The Little Mermaid – Movie Review

Underexposed under the sea

What’s it about?

A remake of the animated Disney classic, in turn an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale – Ariel is an adventurous mermaid princess whose curiosity about the surface world leads her to save the life of (and subsequently fall in love with) a handsome human prince. To see him again, she strikes a bargain with the sea-witch Ursula, giving up her voice in exchange for 3 days on land to pursue the object of her affection.

What’d we think?

Pete Linning says: This was my favourite of the live-action Disney remakes and there’s a lot to like here, but it’s ultimately let down by some shockingly sloppy technical issues and a runtime that’s about 30 minutes too long.

The plot is familiar enough that it doesn’t warrant a recap, but I was pleasantly surprised that this version of the film actually treats Prince Eric as a character instead of a classic Himbo Disney Prince, and the new songs are actually good additions (shout out to Lin Manuel Miranda). The biggest surprise was Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, the iconic sea-witch villainess. While I still maintain Disney missed a trick by not casting a drag queen as a homage to the original’s inspiration, McCarthy savours her villainous moments and absolutely kills her rendition of Poor Unfortunate Souls (who knew she could sing? Probably a bunch of people, but not me.)

While mostly enjoyable, my goodwill for the movie was drained out of the movie at two different speeds for two different reasons. The lesser of the two evils is the animal sidekicks – the latest victims of Disney’s mind-boggling commitment to animating dead-eyed photorealistic animals instead of cartoonish versions that might have a modicum of expression, made all the worse by the fact that they come at the expense of otherwise great vocal performances by Daveed Diggs and Awkwafina. But the movie’s greatest crime is the brutally ugly colour grading in the underwater sequences, rendering what should be a bright and colourful fantasy world into a dull and borderline imperceptible melange of muted blues and slightly-darker blues.

If it were showing on the big screen, I’d take my nieces to see the original animated version in a heartbeat. If there were a 90-minute cut of this movie that fixed the colour grading, I’d do the same. But this? This, not so much.


Sam Donaldson says:

The new-era trend of Disney live-action remakes has been hit or miss — mostly miss. While the newest Cinderella proved that this form of storytelling can work, Aladdin, Mulan, Pinocchio, Dumbo and the absolutely dreadful Lion King only cemented the idea that these films are soulless money grabs.

The Little Mermaid is one of the better live-action remakes, although not without it’s problems. The cast does a good job, with newcomer Halle Bailey holding the movie together with her natural charm and especially her performance of the showstopper ‘Part of Your World’. The supporting cast is also strong, with Melissa McCarthy serving up perfectly-cooked ham as Ursula, and Daveed Diggs turning in a very likeable Sebastian. 

The real issue is this: the movie is unpleasant to look at. The visuals and camera filters are so dark and drab that they make Zack Snyder’s movies look positively vibrant. The lighting is stuck between trying to portray whimsy in a realistic world and ends up settling for dull greyness. Flounder and Sebastian look ridiculous too. 

The movie is also 30 minutes too long. I’m all for a long movie if it serves a purpose — but even at 2 hours we don’t learn anything new and the last act feels rushed and oddly paced. 

The movie is fine. I didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, I just wish they’d turned up the contrast.


An enjoyable retread of the animated classic, The Little Mermaid is let down by technical issues and a wholly unwarranted runtime.
A raconteur by nature and motormouth by trade, the only thing Pete loves more than watching movies is a good debate about movies. He'll argue with anyone about anything, and enjoy it more than is socially acceptable.
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