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Little Mermaid, The


Stars: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy, Art Malik, Noma Dumezweni, Martina Laird, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jodi Benson. Voices: Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay

Director: Rob Marshall

Yet another Disney live-action (sort of) remake of one of their cartoon classics and, while this is not as painful as some, it does largely lack emotional connection with its audience.

Although I have been known to cavil at what I call 'colour-blind' casting, I really have no problem with a mixed-race mermaid; after all, merpeople are a bit of a mixed race themselves! On shore though, the casting of a (very) black actress as the queen and a (very) white actor as her son does seem a bit wilfully odd.

The plot largely sticks to the original, although director Marshall, with the help of some ear-splitting but unmemorable new songs by Miranda, has managed to stretch it by 46 minutes from the 1989 classic. So once again we have Ariel (Bailey), the title character, longing to be part of the world above the waves, where she arrives just in time to save local prince Eric (King) from the ravages of a well-staged shipwreck.

Undersea King Triton (Bardem) has warned her not to go near the human world, and has dragooned calypso crab Sebastian (Diggs, in one of the movie's several CGI characters) into looking after her. But, unlike her compliant sisters, Ariel's desire to see Eric again propels her into the clutches of multi-tentacled sea witch Ursula (McCarthy), who inveigles the girl into parting with her enchanting voice in exchange for a pair of legs, and a promise that, if Eric kisses her with three days, she will remain fully human.

Ursula, of course, has no intention of letting the kiss come about, planning to capture Ariel's immortal soul.

Bailey certainly has the right kind of voice for a Disney musical, although both she and King are on the bland side as actors, and acting honours are easily scooped up by Malik as the sympathetic-to-the-would-be-lovers chief court adviser. It's kind of nice, and Alan Menken's original songs are still beguiling, but see the original for some real cinema magic.

And, although you would obviously wouldn't recognise her face, the original Ariel, Jodi Benson, appears briefly as a market trader.

David Quinlan

USA 2023. UK Distributor: Disney. Technicolor.
133 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 26 May 2023