting than one that seeks to explore limits and question the situation. There is nothing innovative, sophisticated, or artistic in this two-hour, fifteen-minute musical, an extension that proves the inability to economically tell a simple story, even when its audience is mostly children.
The songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman marked a milestone in the history of the Disney studios to such an extent that they were the beginning of a new golden age for the studio when The Little Mermaid (1989) became a huge hit that spread to the following titles. There would be no remake of the movie without those songs and in fact the whole joke is to see again the story that everyone loved. But it is not the same movie nor does it have the same spirit. The fairest thing would be not to compare them, but it’s hard not to. In other words, if we don’t compare them The Little Mermaid (2023) is just a horrible movie with a couple of good songs. It is not fair to compare them because somehow an irrelevant feature film is given entity.
Ariel (Halle Bailey) is a rebellious little mermaid who dreams of the human world. Her father, Tritón (Javier Bardem, hilarious, but in her bad sense) has forbidden her from going to the surface, warning her how dangerous the human species is. Ariel, of course, doesn’t listen and that’s how she discovers Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) while she spies on what’s happening on a ship. A storm wrecks the prince and crew, and Ariel saves him. They both fall in love at first sight, but the prince is abandoned on the beach by Ariel before he finds out that she is a mermaid. Willing to do anything to be with her beloved, Ariel makes a pact with Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) the sea witch to obtain legs for three days, after which she will lose her soul. The price for the exchange is the voice of Ariel,
Going from animation to live action has its problems. To start with Ariel’s friends, the Flounder fish is an insurmountable embarrassment, simply because when looking for realism they only have a digital fish that moves its small mouth without much expression. The crab Sebastian is a little better, but still a long way from having a personality. And Scuttle changed species and sex-she is now a female-, to fit the logic of the script and the time. The rest suffered the understandable updates, as always happens with remakes, but none of them in pursuit of improving the film. In animation everyone talking underwater works, in the world of live action it’s a permanent distraction. Of course, when Triton is seen out of the water, it looks like an advertisement for prefabricated pools, so it better stay underwater.
Another unusual element is the darkness of the film. I don’t mean the story, but the image. There are at least a handful of scenes where you barely see what’s going on. The happy color of The Little Mermaid (1989) has almost completely disappeared. The new version has no joy. The only bright moment is his most important song, Under the Sea , where you can almost enjoy the movie that could have been. The rest is an awkward stream of poor ideas to try to make a reasonable remake. Effort is already a very bad sign.
And this is where the two responsible for the catastrophe come in. Director Rob Marshall and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, both producers on the film. Marshall is a great destroyer of the musical, a man who has done his best to make a handful of films that seem like the product of a genre hater. As for the unbearable and overrated Lin-Manuel Miranda, it simply has to be said that his main task here was to change the lyrics of some songs so as not to hurt sensibilities. The colorblind casting is not so serious because in the end it is not relevant, so something else is approved. We know that she couldn’t do the reverse change, but the protagonist is fine, nothing happens. But the lyrics are bad. They took away the phrases that Úrsula -the villain- says to Ariel, for example. The witch tells her that men don’t want a woman to have a voice and thus convinces her. She’s the villain, that’s why she lies! But today’s world can’t even support the arguments of the villain to deceive the heroine. She, at least, is still a villain, because at this point even the bad guys are at risk of continuing to exist. They took some good songs from her and added some bad ones, all so that she lasts more than two hours.
Rob Marshall said that if the film was successful there would be sequels. We don’t wish a failure on anyone, but the most serious consequences would be if someone thinks that Howard Ashman, who passed away decades ago and to whom the film is dedicated, would have written the changed lyrics and new songs that appear here. Disney has long since stopped caring about the cultural legacy of its cinema, but these films are as sad as they are angry. The Little Mermaid (2023) never manages to find identity or tone, nor does an editor who takes out a third of its duration, which is clearly unnecessary.