The Pitch: Once upon a time, in a faraway ocean kingdom, a young mermaid developed an unhealthy obsession with a guy suffering from the affliction of being human. So she decided that the best course of action was to make a binding legal contract with an evil sea witch (who also happens to be her aunt now?) for the chance to woo said guy as a human herself.
Great plan, Ariel. No notes. But that’s The Little Mermaid for you, a copy of a copy of the classic Hans Christian Anderson story, first reimagined in 1989 by writer/directors John Musker and Ron Clements, whose work has now adapted by director Rob Marshall as a live-action extravaganza.
Down Where It’s Wetter: “Extravaganza” is another way of saying that the latest Disney live-action remake has taken the original film and added 52 more minutes of… well, not story, exactly. Instead, there’s just slightly more of everything, as Marshall and writer David Magee use those 52 extra minutes to add a few extra songs (written by original composer Alan Menkin, with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda), but also new details about the 1830s Caribbean nation and undersea kingdom in which the story is set.
Starring Halle Bailey as the titular mermaid who is small, Jonah Hauer-King as the dashing prince she falls for, and Melissa McCarthy as the evil sea witch with a strong grasp of contract law, there are moments of the film with real flourish — at the press screening I attended, there was actual applause after this film’s take on “Under the Sea.” However, it’s a movie that never really justifies its reason for existing, beyond some strong casting choices and, of course, the opportunity to make Disney a whole lot of money.
A Hot Crustacean Band: Like all of these live-action adaptations, there’s no shortage of CGI magic involved in bringing certain characters to life. When it comes to the non-human “cast,” here are all of the digital characters ranked, from most to least engaging:
1. Sebastian (Daveed Diggs). Despite having the least human facial structure, his big cartoon eyes give him the most personality… once you get past the surrealism of the aforementioned big cartoon eyes.
2. Scuttle (Awkwafina). Just looks like a talking bird, which is easier to accept than…
3. Flounder (Jacob Tremblay). It’s not just his dead eyes, but the way your brain actively rejects the idea of him as a talking fish; a weird new plateau within the uncanny valley. Of all the characters, his is the one who could have used a more cartoonish approach.