Thursday, May 25, 2023

Review of THE LITTLE MERMAID (2023): Resolute Yet Reckless Romantic

May 25, 2023

Ariel (Halle Bailey) was a headstrong young mermaid who had a fascination with the human world above, against the wishes of her father King Triton (Javier Bardem). One night, Ariel rescued a drowning Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) when his ship got caught in a sudden strong squall and sank. Ariel brought him to shore, and revived him with her siren song. She went back into the sea when Eric's men came looking for him on the beach.

Meanwhile, King Triton's evil sister Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) tempted Ariel with a chance to get human legs and go live on the land with the man she loved, in exchange for her beautiful voice. Ariel had to be able to make Prince Eric give her the kiss of true love in three days. Because she had no voice, Ariel's friends -- crab Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), tropical fish Flounder (Jacob Trembley) and diving bird Scuttle (Awkwafina) -- had to come along to help. 

African-American singer Halle Bailey was announced to be portraying Ariel in July 2019, and since then, this casting was met with controversy. However, after watching the teasers, trailers and then the full movie, it was clear that her race really did not matter after all. Bailey nailed the challenging role in both its acting and singing demands. She captured Ariel's wide-eyed innocence and idealism, being so resolute yet so reckless. 

Melissa McCarthy went full-on campy in her portrayal of the evil sea witch Ursula and her despicably catchy solo song "Poor Unfortunate Souls." Jonah Hauer-King had the princely bravado of Eric down pat, although he seemed too old for Bailey's Ariel even if they were only 5 years apart.  Javier Bardem only had a few lines to say, but his expressive face delivered the fatherly nobility of King Triton with full emotional connection.

Another aspect of the film that would draw comparison would be the song numbers. The best one for me was definitely "Kiss the Girl" in terms of atmosphere, singing, visuals, and emotional buildup to the song's climax. The lighting of the "Part of Your World" was quite dim which rendered the details unclear. For "Under the Sea," the choice of sea creatures like jellyfish and snakes in the dance ensemble made it feel rather strange. 

Like Beast had his own solo song in "Beauty and the Beast," Prince Eric also had his own solo number with "Wild Uncharted Waters." I felt the rendition of Hauer-King was too over-dramatic and was marred with his awkward gestures. The lively Caribbean musical stylings of lyricist Lin Manuel Miranda was most felt in Scuttle's delightful song with Sebastian entitled "The Scuttlebutt" about the news that Eric was about to propose to someone.

The computer-generated imagery for final battle scene between the giant Ursula vs. Eric and Ariel was problematic because Ursula's face could hardly be seen. This climactic scene was also remarkable because this live version changed who would deliver the final blow that would win the fight. In the 1989 animated original, it was Eric who rescued Ariel. Here, in keeping with the female empowerment, it was Ariel who rescued Eric (again). 

This live-action version of "The Little Mermaid" is almost an hour longer than the original animated version. It introduced us to Eric's mother the Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni) and fleshed out Eric's butler Grimsby (Art Malik) more. It gave more details of Eric's back story, his plans for his kingdom. Like other live-action versions, it was not really necessary, but this one was actually quite well-done, not as bad as initially anticipated. 7/10. 

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