Little mermaid

Halle Bailey stars as Ariel in the live-action “The Little Mermaid.” (Walt Disney Pictures)

You’re going to need a bigger bucket of popcorn.

In 1989, the animated musical fantasy “The Little Mermaid” clocked in at 83-minutes, which is a superior running time – a true sweet spot – for a motion picture cartoon that was created primarily to appeal to children. The tickets sales were box office gold.

Parents bringing their kids to see the new live-action version of “The Little Mermaid” should be prepared for a request for more snacks and a need for more bathroom breaks. The film runs a meandering 2-hours and 15-minutes, and that’s a lot of time for refreshments.

However, relax those of you who adore your movies extra long. Director Martin Scorsese’s “Killers Of The Flower Moon,” which just wowed attendees at the Cannes Film Festival, runs 206-minutes. You’ll see it in October. No children.

I wish I could write that ‘The Little Mermaid” unreels swimmingly, but I can’t. I’m not even sure why it was made, if they were going to make it at all. It’s playing in theaters, which is the only place you can see the cookie-cutter film. It’s failure reminds me of the unnecessary remake of “West Side Story.”

The original undersea romantic adventure is a delightful charmer. The new edition is less so. Interestingly, it’s basically the same story with mostly the same songs. There are no surprises. A few new unimaginative tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a flourish of retooled orchestrations by Alan Menken have been added, and frankly, both have done better work as you surely know, unless you’ve been living in a cave in a mountain range somewhere in the desert. And weirdly, considering that the original was animated, the acting is worse in the remake.

The movie opens with a message for moviegoers directly from writer Hans Christian Anderson’s 1837 fairy tale: “But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.”

We’re immersed in cascading water and the story about a human Prince of the Court named Eric, a partying shipwreck survivor, takes root amidst the seaweed and sea creatures of an enchanted world beneath the surface of the ocean. He opens his eyes to see his rescuer, a beautiful mermaid named Ariel. Eric is instantly smitten. Halle Bailey, as Ariel, is a better singer than she is an actress. Thankfully, her voice is truly beautiful. Jonah Hauer-King has the good looks needed for a fantasy prince, but his acting chops are a bit wet.

This “Little Mermaid” is billed as live-action; however, there’s a lot of CGI and the entire enterprise is weighed down by a digitized watery palette that doesn’t look its best. It’s clear that the animators wanted the audience to think they are also underwater, but the imagery lacks clarity. The movements of the fish, as well as the unique mixture of fish-people, are a bit odd. I think “murky” is the best word to describe this failing, plus there’s the added bonus that murky has its secretive side.

As for secretive, I’ll put it this way: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the murkiest of them all? Well, that would be the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), who’s part octopus and part entertainer. She’s hiding a few nasty tricks up her sleeve, and she allows Ariel to have a three-day pass as a human to romp with real people. Ursula would one day like to rule the watery world of Atlantica where much of the story takes place. McCarthy’s performance wakes us up from our doldrums, but it still doesn’t equal Pat Carroll’s pizzazz-filled voicing of Ursula in the early version.

Meanwhile, King Triton, who is Ariel’s father and the ruler of Atlantica, is not appreciative of humans for a variety of reasons. He certainly doesn’t want a hook-up between his daughter and the prince. A bored-looking Javier Bardem as Triton is in the running for worst performance of the year.

Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” has its serious side, but regarding the film, we’re treading water because there’s a new spin under the waves. We end up watching a decidedly strange drama about teenage love and the desire of Eric and Ariel to enjoy each other’s company. The background? A parade of coral reef color, zany sea creatures, and calypso music.

Acceptable, but hardly winning, performances are delivered by Awkwafina as Scuttle the silly seagull, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian the constantly fretting crab, and Jacob Tremblay as Flounder the pleasant flatfish.

Rob Marshall hasn’t so much directed, as he has cast a wide net to see what he can catch. Overall, it wasn’t a good day fishing. Screenwriter David Magee has to come up with a way for the young prince to say that humans should be nice to denizens of the deep. You know, everyday people. Of course, we talking about fish here, but at this point, your kids may be demanding to go home. Eric believes that the entire world needs to get along. Essentially, what he’s saying is that fish are people, too. Give them a chance.

At the heart of “The Little Mermaid” is a romance that lacks believability because the acting of the principals involved isn’t strong enough. They’re not quite sleeping with the fishes, but it’s close.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette, the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, and the CNHI news network. Contact him at

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