When all ideas of creating new movies are exhausted, Hollywood loves returning to remakes. Maybe it’s been happening for a long time, and I am just now realizing it, but only recently have I seen a deluge of studios taking cartoons and turning them into live-action movies.
Warner Bros. first brought the beloved Scooby-Doo franchise into the real world with some big names, at the time. Universal took the leap back in 1994 with The Flintstones. 20th Century Fox got onboard the live-action gravy train in 2004 with Garfield: The Movie. And probably the best translation was done way back in 1990 when New Line Cinemas went into the sewers of New York City to pull out the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, creating one of the first extremely well-done transitions.
But the studio that has probably the most cartoons that could be ripped from celluloid and turned into films is Disney. The House of the Mouse has tons of cartoon characters that would translate well — their most famous characters, the Disney Princesses, are already human, which makes casting the easy part. And this has been done throughout the years, with 101 Dalmatians, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Aladdin and The Lion King turned into semi-decent films. Up until now, the best would probably be The Jungle Book, as it blends in tons of CG animals with live-action performers.
However, the studio’s attempts did not always hit the mark, with most of these having low ratings from critics and audiences alike. Lucky for us, the formula has been adjusted, and now we get the live-action conversion of The Little Mermaid.
In the film, we follow Ariel (Halle Bailey), the youngest mermaid child of King Triton (Javier Bardem). Fascinated with the human realm, Ariel wants nothing more than to be part of that world. And after rescuing Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from drowning, Ariel falls madly in love with him. Once her dad finds out; however, he bans her from ever interacting with humans again. Distraught, Ariel is convinced by Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) into accepting an agreement where Ariel becomes human and is given three days to make Eric fall in love with her, or she will return to being a mermaid and becoming the personal property of Ursula.
The only catch is that Ursula takes Ariel’s voice, preventing her from using her siren’s song to woo him. To succeed, it will take the combined efforts of Ariel and her friends: a loyal crab named Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), a fish named Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) and a slightly unhinged gannet named Scuttle (Awkwafina). But Ursula does not play fair, and her evil intentions put Ariel and her father’s lives on the line.
As I mentioned earlier, Disney has been working on this formula for years. It feels like when the studio gets close to making the perfect transition from cartoon to real-world, a huge backward step is taken. In 2016, Alice Through the Looking Glass was visually stunning, but the story was horrendous. So bad that even the star-studded cast of Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter couldn’t salvage it. Since then, the studio’s released some of its best work, and The Little Mermaid continues the trend, proving it’s learned from past mistakes.
The Little Mermaid has all the charm and wholesomeness of the original film. The story is largely unchanged, only taking some liberties to expand upon the kingdom Eric lives in and his interactions with others.
Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy steal the show with their performances. Halle has the vocal range to match the talents of Jodi Marie Benson, the voice of the cartoon character. Her rendition of “Part of Your World” is perfect, giving me chills for some reason as I sat in silence in the theater. I even felt the need to stand and clap when it was over, feeling as if I was in a live performance, rather than watching a digital copy. Melissa was equally amazing as Ursula. When I first heard her voice, I thought, “Did they bring back the original actress to play her?” It wasn’t until I got to the end credits that I realized it was McCarthy.
The song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” stuck in my head for days after the screening, even to the point of looking up YouTube videos of Melissa singing the song. Both actresses played their characters to a tee. They are truly the strongest part of this epic movie.
The CG is the only thing that negatively affects The Little Mermaid. Early in the film, the mermaids hit the “uncanny valley,” the concept that our brains will focus on imperfections in things that are supposed to be human, thus making them feel fake. King Triton, Ariel and her sisters look slightly off, having skin that is too smooth and shiny to be realistic, and their hair doesn’t have the movements one would associate with being underwater.
Lastly, while Sebastian and Scuttle fit their parts (except for Scuttle’s ability to seemingly breathe underwater), Flounder’s conversion was somewhat shocking at first. I was expecting something closer to the animated classic but had to realize that Flounder would not be as cute in real life. I know we are talking about realism in a film about sea people taken from a cartoon, but if you are going the live-action route, it is highly beneficial to immerse the audience in all aspects. These graphics just felt out of place for such a good story.
Even with those negatives, The Little Mermaid is really a great film, gaining five out of five stars. Disney continues to work on the animated-to-live transition for their films, and I feel like it’s nearly perfected. While the computer-generated graphics were slightly off, the cast made the film great. I cannot say enough good things about the acting abilities of Halle and Melissa in this film. It would not surprise me if their versions became the most memorable versions of Ariel and Ursula. I highly recommend The Little Mermaid to everyone, young and old alike.