So let’s talk The Little Mermaid. In Hans Christian Anderson’s original she’s besotted with the Prince, gives up her tail for legs and is informed if he marries someone else she’ll dissolve into foam. He marries someone else. But here we are talking Disney’s Little Mermaid so why bring it up? Because I agree with Lenny Bruce; giving these stories happy endings is offering false expectations: not preparing children for the harshness of life.
However I loved Disney’s original The Little Mermaid, a favourite Disney, and so far I have enjoyed every live adaptation, so how did I get on with this one?
I found myself watching, not experiencing it. Considering the acting standard I expected better and suspect the director concentrated more on visuals than performance. Javier Bardem’s face seemed autotuned – at one point I thought his hair was going to float away – and Melissa McCarthy seemed more focused on posing as Ursula than emoting. I did not feel any raw emotion until the finale. The lead showed off her pretty voice instead of feeling it. It’s what Les Miserables got right: emotion is more important than perfect singing. There were too many songs (I’m not a musical fan), the Prince’s first song looked like a music video, complete with an image of him staring out to sea with a soaked, almost see-through, white top. The film’s too long.
One of the things that makes Disney’s animated movies special is the quality of their villains. Ursula was something to behold, the magnificent way they portrayed her tentacles was reminiscent of what I wanted for Dr Octopus on screen and rarely got. Her set pieces are very well staged, full of atmosphere and dark foreboding corners. The soundtrack is suitably dramatic and considering that film is a sequence of 24 frames a minute there are a lot of beautiful pictures in this film.
As this film has received criticism for being woke, I have no problem with its multi-cultural casting and it was nice to see Art Malik again. Consider this: The Little Mermaid is a film where small – the hero – is good and large – the villain – is bad. And it’s love story, which it tells well, with many a romantic scene and touching moment, is about a mute girl: if only she had a voice.
The film is like slowly being submerged in water, first it feels soggy but by the end you are swimming as the finale is superb, a riveting emotional half-hour. Majestic and tense, although I’m not sure the way the witch is despatched is realistic … but this is a film with a talking bird, fish and crab! Said characters provide the film with humour, not every line works but most do. The film also has some good dialogue, pointing out not to concentrate on what should be but what is, which can be the secret of a good review.
Thanks to its satisfying ending I came out regarding it as a good film despite my early reservations, when I weas thinking that after around 90 mins the film should be ending.
Reviewed by Cliff Homewood