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Film REVIEW: The Little Mermaid (2023) - ★★★★★

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Rebooting the classic 1989 cartoon as an eye-popping live action spectacular, The Little Mermaid 2023 splashes down on May 26th. From the SFX to the new songs – plus Melissa McCarthy as a sea witch – here’s everything you need to know about the new Little Mermaid.

Director: Rob Marshall

Writer: David Magee

based on Disney's The Little Mermaid

Stars: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jocob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni, Art Malik, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy.

Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy

Themes: Live Action Remake, Magic Spell, Fairy Tale

A young mermaid makes a deal with a sea witch to trade her beautiful voice for human legs so she can discover the world above water and impress a prince.

It is a live-action adaptation of Disney's 1989 animated film of the same name, itself loosely based on the 1837 fairy tale of the same title by Hans Christian Andersen.

It received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the performances of the cast and the musical sequences but criticized the visual effects and character designs.

In Cinemas Now


Georgie (Age 8) - ★★★★★

"I give it 10 out of 10. I went to see it in Dubai. I liked when little mermaid didn't listen to her dad and went to the top of the sea. I also like when Ariels Sea friends tried to listen to the dad to stop her going to the top but she went anyway. The music was nice as well."

Sophie (Age 10) - ★★★★★

"I thought this was a lovely remake of the cartoon with a different twist. I loved the music and the new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda were fantastic. The cast were excellent in their roles- especially Melissa Mcarthy as Ursula. The film transported me to the Caribbean and I loved it! "

Have you seen it yet?


The Little Mermaid 2023 buzz - Why is everyone talking about the new Little Mermaid film?

You could lock a thousand Disney animators in a studio for all eternity and they’d never dream up a more adorable character than The Little Mermaid. Created by Hans Christian Andersen in his classic fairytale of 1837, but brought to the screen by the Mouse House’s beloved 1989 animation, Ariel is sweet, kind, open-hearted, idealistic and definitely the Disney Princess you’d back in a 500-metre butterfly relay.

Right now, merperson PR is at rock bottom thanks to Black Panther 2’s villainous Namor. But all that is about to change with the much-anticipated release of Disney’s live action Little Mermaid. Here’s why you’ll want to dive back under the sea.


The Little Mermaid plot - What happens in the new Little Mermaid film?

Director Rob Marshall (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Into The Woods) hasn’t messed with a centuries-old story and the new Little Mermaid hits the same beats. As the teen daughter of King Triton, Ariel longs to walk the world above the water – a bit of a problem when you have a haddock’s bottom half.

Foolish Ariel shakes on a deal with the sea witch Ursula, gaining human legs and a shot with dry-lander Prince Eric, in exchange for her voice. But the pact could cost the smitten mermaid far more than she bargained for, with the ripples becoming a tsunami that her undersea kingdom of Atlantica may not survive.


Little Mermaid live action - What SFX technology went into the new Little Mermaid?

From The Jungle Book (2016) to Aladdin (2019), Disney’s recent live action reboots have been spellbinding, fusing the charm of our childhood ’toons with technology that lifts the characters off the drawing board.

Filmed at the UK’s fabled Pinewood Studios – with special effects from the dream team of ILM, Weta FX, Moving Picture Company and Framestone – The Little Mermaid 2023 trailer looks as good as strapping on a scuba suit yourself.

But don’t dismiss this movie as an exercise in mouse-clicking. To play Ariel, Halle Bailey (Last Holiday) was often suspended high above the studio floor to simulate the mermaid’s subaquatic movements.

“So much of it is shot up in the air with everything on wires and the actors on this apparatus called a tuning fork and teeter-totters so they swim and move and turn and flip,” director Rob Marshall told Trib Live. “Everything is choreographed within an inch of its life.”


The Little Mermaid lead - Who stars as Ariel in The Little Mermaid 2023?

You might know Halle Bailey as half of sibling R&B duo Chloe x Halle, or perhaps as Skyler Forster in the sitcom Grown-ish. But the 22-year-old is a revelation as Ariel. Having worn out her family DVD of Disney’s original Little Mermaid, she saw herself in Ariel. “Her sense of longing, her searching for herself, was something that I could resonate with,” Bailey told Variety. “She knew where she wanted to go and she wasn’t going to let anybody stop her.”

