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‘The Little Mermaid’ Is Disney’s Best Live-Action Remake Yet

4/5 thingamabobs

Halle Bailey as Ariel rides in a carriage

As soon as I heard the first notes of Halle Bailey’s voice, I could tell this film would be something special. While The Little Mermaid is not the first live-action Disney movie ever put on the big screen, it’s definitely the best one yet.

For those who aren’t ‘90s kids and didn’t watch the original The Little Mermaid on VHS until the tape burned, the story follows Ariel, the daughter of King Triton, as she lives her life under the sea dreaming of what it would be like to be a human. After a bit of shenanigans, she meets a handsome prince, trades her voice to a sea witch for a pair of legs, falls in love, defeats the witch, and then lives happily ever after.

While 2023’s The Little Mermaid didn’t make any substantial changes to the story of the film (it is a remake, after all), the small tweaks and fixes they did make made me feel like I was back in my childhood living room watching my favorite VHS again.

Modernizing a Disney classic

One of the more notable changes made in the 2023 remake is Ariel’s character as a whole. Though Ariel’s (Halle Bailey) motivations to become human still stem from her infatuation with Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), it’s not the entire reason why she wants to go up there where people walk, run, and stay out all day in the sun. Ariel is much more interesting in human life than her 1989 counterpart and it’s incredibly refreshing.

When you’re watching the 1989 Little Mermaid, you do get the sense that Ariel is fascinated by human life, but it all revolves around Prince Eric. The 2023 version gives Ariel a lot more agency when it comes to her motivation to become human and all of the events that come from that choice. The film does a great job exploring Ariel’s worldview outside of Eric and it makes her character feel more well-rounded.

Halle Bailey in the little mermaid

Bailey does a fantastic job channeling a strong young woman who knows what she wants but still makes mistakes due to her nativity of the world. It’s what makes watching Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) manipulate her so fun, even though we all know manipulating a child is never a good thing to do.

McCarthy’s Ursula, much like her 1989 counterpart (played by Pat Caroll), is deliciously and unapologetically evil. However, while Caroll’s version is more theatrical in her approach (and I love her for that), McCarthy’s performance is full-out camp. From her vocal fry to her mannerisms to her small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quips, McCarthy kept me chuckling from start to finish. It’s not that much of a surprise as McCarthy is a known comedy actor (The Heat is truly one of the best movies ever made), but her ability to make such an iconic role feel so unique is impressive.

The music still slaps

If there’s one thing Little Mermaid lovers and critics can agree on is the fact that the music in this movie is still so freakin’ good. As I stated previously, once you hear Bailey’s angelic voice, you’ll be locked in for the rest of the movie. Her voice is so beautiful and otherworldly that the speakers in my theater felt like they were going to burst because they couldn’t contain her power. If you have the chance to see this movie in theaters, I highly recommend doing so.

Halle Bailey as Ariel pets a pufferfish

Even the songs not featuring Bailey are a lot of fun to listen to. Sebastian’s (Daveed Diggs) rendition of “Under the Sea” made me dance in my seat and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” was still humorous and a bit unsettling. Even Prince Eric got his own solo song (“Wild Uncharted Waters”) that gave off the same vibes as Zac Efron singing on the golf course in High School Musical 2, which is the highest compliment in my book. While some of the lyrics have been changed, unless you’re like me and listen to this soundtrack on a regular basis, you won’t even catch it. There is one particular song in the latter half of the film that was a bit corny, but it was nice to see the film take a chance on new music to give this classic a bit of flavor.

I understand why people would be hesitant to see The Little Mermaid if they’re tired of remakes but trust me, this one is more than worth your time. If not just because Halle Bailey is on track to be one of the biggest movie stars of her generation, then for the fact that this movie was clearly made by people who love the original and wanted to pay their respects to it. I promise your inner child will thank you after the credits roll.

(featured image: Disney)

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Kayla Harrington (she/her) is a freelance writer who has been working in digital media since 2017, starting at Mashable before moving to BuzzFeed and now here at The Mary Sue. She specializes in Marvel (Wanda Maximoff did nothing wrong!), pop culture, and politics. When she's not writing or lurking on TikTok, you can find Kayla reading the many unread books on her shelves or forcing her friends to watch some random video she found. She's also a world class chef (according to her wife) and loves to try any recipe she can find.