9th December 2023

Review: The Little Mermaid (2023)

Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of Liverpool Guild Student Media or Liverpool Guild of Students.

The Little Mermaid (2023) might be this year’s most controversial film. It’s also a stunning and nostalgic Disney throwback aimed at kids. Read the review to find out more.

  • Director: Rob Marshall
  • Cast: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni
  • Genre: Fantasy Musical
  • Duration: 2 hr 15 min


Deep in the Caribbean Sea lives the mermaid princess Ariel (Halle Bailey). Sheltered and curious, the bored mermaid wants to know what it’s like to be a human. But her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), absolutely forbids his children to go to the surface, let alone mingle with the two-legged creatures. 

Based on the classic 1989 animation of the same name, the remake stars pop star Halle Bailey as Ariel. The Disney live-action is directed by Rob Marshall of ‘Chicago’ and ‘Into The Woods’.

First, addressing ‘The Little Mermaid’ controversy…

You may have heard of ‘The Little Mermaid’s casting controversy if you don’t live under a rock. Many didn’t take well to Halle Bailey’s casting as the iconic redhead because the heroine in the 1989 version, and the original fairytale, was White. Bailey is African-American.

Conservative netizens argued that mermaids were a European – therefore Caucasian – invention. This is false; African folklore has mermaid characters too. They also accused Disney of going “woke” and casting a Black actress in a White role, thereby ‘erasing Whiteness’ and ‘airbrushing’ cinema history.

But Bailey’s performance as the mermaid puts these accusations of the intentional casting of a non-white actress to rest. Bailey is so natural at portraying the romantic and adventurous Ariel that I cannot think of anyone else who could have played her better. Bailey’s casting was not for “Woke” points (such a cringe term) because she killed this role. Ariel was meant for her.

Halle Bailey as Ariel

Image Credit: Photo by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash

Film studios aren’t known for hiring singers over actors in big tent pictures. Take Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s sub-par singing in the musical ‘La La Land’. Or Emma Watson’s aggressively auto-tuned Belle in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. 

In what may be Disney’s greatest casting, Halle Bailey brings justice to the Disney princess role. This is thanks to years of professional vocal training and her stint as one half of the duo, Chloe x Halle.

Not only does the singer-turned-actor have the ethereal looks perfectly suited for a sea body, but Bailey shines in her vocals. It’s a tough responsibility to sing like the alluring siren that Ariel is. But Bailey does it so effortlessly that I completely believe it when Prince Eric falls in love with Ariel at first sight.

Ariel’s friends in the 2023 remake

The supporting cast members are almost just as commendable. British actor Daveed Diggs knocks it out of the park as Sebastian, Ariel’s crab friend and royal adviser to her father.

Diggs’ chemistry with the dimwitted seabird Scuttle (Awkwafina) makes for some hilarious moments. And the young Jacob Tremblay is adorable as Ariel’s damselfish buddy, Flounder.

Prince Eric, the love interest

Jonah Hauer-King is a fresh find as Eric, a prince with wanderlust. As a royal and Ariel’s love interest, Eric has the cadence and elegance that seems to come naturally to Hauer-King.

Viewers are swooning over the British actor and are begging Netflix’s ‘Bridgerton’ team to cast him as one of the romantic leads in the upcoming seasons. And I can see why. 

Traditionally, Disney princes don’t have an identity which makes them stand out. Prince Charming in the original ‘Cinderella’ didn’t have a name. And neither did the beast in ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

But here, Eric not only has a name and profession but also hobbies, inner struggles and family history. Hauer-King has a romantic air about him when he sings while gazing into the wide ocean with despair. And his hair flopping in the wind.

Eric’s chemistry with Ariel, and the things he does for her, will lighten up your heart and bring a smile to your face. Full guarantee!

Finally, the Senior actors in ‘The Little Mermaid’

While the younger actors massively entertain us, the same can’t be said for the senior cast. Javier Bardem plays King Triton too straightforwardly (read: two-dimensionally).

And as the witch Ursula, Melissa McCarthy didn’t leave a big impression on me. The film flowed well until we got to the dark cave scenes where the sea witch sings to herself. This is when I found myself impatient, looking at my phone. 

There is also the makeup Ursula wears that resembles the makeup of an amateur or wannabe drag queen. I am not alone in this view as social media users have also criticised her garish looks.


Image Credit: Photo by Polina Kuzovkova on Unsplash

Full disclosure, I haven’t seen the original animation except the first 15 minutes. Based on that segment alone, the animated film seemed to me very much of its time. Dated. And lacking in energy.

Compared to that, the new version is more colourful and energised, even feeling more ‘alive’. Trailers have led viewers to assume the new movie would be dark in tone and unsaturated, being in line with other live-action remakes which also gave up colour for grittiness. 

But that’s not completely true. The new ‘Little Mermaid’ has many underwater – and land – scenes which burst with hue and light. Add to that a mostly likeable cast and close-ups of Halle Bailey’s bewitching face and we have a highly watchable movie in our hands.

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Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash