The Little Mermaid (2023)

Certificate: PG

Starring: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem

Release date: 2023

4 out of 5


Disney re-imagines another of their classic animated movies – in this case, 1989’s The Little Mermaid – and turns it into a live action adventure that manages to surpass the original.

A lot of that is down to Halle Bailey, who stars and utterly shines as mermaid Ariel. Ariel dreams of a life beyond the sea, and is fascinated by humankind but is banned from going to the surface by her father, King Triton (Bardem), following the death of her mother who was killed by a human. After saving Prince Eric (Hauer-King) and his men from a shipwreck, Ariel decides to defy her father and venture onto land, even if it means striking a deal with the conniving Ursula, who offers Ariel the chance to be human in exchange for giving up her voice.

This adaptation of the animated movie – itself taken from the Hans Christian Andersen fable – keeps much of what people love about the original, from classic songs like ‘Under The Sea’, ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ and ‘Kiss The Girl’ to Ariel’s sidekicks Flounder (the fish), Sebastian (the crab) and Scuttle (in the original a seagull, now a gannet) and also makes some changes that greatly improve the movie.

There are more songs – ‘Wild Uncharted Waters’ for Eric to sing and ‘For The First Time for Ariel – both of which add to the story. Eric’s song, and some character development throughout, turn him from a standard Disney prince (whose sole job in movies like Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty was, literally, to ‘kiss the girl’) into a flesh and blood man with a heart, soul and back story (he wants to help propel his small island home into the current century – whenever the fairytale is set), while Ariel’s new song underlines the fact that she wants to be human, not just because of some man, but because she has always wanted to be on land with the humans.

While some of the underwater sequences are a bit gloomy to look at (or realistic, as let’s face it, the ocean depths aren’t going to be sunny) and the film is quite long for a family movie (it’s 2 hours 15 mins), the story is funny and sweet enough to keep you engaged, while all the performances are a treat. McCarthy is deliciously dastardly as Ursula (who in this version is actually Triton’s estranged sister, which goes some way to explain how angry and hurt she is), Bardem makes for an attractive Triton, and Hauer-King gives life to the formerly forgettable Eric.

Meanwhile, Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay and Awkwafina bring charm to the undersea creatures they voice (who are little more realistic, and sadly less cuddly than in the animated version), and Alan Menken’s songs – plus the new ones, co-written with Lin Manuel Miranda – are beautifully arranged and performed (even if older members of the audience may snigger during Eric’s Wild Uncharted Waters, which is shot like a 1980s MTV video).

Ultimately, it’s a vibrant, fun, musical movie that should appeal both to grown ups and little ones (despite that running time) that is a delightful trip under the sea.

Is The Little Mermaid (2023) suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...

There is an early scene where Ariel and Flounder are chased by a shark that may scare very young viewers.

Younger (under 9) viewers may find Ursula scary, especially as her lair is quite dark and guarded by nasty eels Flotsam and Jetsom.

The final scenes, where Ursula uses Triton’s trident to conjure a storm and appear as a huge sea creature, may also frighten young and sensitive viewers (note to parents – she is killed by a wooden fragment from a boat but the death is not dwelled upon).


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