It is impossible not to read layers of meaning in Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 Danish fairytale, The Little Mermaid. Does exchanging her voice for legs transform the mermaid into sexual plaything? Is the story a morality tale to scare children to stay on the perceived straight and narrow? Is there a religious story being told of death and resurrection? There is also the subliminal text of growing up and wanting to explore areas beyond one’s comfort zone.
The Little Mermaid (English)
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni, Art Malik, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy
Storyline: Ariel, the youngest of King Triton’s daughters, is fascinated by the world above, and falls in love with a human with disastrous consequences
Runtime: 135 minutes
Disney’s 1989 animation adaptation of the fairy tale won two Oscars and is said to be responsible for the Disney renaissance. After the super successful The Jungle Book, directed and produced by The Mandalorian’s Jon Favreau, Disney has been steadily rebooting all its beloved animation catalogue into live action. Just a couple of weeks ago we had Peter Pan & Wendy and before that there was Tom Hanks as Geppetto in Robert Zemeckis’ Pinocchio.
Now it is the turn of Ariel and gang to get the live-action treatment. Despite all the controversy of casting an African American actor in the title role, Halle Bailey is a treat to watch as Ariel. Directed by Chicago helmsman, Rob Marshall and with Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights, Hamilton) composing alongside Alan Menken, who had scored for the original film, The Little Mermaid glides along smoothly on its pre-ordained path to true-love’s kiss before the sun goes down.
Ariel’s underwater world of Atlantica is colourful and more fun than, dare I say it, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water. Melissa McCarthy as the sea witch, Ursula, is gloriously wicked down to the tips of her octopus tentacles while Javier Bardem as King Triton, Ariel’s father, is sorrowfully regal. Jonah Hauer-King as Eric, the human Ariel saves from drowning and promptly falls in love with, is charming and reminds one of a 1980s Rishi Kapoor.
Actually, a lot of The Little Mermaid is reminiscent of all those movies in which Kapoor is this charming kunwar saab, with Sushma Seth as his indulgent and over-protective mum, looking to save him from the spells cast by beautiful, otherworldly women including a stunning Sridevi as the all-powerful ichchadhari nagin (shape-shifting snake).
Back to The Little Mermaid, and Art Malik (Battery Aziz) who plays a kindly Jeeves to Eric’s Wooster. The voice work is adequate with Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, the crab, Jacob Tremblay as the mandatory nervous fish, Flounder and Awkwafina as Scuttle, a bird providing all sorts of misinformation about the human world including calling the fork a dinglehopper and saying it is used to style hair. All the underwater jokes are present and in place including mentions of “squidling” rivalry and getting “cold fins”.
Another popcorn summer film, this time inviting a dive into the cool CGI waters of Atlantica peppered with shark attacks, shipwrecks and a giant octopus sea witch. Empty calories definitely, but fun all the same.
The Little Mermaid is currently running in theatres
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