Just like the cartoon, the story centers around a young mermaid, Ariel, who is fascinated about humans and their lives. However, her father, King Triton, forbids anyone to go near people as he deems them dangerous.
After an argument between Ariel and Triton, Triton destroys her collection, leaving her devastated and heartbroken. Ursula, the sea witch and Ariel’s aunt, offers her the option to become a human… but she has to give up her voice for that.
As with any remake, the live action remake has made some changes. Many were done due to how standards have changed since 1989, when the animated adaptation of The Little Mermaid was released.
Below are what I liked or disliked about the remake of The Little Mermaid.
Halle Bailey, the actress who played her, nailed the part – from portraying her actions, naive personality, and voice.
That brings me to my next point – Halle Bailey has a beautiful singing voice. In fact, her performance of Ariel’s signature song, “Part of Your World,” was what landed her the role.
Rob Marshall, the director of this film, said that he was blown away by Bailey’s voice when she sang it at her audition. Of course, Ariel’s voice is essential to the story, because Prince Eric relies on that voice to find the “mystery girl” since that is all he remembers.
A major change from the animated movie was how Ariel cares more about Eric’s compassion than loving him at first sight. I think that is not only a better example to set for real girls (or people in general), but also adds more believability to the character.
Movies have shown both male and female characters loving each other when they first meet. However, I cannot see that happening in real life. Or if it does, then it backfires.
Despite how naive Ariel is supposed to be, she also remains intelligent. One notable moment is when she points out to her father how not all merfolk are the same. So, not every human is alike.
During the scene where she and her dad argue over her encounter with humans and how she saved one, Ariel is not afraid to say that she will not lie.
She is more independent, even after Ursula removes her voice.
For instance, she helps Eric find out her name during the “Kiss the Girl” number when he tries to guess it. He pointed out the constellations of each figure, including Aries. So, Ariel directs Eric to the Aries constellation and moves her finger up and down, which reveals to Eric her name.
When Ariel finds Eric about to marry Vanessa (Ursula in disguise) and chaos erupts, she pulls off the pendant from Vanessa’s neck to get her voice back.
Both are done by Sebastian and Scuttle in the cartoon. So, this change strengthens Ariel’s character.
Then there is the internal thought song, “For the First Time.” This gives the audience more about how Ariel feels about human life through her thoughts, such as what it’s like to be bathed or wear a corset.
She remains more curious about the human world even after that. There is a scene where she is checking out Eric’s collection. He shows her certain items that he will let her handle and rolls out a map, where he shows her different islands surrounding them.
During the scene where Eric and Ariel take a carriage outside of the palace, Ariel controls the horse’s reins and steers it–only for it to speed and spook people. Yet, Ariel enjoys controlling the reins.
When she and Eric are at a festival, different vendors offer different things to her. She shows interest in just about all of them. She even uses a fork (or dinglehopper, as what Scuttle called it) offered by a woman, who was played by Jodi Benson–the original voice of Ariel in the animated movie.
That part reminded me of that scene from Aladdin, the animated adaptation, where street vendors offer Jasmine different items–except that she denies them. But here, it was the reverse.
Even without her voice, Ariel is able to express her interests, teach, and act as a strong female lead.
The updated versions of “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea”
The lyrics for both songs remain the same. But there are differences made to them that I admire:
“Part of Your World” has some dramatic music played along with different stanzas of the number. Add Ariel’s beautiful singing voice, and it makes it powerful and dazzling.
“Under the Sea” has the same Calypso beat – but there are more instrumental moments, which can make the viewer feel like they’re part of the story.
Instead of having other sea creatures partake in the song, Ariel gets those verses instead. She even swims through different sea life, trying to understand Sebastian’s POV.
Ariel and Eric sharing similar lives, with overprotective parents who shield them from the opposing worlds, and who like to collect items
Unlike the 1989 cartoon, Eric shares a similar life to Ariel. His mother does not want him going out on boats again. This especially stresses him out when he wants to find out about the girl who sang to him in the unforgettable voice.
The queen protects Eric from the ocean’s creatures and claims that merfolk are dangerous. She does not want anyone to have anything to do with them.
I found this new subplot to add more complexity to Eric and Ariel’s relationship. It’s a bit like Romeo and Juliet, except that when they meet, they do not hide their relationship. Of course, the castle staff didn’t put the same restrictions on Ariel, because she’s a guest.
