Who would have guessed the mystifying problem with Rob Marshall’s live action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid (B-) would be subpar animated visual content? Seemingly rendered in a murky millpond leagues away from where James Cameron toiled twelve years on his recent underwater opus, Marshall’s nautical nightmare of unsure blue hues and realistic looking talking sea creatures threatens to sink this ship before it even starts. Parting the waters of this production design debacle is a stunningly watchable fresh-faced pair in the lead performances as star-crossed lovers: the instantly endearing Halle Bailey in gorgeous voice as spirited mermaid Ariel and Jonah Hauer-King as earnest intrepid explorer Prince Eric. Together this dreamy duo could enchant viewers with a charm offensive against a blank backdrop and frankly probably should have. Sequences set in the ocean left much of the cast, including a cerebral Javier Bardem as King Triton, floundering. The story feels oddly like a submerged Bachelorette season: Thirst trap induced longing for life on land prompts the titular heroine to make a Faustian deal with villainous sea witch Ursula (a committed but CGI compromised Melissa McCarthy) to sprout human gams, and fortunately the sequences set on land are the sweet fantasia here. The musical numbers are a mixed bag with “Part of Your World,” “Kiss the Girl” and the new “Wild Unchartered Waters” as standouts, but Oscar winner “Under the Sea” feels like a throwaway, and the less said of a final act sing-speak by a squawking Awkwafina the better. Sure the kitchen scene antics of “Les Poissons” have been excised, but a house of horrors embodied by uncanny valley crab Sebastian, fish Flounder and seagull Scuttle is an omnipresent trilogy of terror. When the movie does more than skim the surface and anchors its fortunes to the central romance with some modern-day thematic resonance, the film featuring curious choices and excellent voices finally begins to stand on its own two feet.
Click here for Stephen’s review of the 1989 animated movie.