The Little Mermaid review: Halle Bailey brings Ariel to life
Why was Halle Bailey cast as Ariel in this live-action version of the popular 1989 cartoon musical? Well, after 10 minutes, the answer is obvious. Lily James and Emma Watson have been charming at bringing other Disney cartoons to life — 2015’s Cinderella and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, respectively — but Bailey is in a different league. She’s a phenomenal singer, actress, and “loony lip curler”… but more on that later.
Much of the cartoon’s plot has been tweaked. Screenwriter David Magee introduces plenty of new characters; He’s added loads of hot topics. You want new songs? Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alan Menken take care of that four.
But at the heart of the matter nothing has changed. Ariel, the rebellious daughter of the misanthropic sea king Triton (Javier Bardem), falls in love with the intrepid, very human prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and saves him from drowning.
Desperate to be a part of Eric’s world, she enlists the help of her aunt, the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), and agrees to give up her beautiful voice so she can be human from the waist down. Ariel’s friends, Sebastian the crab and Scuttle the seagull (Daveed Diggs and Awkwafina; both in top form, especially on the rap number “The Scuttlebutt”) now have three days to get Eric to fall in love with them. Because if he doesn’t kiss her, Ursula will confide in Triton.
McCarthy was born to play the temperamental and vicious witch who is most hilarious when Ursula takes offense. And check out the character’s dirty panache as she pulls up her Mae West-style corset and later slips out of a thong. Ursula has long been associated with drag queens. McCarthy honors this tradition in a divine way.
True, some CGI and production designs lack finesse. As Ursula’s legs and arms circle, you might be reminded of a washing machine stuffed with too many clothes (her tentacles don’t whirl as much as they squeak). And poor Sebastian looks like a Poundland toy.
But that doesn’t matter, because Ariel, interacting with gorgeously glowing squid and jellyfish, is anything but just at sea (like in Avatar: The Way of Water, plumbing the fluorescent depths is a crazy treat). And the corners of the kingdom are great. My favorite corners: the local market (where Ariel learns to dance) and Eric’s wild library full of treasures.
Speaking of Eric, Hauer-King was a little disappointing at first, but he came into his own in the second half. At one point, our heroine helps the prince guess her name by repeatedly tugging on his lower lip. The technical term for this is “batty lip burbling”. Which may not sound sexy, but it really is in Bailey and Hauer-King’s performance.
While the new version isn’t quite as consistently satisfying as the cartoon, it’s easily the best of any recent live-action Disney adaptation. The Little Mermaid is a treat for the soul. So I will see it again as soon as possible. The internet thinks this is the dumbest/horrible woke movie of the year. Not me. I want more.
In cinemas from May 26th
120 minutes certificate PG
https://www.standard.co.uk/culture/film/the-little-mermaid-movie-review-halle-bailey-melissa-mccarthy-b1082787.html The Little Mermaid review: Halle Bailey brings Ariel to life