The Little Mermaid

In theaters May 26.


The youngest of King Triton’s daughters, Ariel (Halle Bailey), is fascinated by humans and the world on land. Longing to find out more, she swims to the surface and watches a crew aboard a ship having fun when a squall leads to disaster, and she rescues Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from drowning. While he searches for his lifesaver, she makes a deal with her aunt, the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) to be turned into a human in exchange for her beautiful voice. She has three days to charm the prince into falling in love with her or she’ll be turned back into a mermaid.


As shimmery as her iridescent mermaid costume, singer-actress Halle Bailey becomes the iconic character Ariel in a stunning, star-making performance in a mostly pleasing live-action remake of Disney’s animated classic “The Little Mermaid.”

Her rendition of Ariel’s signature song “Part of Your World” enthralls, and her sweet and spunky performance enchants. Bailey may be the standout, but she’s not the only noteworthy performer.

Melissa McCarthy is wickedly campy as the evil imposing Ursula, complete with garish makeup and elaborate gestures. She strikes a just-right tone as a grand diva, in the manner of the original Pat Carroll, with a little Mae West and Divine thrown in for good measure.

However, her cruelness is moredisturbing midway than the animated original, and the final act could frighten younger children when it becomes much darker in tone and the cinematography murkier.

While McCarthy provides the ominous threat of Hans Christian Andersen’s first and most beloved fairy tale from 1837, the screenwriter adapter David Magee doesn’t dive into the more depressing aspects of the original. We still get the Disney-ized version that resembles co-writers and co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements’ 1989 masterpiece.

Magee, a veteran who turned the novel “Life of Pi” into a filmable script and wrote “Mary Poppins Returns” for Disney, has made some characters less effective, like Flotsam and Jetsam, but added a queen (Noma Dumezweni) as Eric’s adopted mom for more family conflict.

Yet, a few characters are enriched with more dimensional turns, such as Javier Bardem as King Triton, Ariel’s stern father who finally understands his youngest daughter’s rebellion.

And Prince Eric has a bigger story arc as a restless royal trying to figure out his path. Jonah Hauer-King is a typical classically handsome Disney prince, but they’ve given him his own song “Wild Unchartered Waters” and he’s not just there to rescue the female.

Tony winner Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton”) is a superb Sebastian. He’s feisty fun as he leads the buoyant super-sized “Under the Sea,” which captivates by using synchronized Busby Berkley-type choreography as it features dazzling aquatic life. This Oscar-winning Best Song is the best scene here.

He is paired well with the hilarious Akwafina as Scuttle, now a diving seabird. Their rap-influenced number, “The Scuttlebutt,” is a highlight. Of course, it’s another catchy tune penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who collaborated with Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken on four new numbers.

The beloved trio – Flounder, Sebastian, Scuttle – deliver an adorable “Kiss the Girl” and remain among my favorite characters of this property.

While Jacob Tremblay capably voices Flounder, the appearance of the cheerful fish – Ariel’s confidante -- is debatable. It is weird, but it wasn’t as off-putting to me because Tremblay is a terrific child actor (“Room,” “Wonder,” “Luca”).

Even with charming performers and an engaging story, not all is smooth sailing in director Rob Marshall’s remake. It’s more of a live-action and animation hybrid because the underwater kingdom is all CGI. Remember the early remake of “Jungle Book,” with Mowgli the only ‘live’ character?

Perhaps the jarring blend of both is what makes it choppy and less magical than the original. I recently re-watched the animated classic, and it’s not just fondness for nostalgia – it truly is a landmark in the Disney pantheon. That’s largely due to the glorious music by the brilliant late Howard Ashman and Menken.

The virtuosos helped usher in the Disney animation renaissance of the 1990s – with “The Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Pocahontas,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Tarzan.” (Highly recommend the documentaries “Waking Sleeping Beauty” and “Howard,” now available on Disney Plus).

Speaking of throwbacks, make sure to spot the cameo by Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in 1989. She’s one of the villagers in the island marketplace.

A star is indeed born in Bailey, however. The five-time Grammy nominated singer (with her sister Chloe in an R&B duo, mentored by Beyonce) is a luminous Disney princess that can carry one of the controversial live-action reboots.

The Disney princess remakes have fared better, with the 2015 “Cinderella” the best, followed by “The Beauty and the Beast” in 2017, over the recent substandard “Pinocchio” and “Wendy and Peter.”

The hummable tunes and the character personalities keep us interested, but did they need to pad this with 48 more minutes than the tidy 87-minute 1989 film? Run time is 2 hours, 15 minutes. Nope.