This week Disney+ released the live action adaptation of The Little Mermaid. When this film was released to theaters, it really couldn’t have had more haters. From the right you had haters who were bothered that Disney felt the need to racebend an iconic character like Ariel. He thought the decision to do so was “woke” and that the entire movie was “woke.” On the other end of the spectrum, there were liberal critics who harped on the film for not pushing any new agendas or being progressive and reimagined enough. Somewhere in the middle many critics said the visuals were poorly done and “murky” and that the musical direction from Lin Manuel Miranda was subpar.
The film did not even break even in domestic box offices and with its total global haul came in at half the revenue of other recent live action productions from Disney like the Lion King and Aladdin who both made over a billion dollars.
So by almost all measures of value, The Little Mermaid was not very good or worth seeing. The film only has a 49% score on Rotten Tomatoes from ‘Top Critics’ (meaning recognizable industry film reviewers). However, its audience score was 97%.
So who is right? Is The Little Mermaid good and was the critical takedown unfair? Or was it murky woke trash?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: The Little Mermaid
Overall Rating: Absolutely wonderful
The Little Mermaid is wonderful. I have no idea what these critics were talking about except the liberal ones who were mad that it wasn’t progressive enough. The movie is nearly identical in every way to the original cartoon but with some extremely clever new visuals, a beautiful score, bright costumes and earnest, charming performances from the entire cast.
Watching on streaming having had the benefit of the reviews and takes, viewers will go in skeptical but be immediately swept away with how cute and clever and fundamentally creative director Rob Marshall’s take on the classic animated film really is. Marshall uses a blend of CGI and old school set design with loads of intention. Lin Manuel Miranda who was on board for the music did a spectacular job recreating the original songs and his new songs were at times beautiful and creative and at other times innocuous and plot driving.
The race bending of the movie was nothing. There were no racial politics or politics of any kind featured in the story. The whole thing read very much like a stage production so having different characters of varying races playing relatives doesn’t seem odd or unrealistic because the presentation is never intended to mimic realism. It’s all very ‘storybook.’
Audiences will fall in love with this version of The Little Mermaid now that they have access on streaming and kids especially will be immediately enamored with it.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: Maybe a touch slow but yes
Just like the original animated film, The Little Mermaid is enchanting from start to finish. Viewers are treated to a magical, colorful world of singing and dreaming and beautiful mermaids and fish friends. The underwater world is mysterious and glamorous all at once and it’s hard to not be enraptured along with Ariel as she makes contact with the humans above in the most explosive way possible. There is love and action and singing at every turn. It might have been just a bit too long. The new live action movies always add a couple of new songs to fit the modern expectation of a feature length. In the case of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and even The Lion King, I had no objection because the new songs were incredible. In this case, one or two of the new songs felt like filler. Prince Eric’s solo is not very interesting or well performed. If there was a place to cut, it’s there. But the pace was only minorly slow, it certainly didn’t ruin the entertainment quality of the movie.
Viewers will be swept away just like they were so many years ago when the first Ariel became part of our world.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
Rating: Beautiful both visually and musically
It is WILD to me that more than one critic called the film “murky.” I have to wonder if they saw the movie on a dirty projection screen. The only parts of the movie that were dark or murky were when Ariel is literally in dark caves in the water which happens approximately twice. Below water and above is nothing but color, light and joy. My bellwether going in was always going to be how “Under the Sea” was reimagined and it was absolutely stunning and equally as high energy as the original animation. The new CGI animation imagines what realistic looking creatures would do in a big dance number but leaves oceans of room for whimsy. The creatures are more realistic than the originals but still cuter than real life. It’s clever and bright. It’s nostalgic and new all at once.
