Reel Thoughts: Disney’s live action remake of ‘The Little Mermaid’ makes a splash


Illustration by Danny O’Grady

Ariel, old and new. Disney’s new live action remake of ‘The Little Mermaid’ was released on May 26.

Alyce Brown, Print Managing Editor

First released as an animated film in 1989, the story of the free-spirited Ariel has been a classic for decades. Thirty-four years later, its live action re-release is capturing a new generation with a bright and vibrant retelling of the mermaid’s aquatic adventures.

The remake of the Disney classic follows Ariel, (Halle Bailey) a young mermaid who falls in love with the reigning prince of the nearby human town after rescuing him from a shipwreck. Tailed by her sea creature friends Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) and Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), Ariel makes a deal with Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), a sea witch, to exchange her voice for legs in an effort to see Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) again. Despite the best confounding efforts of many, Ariel eventually finds her happy ever after with the prince.

Bailey gave a radiant performance as the bubbly protagonist. While it can often be difficult to adapt an animated character, Bailey’s portrayal perfectly captured the young mermaid’s curiosity and passion that shone through in the original animation, creating a unique version of the beloved character.

Fans of the 1989 rendition will be happy to hear that the live-action remake rarely departed from the original’s plotlines and character arcs, electing to stay true to the contours and classic music numbers (with a few original songs included).

The most notable departure concerned Prince Eric’s backstory, whose increased character development added a new layer to the relationship at the center of the film.

Far from just the pretty face that seldom appeared in the animation, Eric’s character in the remake longs for the sea and to explore beyond the walls of his castle. His character arc painted him as nearly a mirror-image of Ariel herself – complete with a room dedicated to his treasures from the ocean to match Ariel’s cavern of treasures from the human world.

Eric’s development made the film more of a two-lane story. Viewers followed Ariel’s journey in tandem with Eric’s, and when the two finally collided in the second half of the film, it felt more like the joining of two beloved protagonists rather than simply the introduction of a love interest.

As expected for a film of this caliber, the CGI and visual effects were stunningly executed to reflect a realistic version of Ariel’s underwater world.

These visuals were built upon, both above and below sea level, by intricate costume design that brought the human and mermaid worlds to life. Created by Colleen Atwood, the storied Hollywood designer whose recent credits include Wednesday and the Fantastic Beasts series, the vibrant costuming of Prince Eric’s subjects gave his kingdom detail and character that it had not had in the past.

The world above ground was given much more screen time and development in the remake, as the bright, playful costumes and set designs focused more on the culture and joy of the town and created an enthusiastically positive view of life above the sea.

Little Mermaid fans can rest easy knowing the classic story of Ariel has been upheld, and the film’s few character tweaks have now turned a beloved story into a robust film that will continue to attract viewers for generations to come.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @alycebrownn

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