There I was, a nearly 26-year-old adult, sitting alone in the theater crying to the credits of The Little Mermaid (2023). No, the ending didn't change in this live-action remake of the ’89 animated classic. The film is actually a faithful reimagining of the original, with a few new details added in. But while Disney has been progressively working through its animated archive and giving each a live-action adaptation, this is the first one that's really gut-punched me with the nostalgia factor. The Little Mermaid was always my favorite movie as a child, and watching it as an adult hits differently.
‘The Little Mermaid’ Is a Faithful Remake That Hits Differently for Those Who Grew Up with the Original
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In case you're never seen The Little Mermaid, or aren't familiar with the story, the gist is that a young mermaid named Ariel (Halle Bailey) dreams of exploring the dry world above. However, her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), doesn't want any interactions with humans, because he believes them to be dangerous and blames them for the death of his wife. So, Ariel turns to a sea witch, Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), who gives her the opportunity to be human for three days, but in exchange, Ariel has to give up her voice.
The ’89 film, loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name, was a major success for Disney. It originally grossed nearly $100 million at the domestic box office and is credited with being one of the films that breathed new life into the studio at a time when the company was struggling. Luckily, this new version maintains all the key elements that made the original so beloved.
The 2023 film has all of the catchy songs, including “Part of Your World,” “Kiss the Girl” and the Oscar-winning “Under the Sea.” It also adds a few new tracks that were written by the animated movie's composer, Alan Menken, along with the help of Hollywood's new favorite hitmaker, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
As far as the performances go, these stars shine. McCarthy brings her usual playfulness to the role of Ursula, while Bardem is a moving King Triton. Meanwhile, we get strong comedic voice work from the likes of Daveed Diggs (Sebastian) and Awkwafina (Scuttle). But, in the end, this is Ariel's show, and Bailey kills it, offering more depth to the character than we've ever seen and absolutely singing her heart out (I mean c'mon, that voice!).
This remake also beefs up details from the original film. We get to see more development between Ariel and Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), which makes their romance more believable (given that Ariel can't speak and all). But Bailey isn't totally silent for the second half of the movie. There are a couple of moments where we see Ariel perform even when she's lost her voice, because it's coming from her inner thoughts, and this helps to make the character feel more alive throughout. Meanwhile, this Ariel also takes action into her own hands way more than the animated one did, but we won't totally spoil that for you here.
So, yes, there are welcome updates in this remake, but all in all, it's a very faithful adaptation. And as a super-fan of the original, I can firmly say that they did the Disney classic justice.
But, why does it hit differently you might ask? Here's a bit of a spoiler (you've been warned). At the end, when Ariel is heading off to explore the world with Eric, she looks down to the sea and thinks of her family. Then, King Triton and all her sisters and friends appear. They give her a proper sendoff and tell her they will always be watching over her, and they'll be patiently waiting until she comes back.
The Little Mermaid is not just a tale about fighting for what you want and falling in love. It's also a story about the difficulty of growing up. It's about how when you fall in love, you suddenly have to split your time between your partner and your family. It's about how chasing your dreams can sometimes mean leaving the ones you love behind.
As is sure to be the case with many viewers like myself who watched as a child but are now all grown up, I realize that I am more like Ariel at the end of this film as opposed to the original. It's hard not to look back on times and relationships of the past with a similar sense of inner conflict. But at least I know that like Ariel, while I'm "wandering free" in my adult life, those memories and feelings of nostalgia will always be part of my world.
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