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  • Writer's pictureAlta's Oyster

The Little Mermaid Remake Keeps It Fresh

The Live-Action remake of The Little Mermaid gives us a fresh take on what drives Princess Ariel, a fresh take on her deal with Ursula, a three-dimensional love story between her and Prince Eric, and more depth to Eric himself.

Add all of that to Ursula's cauldron, and you've got an engaging two hours and fifteen minutes at the theaters.

The movie is led by Halle Bailey, who plays the iconic Princess Ariel, a headstrong teenager who knows what she wants and eventually thinks she knows how to get it. Halle is phenomenal, commanding the screen even after Ariel is rendered mute by Ursula's spell. Halle sells Ariel's curiosity, ambition, naivité, frustration, excitement, desperation, and love. I live for subtle emoting, and she nails it, at times swimming between distinct emotions and other times giving us a mix.

My favorite Ariel scene is when she's creeping behind the rocks after rescuing Eric and gives that intense ending to Part of Your World (Reprise). The muscles in her face are practically twitching. She's touched the surface world, literally, and saved a human. The thing she's been most curious about was literally in her grasp. She's touched the thing that's symbolized freedom to her since before we met her. Yeah, there's no turning back. Like she sings, "I know something's starting right now." Mm-hmm.

In this take on the classic, when Ariel gains her legs, she's less enthralled by Prince Eric, played by Jonah Hauer-King, though she is taken with him, and more enamored with finally getting to see and touch the things she's read about, like fire, and the things that she hasn't. She's a budding archeologist, after all. Or would she be considered a cultural anthropologist? Either way, when she's finally living on land, she's enchanted by the people and how they dance, the things they use, the trees, canoes, way of dressing, and land animals. And Eric's private collection of treasures he's amassed during his voyages. She makes him walk her through (no pun intended) the maps he owns so that she can learn what else is out there, broadening her curiosity and strengthening the connection she feels to him.

The movie establishes why Ariel falls for Eric when she first encounters him. While she's crouched in one of the lifeboats, she listens to him lament about the push by his mother the Queen, played by Noma Dumezweni, and Sir Grimsby, played by Art Malik, to be a traditional royal, with eyes focused on the kingdom and nothing beyond, and the pull he feels to travel the seas and learn about other cultures for the betterment of the kingdom.

In Eric's lamentation, Ariel hears a kindred spirit. And he's cute to boot. And brave. And a leader. She sees all of that at play when a storm rolls in and the crew has to abandon ship. There's a shot of Ariel holding an unconscious Eric as giant ocean waves shove and swallow them, and it lasts for a few seconds, and it's melancholic and wholesome at the same time.

To further add depth to Eric, the movie introduces a new song to The Little Mermaid canon: Wild Uncharted Waters. The song is so very full of longing, where Eric begs the girl who saved him to please, please find him again. The man croons that, "time may change the shoreline, but time will not change me!" Say it with your chest, Eric! And he does.

Wild Uncharted Waters has been on repeat since my second watch. The are more subtle updates made to Eric and his interactions with Ariel, too, like the fact that he decidedly says that Ariel's name is beautiful when he learns it, instead of the aloof "It's beautiful, I guess," that his cartoon counterpart says. Jonah Hauer-King understood the assignment. His chemistry with Halle leaps off the screen. You see him slowly (ha) fall for her. Looks of infatuation, uncertainty, shyness, fascination, love, yes! The Kiss The Girl sequence is as dreamy as we needed it to be.

Another person who understood the assignment? Melissa fucking McCarthy. Actually, no. Ma'am received the assignment, reworked it, and turned in something elevated. Halle's rendition of Part of Your World has had me in a chokehold since it was released. I was not prepared for Ursula's Poor Unfortunate Souls to be my favorite song in the movie. Melissa's rendition is inspired. The "making the deal" scene is my favorite. Melissa's Ursula holds court while luring Ariel into her trap, and you can't look away, because you want to see every move Ursula makes, every gesture.

Unlike the cartoon, Ursula does a bait and switch with the deal. At the beginning of the conversation, she tells Ariel that part of the deal is for her to give up her siren's song. Then, at the height of Poor Unfortunate Souls, after she sends Ariel into a panic by reminding her that she can never go to the surface again, she slips in that "all it takes" to seal the deal is Ariel's voice. And since this Ariel is Black, I wouldn't be surprised if she still interpreted "your voice" as "your singing talent."

Sidebar: I was happy for Auntie Ur when she beat Triton and crowned herself. Yeah, it wouldn't last, but ma'am put a plan together, dealt with the slight wrench thrown in it, and got what she wanted. It was easy work, considering Ariel has no sense. Homegirl saw skulls everywhere and still proceeded. Ursula sounded as untrustworthy as someone nicknamed "The Sea Witch" could, and Ariel still entertained a conversation. Well, at least the remake made her change her mind for three seconds.

The Little Mermaid remake is a fun, colorful feast that does better than relying on the original to sell itself. It updates the story for both the new young generation and for those of us who love the original but grew up and see some things differently now. Case in point? The titular character, the one who was used as a pawn and forced to witness her father's murder, actually gets to defeat the big bad.

If you've watched the movie, sound off and let me know what you liked, didn't like, and the changes you noticed!


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