Rob Marshall has the underwater world as magical and whimsical CGI and he has these really cool transition scenes where Ariel surfaces to the human world and suddenly everything is real. And the visual is starkly different. This is obviously done intentionally and quite akin to something like the Wizard of Oz or a bit like Enchanted. On land, the magic is made with sets and old school cinematography (in large, there are still some CGI characters that go with Ariel to land). Marshall has a history of preferring movie magic to computer magic and it’s much to his credit. In his work on Mary Poppins Returns, Marshall achieved most of Mary’s magic through tricks of camera and difficult stunt work. Relying exclusively on CGI is what will make film boring and what Marshall did in The Little Mermaid blending the two techniques is the future we need to keep films high quality and worthwhile.
Aesthetically, the land scenes really will remind viewers of the Wonderful World of Disney production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. There is something about the stage like quality to the sets, the colors and materials of the costumes and even the cadence of the music that brought me right back to Brandy singing to Paulo Montalban. It doesn’t hurt the vibe that Halle Bailey looks quite a bit like Brandy at the time of that Cinderella. Perhaps not in actual resemblance but in presentation. Head scarf, braids, perfect cheekbones, skin glowing in makeup artist rendered innocence and princessiness. It’s unclear if this was intentional or otherwise but personally I found it to be perfection.
There is one song in particular that the internet really had a problem with where Scuttle the Seagull does a squawking rap trying to tell Ariel some important information or “scuttlebutt” which is also the name of the song. Rolling Stone called it one of the worst songs in the history of Disney musicals. The song at its very worst is unnecessary but more generously is actually pretty cute. Scuttle and Sebastian do a little dance. Its two minutes long. There is one moment where Scuttle ‘squawks’ as part of the song which the critics have really latched on to. It only happens once and it’s extremely fleeting. Not remotely long enough to even imbed in your brain to consider it annoying. Anyone who is extremely bothered by this very short, funny, plot driving little rap by a bird is a delicate flower who needs to see a doctor about their extremely fragile senses.
Overall, the film is magnificent and the only problems with it are where critics have invented problems for it to have because they sought to pick it apart in the first place.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: Only in the most marginal unimportant way that no child would ever notice
The film is a far cry from woke. The liberal critics who said that the film didn’t make a bunch of plot changes to add political commentary and progressive agendas are absolutely correct. The movie does not do that. It is almost identical to the original in every way.
There are a few changes made in the spirit of political correctness that are worth noting but without the knowledge of the source material would not amount to anything at all. There are a few lyric and verbiage changes made in the movie because the producers had a complex about little girls feeling like they should be quiet or lose their voice (even though the entire moral of the animated film is that you should not give up your voice for a boy because your voice is what makes you who you are but okay).
In the song “Kiss the Girl” Sebastian changes one lyric to make sure ‘consent’ is clear in the song which is so eye-roll worthy it’s laughable. The song used to say “possible she want you to, there is one way to ask her” and in this movie it says “possible she want you to use your voice boy and ask her.” LOL as if this totally innocuous romantic song about a girl who is literally spending all her time trying to get a boy to kiss her was ever a song that was at conflict with “consent.” Ridiculous change. BUT if you didn’t know the original you wouldn’t even notice it. And kids probably didn’t notice at all.
They also removed a lyric or two from Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” In particular she does not sing about how men on land don’t care for a girl who talks too much or the importance of body language. This is a real shame cause that’s a really funny part of the original and also the villain saying those things makes it actually very clear that they aren’t at all correct or right. So the decision to remove that part in my opinion actually makes the story less feminist.
Finally, instead of trading Ariel for her “voice,” Ursula trades with Ariel for her “siren song” or “mermaid magic” which for the purposes of the plot means her voice. It’s a very odd decision because again it actually muddies the otherwise very clear moral for little girls that you absolutely should not give up your voice because bad things will happen if you do. But once again, no child would notice this tiny change of verbiage and without source material it wouldn’t be a political statement at all.
Overall, there is no noticeable political statement or ideological lean.
The Little Mermaid is absolutely wonderful and will make fun, sweet streaming for the family or for a walk down nostalgia lane.