"The Little Mermaid" gets smaller
A lot of noise was made about the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel in the live-action remake of Disney's "The Little Mermaid." Unfortunately, that will be the only thing remembered about this lifeless production of a Disney classic. This was one of the flattest films, never mind remakes, to have come out in a long time.
The story hasn't changed. Ariel (Ms. Bailey) is the inquisitive daughter of King Triton (Javiar Bardem) who's curiosity lures her to the surface world and interactions with humans. Triton does his best to lay down the law even though his paternal authority lost its effect on Ariel. Ariel comes across a cargo ship and is courageous enough to latch on to observe the crew at work. Her heart latches on to Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) who seems as adventurous and daring as she with a sensitive heart who's also brave enough to step in when the crew are involved in a sport of trying to harpoon some mermaids (as it might bring the ship bad luck). Turns out the ship's luck isn't so good after all as it grounds into a patch of rocks sending Eric over the side. Ariel brings him to safety planting a tune in his ear and love in his heart.
Meanwhile Triton's expelled witch of a sister, Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) has been keeping an eye on Ariel looking for an opportunity to take out her revenge on the sea king. She offers Ariel a deal to make her human so that she might make Eric fall in love with her. But, the caveat is, he has three days to kiss her. If not, Ursula will take control of Ariel's soul. Ariel takes her up on the deal. She is unaware, however, that the shifty witch erased the deal from her mind so her friends, the crab Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), the fish Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) and the bird Scuttle (Awkwafina), team up to aid her in appropriating that kiss from Eric.
This is a priceless story. One with layers of meaning of which was talked about and debated when the original was released in 1989. The main thread of debate was about paternal authority and whether or not a daughter is being a "good" daughter by challenging that authority. No such debate will come across from this film due to its absence of emotion.
Sitting at the helm of the picture is director Rob Marshall. He will have the dubious distinction of being the only director to conjure up the blandest performance of Javiar Bardem's career. Mr. Bardem on screen, whether in motion or stationery, exudes an electric presence that enhances every movie he shows up in. As Triton, King of the sea, he comes off as listless and annoying and when the monumental scene comes up when he accepts his daughter's free will it plays as powerfully as a wet candle during a power outage.
Mr. Marshall started his career as a choreographer. In "The Little Mermaid" he loses himself in the musical numbers using CGI effects. The main song, "Part of Your World," done underwater and meant to get every sea creature involved was just too much. Too much movement. Too much color. There wasn't any rhythm between the creatures and Ariel. There's a moment where they even block her as though they were angling to hog up the camera's attention. It feels Mr. Marshall doesn't have the confidence in his ability to choreograph CGI characters. He throws every color and creature into the number to distract the audience from the lack of coherency. It's a shame because he shows more confidence with Ursula's songs. Hers are creative and the only parts of the film that conjure up a spark of intensity that's missing throughout. He also showed a knack of creating suspense when Flounder and Ariel stumble across the hungry Great White.
The animation is wonderful to look at throughout but like the movie as a whole it is uneven. The Ursula storm is impressive but in it her face looks as though the money ran out. The entire ending felt like everybody just wanted to wrap things up. King Triton is reduced to sticking his head out of the water to confess to his daughter of how wrong he was. This great king, and actor, is made to look small and insignificant during a scene in which he is supposed to come to grips with his daughter's independence. Everything about the finale is without thought or imagination.
Ms. Bailey's mermaid is not an issue. She's fine. The trouble comes when connecting all the actors together to bring life to the scenes and the movie itself. They seem to all be in the high school play thinking more of the post play party than their roles. With the exception of Ms. McCarthy, who is the only one having any fun, the production doesn't spark any life within the characters. Its as though they knew they couldn't reproduce the magic of the thought-provoking original and decided if anyone wants a story with depth they can always reference back to it when they get the chance.