Those familiar with the animation television series based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale ‘The Little Mermaid’, which aired in India in the late 90s, are aware of its free-spirited and adventurous protagonist Ariel, a red-headed mermaid princess, and her world. In the newest retelling of the story in the live action format, the cuteness of the series has made way for high-drama, revenge, romance and heartbreak.
The famous quote by Andersen – “…a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more” – appears on the screen, just before the film starts. This hints at the sadness that the mermaid protagonist carries in her heart. One can also assume that it’s a precursor to the heartache and drama that’s to follow. Unlike in the TV show (both the series and the film are produced by Disney), we see Ariel (Halle Bailey) mostly dreaming of a life on the land and mooning over Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King).
Ariel wants to trade her flipper for feet. She longs to experience the life of the human beyond her seaweed-covered habitat. That’s something her overprotective father King Triton (Javier Bardem) vehemently opposes. Her curiosity is understandable. But what sparked her curiosity is never properly explained. That’s why one doesn’t fully fathom her motive when she goes against her father’s wishes to get a glimpse of human life. She not only ventures into the forbidden parts of the sea but also ends up falling for Prince Eric, whose life she saves. Later, she does not hesitate to give up her life and power as a mermaid to lead the life of a human.
The Little Mermaid movie trailer:
Following the welcome trend of featuring a diverse cast, The Little Mermaid brings together a bunch of talented actors. The casting of Bailey, an African-American actress, as Ariel had earlier faced a lot of criticism. Bailey’s compelling performance as a rebellious teen mermaid with an enchanting voice validates the decision to have the first-ever black Ariel. However, only a few characters leave a mark. Simone Ashley, who became Bridgerton Season 2’s breakout star, makes a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance as Ariel’s sister Indira.
The script gives a contemporary touch to the original story that encapsulates Victorian morality and was written for children. It makes the mermaid rescue the prince. She also introduces him to the life beyond his castle. The scale of the movie is much bigger – with grand settings created both under water and on the surface. There are tempests and whirlwinds to keep the audience at the edge of their seats. But visual effects unwittingly overwhelm the narrative as the film tends to overdo it.
Directed by Marshall, who had previously helmed the critically-acclaimed Chicago (2002), the movie aspires to be a big screen spectacle. Even though Bailey sings and swims in the “uncharted waters” with elan in this latest iteration (supposed to be a remake of 1989 animated classic) of the popular fairytale, the magic is missing. The film is needlessly long at 135 minutes. Several scenes that are entertaining feature Ariel and her friends — Sebastian the crab, Flounder the guppy and Scuttle, a gannet who claims to know it all about humans. Bardem and McCarthy (who plays the role of Ursula, a sea witch with octopus tentacles) try to liven it up but they fail to cast a spell. Most of the songs, including ‘Part of Your World’ and ‘Under The Sea’, work. But it’s ‘The Scuttlebutt’, a rap number for Scuttle and Sebastian, that stands out with funny lyrics.
The Little Mermaid movie director: Rob Marshall
The Little Mermaid movie cast: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni, Javier Bardem and Melissa McCarthy
The Little Mermaid movie rating: 2.5 stars