As only the second Disney Princess of colour (the first being Anika Noni Rose as Tiana in The Princess and the Frog), Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter her casting as Ariel is significant. “The fact that I get to represent all of these little young Black and brown boys and girls who are to come is really special to me, because I know that if I had that when I was younger, it would have changed my whole perspective on life.”


The Little Mermaid 2023 cast - Who else will we spot in the live action Little Mermaid?

Supplying the star power and struggling to control his wilful daughter, Javier Bardem (Dune) plays King Triton. Following Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, it’s the latest curveball in a new, non-psychotic career direction for the trusty villain who was marrow-chilling in Skyfall.

“It’s a father taken by the deep love and ownership of his younger daughter,” the Spanish actor told GQ of King Triton, “fighting with the fact that she’s going to leave the nest, and being unable to cope with that as a man and as a protector, and not being able to give her the room that she deserves, the place that she holds as a woman, as a girl, as a grown-up. So it’s very Shakespearean.”

The Little Mermaid supporting cast also includes Jonah Hauer-King (Howards End) of A Dog's Way Home as Prince Eric, Hamilton’s Tony-winner Daveed Diggs (Soul) as Sebastian, Jacob Tremblay (Luca, Wonder) as Flounder and Crazy Rich AsiansAwkwafina (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) as Scuttle.


Ursula in Little Mermaid 2023 - What do we know about Melissa McCarthy's performance as the sea witch?

You only have to look at the star to know she can cackle with the best of them. And according to an interview with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, McCarthy (Thor: Love and Thunder, Ghostbusters) enjoyed herself on the Little Mermaid set.

“It’s been an absolute blast. Stepping into the world of Rob Marshall, it’s like a fever dream. All day he’s like, ‘Do you want to slide down this 40-foot clam shell?’ I’m like, ‘Yes! Of course I do. What are you, crazy?!’ It’s been wildly creative.”


Little Mermaid 2023 themes - How does the new Little Mermaid update the story?

Back in 1989, the Ariel character was sometimes criticised for surrendering her identity to a man, but Rob Marshall told EW this new version empowers her. “Number one is her passion – that fire is very important. She feels displaced and it's really an epic story of finding your true self. But also, there needs to be a great deal of joy. It's a strange combination of innocence and wisdom, and a great deal of soul and heart. She's very modern in that way."

Prince Eric isn’t the chinless wonder you remember, either, added the director in the same interview. “The role of Eric in the animated film – I'm sure the original creators would agree with this – it's a wooden, classic prince character with not a lot going on. There's a whole story that's developed in our film. He has a mother, a queen, that's new to the film. He has a similar trajectory in a way to Ariel. He doesn't feel like it's where he fits in, his world. These two kindred spirits find each other and really teach the world about prejudice and about breaking down barriers between these two worlds.”


Little Mermaid 2023 soundtrack - Who wrote the songs for the Little Mermaid live action?

Fear not, all the songs you loved from the original Little Mermaid will be blasting through the surround sound on May 26th. We’ve already heard Bailey belt Part Of Your World in the Little Mermaid trailer. “Halle sings that song up an octave from the original,” Marshall told Variety. “It’s the most chilling, and the most thrilling, film moment because it crystallises not just her incredible vocal ability but the emotional passion she has in singing it.”

But how do you top classics like Part Of Your World and Under The Sea? You enlist the services of original Little Mermaid composer Alan Menken (Tangled/Beauty and the Beast) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton/Encanto/Star Wars), who between them have written four new songs.

"The Little Mermaid was the movie that made me fall in love with musicals," Miranda told People. "I still think about that moment when those opening notes of Under The Sea started and the feeling of the hair going up on the back of my neck. Every time I try to write for Disney, I'm trying to get that feeling again."


The Little Mermaid is released 26 May 2023 and it’s better/wetter at the cinema. As Rob Marshall told Trib Live, experiencing this spectacle at the cinema will blow streaming out of the water.

“The thing you miss, especially with an event movie like The Little Mermaid, is engaging not only with other people to enjoy the experience, but to see it in this massive way on the big screen, which this film is created for,” said the director. “It will also be shown on IMAX and in 3D because it’s that kind of movie that wants to be in that environment, that you just can’t get in a streaming service movie.”

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