The subplot parallels both Ariel and Eric’s relationship since they have something in common. But, obviously, without her voice, Ariel wouldn’t have shared that, not even through body language.
Ariel’s sisters have more screen time and lines
They are introduced at the beginning of the film, sitting at different sections around their father, King Triton, during the meeting of the Coral Moon. Each one is identified as King Triton thanks them for joining him at the little event… until he notices that Ariel is missing.
Their increased screen time and spoken lines give them more complexity than in the cartoon. Although I don’t find them exactly three-dimensional, they are far more developed in this remake.
Aside from not having similar names that all start and end with A, they side with King Triton when it comes to humans. They even give Ariel a hard time about the humans and remind her that they killed her mother when she was a small child.
The answers or changes made to address certain plot holes and mysteries
The live action remake of Beauty and the Beast revealed some unanswered questions about their characters and other literary devices. The Little Mermaid is no different.
Examples of the issues from the cartoon updated in the reboot include:
- The plot hole of why Ariel doesn’t write notes to communicate after her voice was removed – Ariel makes a deal with Ursula by removing a scale off her tail instead. But this is more of a change and it doesn’t really address the inconsistency in the animated version.
- King Triton requires everyone in his kingdom to avoid the surface because humans have killed his wife. The part about his wife being killed by people has been revealed in Ariel’s Beginning, the prequel to the animated film, although he bans music in that movie.
The various twists and turns
No movie is good without unexpected events and even changes. There are no spoilers. But here are some of the twists and turns that intrigued me.
- The setting was on a Caribbean island instead of Denmark – where the original story and 1989 cartoon is set.
- The celebration at the beginning of the movie was centered around the Coral Moon.
- The changes in the lyrics of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Kiss the Girl” were done to respect girls and women when it comes to prejudice and consent needed for someone to kiss her. I knew about these changes ahead of time, though.
- Eric teaches Ariel about the surrounding islands and the constellations that he uses when sailing. This also adds more complexity to him and makes him smarter – not to say that he isn’t intelligent in the cartoon. It’s just depicted differently.
- Ariel likes Max the dog instead of fearing him, unlike in the animated version. Eric even says that Max made a friend.
- Eric gets his own song after his mother and Grimsby gave him a hard time about the “mystery girl.”
The casting choice for Eric
No offense to Jonah Hauer-King or anyone who supports his portrayal of Eric – I just felt that he wasn’t exactly the best choice.
At the beginning, he has to yell a lot while the other men harpoon the fish. I found that to be out-of-character for him.
But because Eric is so desperate to find that “mystery girl,” he acts unsophisticated and rebels against his mother and the palace staff when they tell him that she’s not real. He’s also only 21 years old.
Even though this surprised me, I discovered that Jonah Hauer-King was only in his mid-20s when this movie was filmed (I’d thought he was in, at least, his 30s). So, he was young enough for the part of Eric. I also ended up finding his portrayal better than I had predicted.
Yet, I still can’t see him as Prince Eric.
Flotsam and Jetsam have no speaking likes nor are their names mentioned
When Ariel is crying after her father destroyed her collection, Flotsam and Jetsam form a circle, where Ursula speaks to her. She offers her the opportunity to “help” her get what she wants.
I found it odd that the eels’ don’t get any lines nor have their names revealed. I feel like it removed their character development.
In the cartoon, they share the same personality as Ursula. So, maybe that’s why they don’t talk. Still, I would have preferred that they spoke.
Grimm, or Grimsby, not being the kind person he was in the cartoon
In the cartoon, Grimm is easy-going with Eric. He is also very sweet to Ariel when she joins him and Eric for dinner.
The fact that he was the opposite in the live action remake dissatisfied me. Aside from the other men who went on the ships with him, Eric had no kind person around him.
Yes, he had to make his own decisions and be more independent. But I still favor the animated Grimm over the live action one.
Despite how the trailer didn’t blow my mind away, I still enjoyed The Little Mermaid more than I thought I would have.
I think the number of changes is almost too many to say if it’s better or worse than the 1989 adaptation. But the pitfalls, despite how minor that were, only made this film nearly as good as the cartoon.
I give The Little Mermaid 4.5 out of 5 stars