Film and drama Opinion

This Little Mermaid is anything but shallow

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A mermaid princess falls in love with a human prince, but following her heart comes with a tremendous price. Digital editor Dan Jensen goes under the sea to check out the newest Disney remake.

DISNEY HAS quite a hit-and-miss reputation with its live-action adaptations of classic animated films. For every hit such as The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast, there’s a turkey along the lines of Pinocchio or The Lion King. So when it was announced that 1989’s The Little Mermaid was next in line, scepticism was justified.

Thankfully, this new reimagining of the animated classic is a truly wonderful piece of movie magic that will sweep audiences away. The Little Mermaid is arguably the best of the live-action remakes that will delight moviegoers of all ages.

Directed by Rob Marshall, who is no stranger to musicals, The Little Mermaid tells the story of a teenage mermaid princess named Ariel, who dreams of becoming human and falls in love with a human prince named Eric, which leads her to make a magic deal with the sea witch, Ursula, to become human and be with him.

The story is adapted from the 1837 fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and so many of the themes are still relevant today. There is a subplot about how the sea kingdom and the human world despise each other, making the connection between Ariel and Eric (played by Jonah Hauer-King) a forbidden one. There are themes of rebelliousness and courage to follow your heart. And more importantly, themes of accepting others in the face of our differences.

It's this last theme that makes The Little Mermaid such a significant film for the world we live in now. Let’s address the whale in the aquarium — before cameras had even started rolling, the film gained a lot of criticism for casting Halle Bailey in the lead role (How dare they not cast a White redhead!) and changing a couple of lines in some songs to modernise them (Oh, no! Feminism is scary!). The latter changes are barely noticeable, whereas the casting of Bailey as Ariel is one of the biggest reasons the film is such a treat.

For all the dazzle and splendour of the underwater world, and the timeless love story that enchants audiences to this day, the standout feature in The Little Mermaid is the performance by Halle Bailey and that golden voice that will leave you with goosebumps. She is simply amazing in the role and her presence in the film is a slap in the face to conservatives who can’t accept change. Aside from being a gifted singer, Bailey is also a fine actress, captivating as the curious, mischievous rebel who defies her father’s demands to follow her heart. And good on her for adding some much-needed diversity to the roster of Disney princesses for little girls to aspire to.

The Little Mermaid is filled to the brim with heart and soul, and plenty of laughs along the way. Daveed Diggs turns in a great vocal performance as Sebastian the crab, trusted servant to King Triton (Javier Bardem) and friend of Ariel who does his best to help her. He’s joined by Scuttle the gannet (voiced by Awkwafina) and the two have amazing chemistry together. Rounding out the trio of friends is Flounder, a tropical fish voiced by 16-year-old Jacob Tremblay who is equally great.

Ursula the sea witch is played by Melissa McCarthy and sadly, she is one of the film’s biggest let-downs. She looks terrific, with a combination of costume, hair and make-up, and CG wizardry transforming her into an otherworldly menace. But it’s McCarthy’s performance that drags the character down, delivering a rather flat, wooden rendition of the character. With a little flamboyance, she may have stood out as a villain worth remembering, but instead, she’s one of the weaker parts of the film.

The special effects in The Little Mermaid are often remarkable, particularly the way hair moves underwater. Not only that, the body movements of the aquatic cast lend some realism to the look of the mer-people. It renders the sub-oceanic world a believable one and enhances the storytelling, rather than just showing off special effects to wow people. There are a few shots where the lighting doesn’t look quite right and reminds you that it was indeed filmed in a studio, but thankfully those shots are few. Also, the final confrontation with Ursula is quite dark, but it’s still a rewarding scene.

But the criticisms are minimal. Make no mistake, this is a worthy entry into the live-action remake oeuvre and a fine piece of cinematic entertainment. Even at 135 minutes, the film speeds by and the lengthy running time isn’t noticeable. Take the kids, take the grandparents, this film will enchant everyone.

The Little Mermaid is now showing in cinemas across the country.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @DanJensenIA. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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