The Little Mermaid review live action 2023 wallpaper
June 10, 2023

Yet another Disney live-action remake – but does it sink or swim? Find out in our The Little Mermaid review.

It’s hard to believe that just over 30 years ago, Disney was close to extinction. From the ’60s through to the late ’80s, the animation giant struggled to succeed, with many of its films flopping at the box office. But that all changed with a single film that truly took the world by storm and triggered a Disney revival: The Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid original

Mermaids, saving both sailors and Disney themselves since 1989.

Drawing its narrative from the classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen and featuring the phenomenal music of Alan Menken, The Little Mermaid ushered in Disney’s “Golden Era“. And with the Golden Era films receiving live-action adaptations (The Lion King, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan), now it’s Ariel’s time to be part of this world in the live-action The Little Mermaid.

Taking the classic tale, stunning songs, and charismatic characters, does this remake rise above the tides, or will it flounder and flop? Dive into our The Little Mermaid review.

The Little Mermaid Review – Story

You’ve probably had some exposure to the classic tale of The Little Mermaid at some point, but for those of you who haven’t been part of this world, let’s take a deeper look.

The live-action remake yet again begins in the underwater kingdom ruled by King Triton, where we meet Ariel, a vibrant and adventurous young mermaid who has a deep fascination with the human world. Despite her father’s warnings and the disapproval of her friend Sebastian, a crab and Triton’s advisor, Ariel collects human artifacts and longs to be part of their world.

The Little Mermaid review 2023 live action Ariel with fork

“I see you’ve played knifey spooney before.”

One day, Ariel rescues Prince Eric from a shipwreck and instantly falls in love with him. Determined to be with him, she makes a fateful decision to visit Ursula, a powerful sea witch (and basically her evil aunt). Ursula offers Ariel a deal: she can transform into a human for three days, during which she must receive “true love’s kiss” from Eric. However, if she fails, she will belong to Ursula forever.

The Little Mermaid review live action 2023 remake beach scene Ariel and Eric

The most touching mermaid romance since 2019’s “The Lighthouse”.

Ariel agrees to the deal and trades her beautiful voice for a pair of legs. She emerges from the ocean as a human and catches Eric’s attention, but without her voice, she struggles to communicate her feelings to him. Despite the setback, Ariel pursues true love in an attempt to overcome Ursula’s curse. Though things don’t quite go according to plan, especially when King Triton discovers that Ariel has left the sea forever…

The Little Mermaid review 2023 live action remake King Triton

The exact moment Triton finds out his daughter has a boyfriend.

Much like the original film, the live-action adaptation explores not only themes of love and sacrifice, but also personal growth and the pursuit of dreams. Ariel’s journey is filled with challenges and lessons that teach her the importance of staying true to herself and the value of family and friendship. Despite being a children’s film, it’s filled with heavy topics like identity, the consequences of making deals without considering the fine print, and even the power of communication.

In its essence, the remake remains mostly true to the story of the original, adding in some minor deviations, ensuring fans of the classic are left feeling familiar and satisfied.

The Little Mermaid Review – Acting and Direction

Truly channelling every ounce of herself into the character of Ariel, Halle Bailey takes centre stage and steals the show in the lead role. Despite the unwarranted drama surrounding her casting choice, Bailey creates a convincing, charming, and loveable Ariel both under the sea and on land. Her performance is enrapturing, like the siren song she so effectively draws upon throughout the film.

The Little Mermaid review 2023 live action remake Ariel on rock scene

A voice worth drowning for.

Where Bailey truly shines is throughout the film’s many musical sequences and famous songs. With a singing voice capable of leading men to their doom, her perfectly clean high notes echo throughout the theatre and draw viewers into the underwater world. However, outside of the music, Bailey’s emotive relationship with her father and her swooning scenes with Prince Eric do occasionally fall flat, lacking the emotional impact that one might expect.

The Little Mermaid review 2023 live action remake Kiss the Girl

Kiss the girl, but only after several years of courting and her father’s approval.

The supporting cast of characters don’t quite carry the film as much as Ariel herself. With Jonah Hauer-King as the dreamboat Prince Eric, there are scenes where he comes across as such a one-dimensional character lacking much depth at all. Despite being the key romantic interest, Eric often finds himself as more of a comic relief (in a film with far too much comic relief). Even renowned actor, Javier Bardem, as King Triton, is fierce and powerful, but just seems to be lacking in his overall delivery as the king of the seven seas.

The Little Mermaid review 2023 live action remake King Triton

“Don’t trust humans, Ariel, they turned your mother into a sashimi platter.”

Harkening back to the original film, the live-action remake replaces its cartoonish comedic characters with photorealistic versions of themselves. The loveable Sebastian the Crab is quite literally… a crab (Daveed Diggs). The hesitant and unsure Flounder is a googly-eyed fish (Jacob Tremblat). And lastly, the dimwitted bird-brain, Scuttle, is an actual Northern Gannet (Awkwafina). While the actors’ voices are completely on-point, these incredibly animated characters come across far less personable as their real-life versions.

The Little Mermaid review 2023 live action remake Sebastian the crab

Jokes delivered by a live-action crab are a bit… fishy.

While the film is often vibrant, upbeat, and comedic, there are many scenes throughout that are equally dark and moody. This is of course thanks to none other than the sea witch herself, Ursula, played by the loveable Melissa McCarthy. Her performance captures the sheer evil, sly, and manipulative nature of the villain and is a wonderful portrayal that feels incredibly true to the original.

The Little Mermaid Review – Visuals

Things look better down where it’s wetter, and that’s especially the case for The Little Mermaid remake. Many of the most impressive visual sequences take place underwater, featuring a wide variety of colourful and unusual sea life. The use of special effects brings the underwater kingdom to life and manages to still look incredibly convincing. During the “Under the Sea” song and dance sequence, it was impossible to stop myself from stupidly smiling and becoming wrapped up in the gorgeous visuals.

The Little Mermaid review 2023 live action Ariel surfacing shot

Conversely, the style, sets, and characters on land feel decidedly dull. While there are elements of Caribbean influence that bring vibrant colours to the market scenes, the second half of the film plays out like a standard period drama and feels lacking in the visual magic that The Little Mermaid fans have come to know and love.

The Little Mermaid Review – Audio

Disney fan of not, there’s no denying the incredible cultural impact of The Little Mermaid and its stellar composer, Alan Menken. Responsible for the sound of modern Disney, Menken created an enrapturing score that captured the hearts of millions, alongside some of the most memorable songs to feature in any film. And yes, he’s back again as the composer of the live-action remake!

Menken’s music is as magical as it was 34 years ago, possibly even moreso in the remake. The film features almost all of the classic that fans of the original know and love, including the centrepiece, “Part of Your World” with a jaw-dropping performance from Halle Bailey. There are also additional original musical numbers created entirely for the live-action version of the film, but these lack the same charm of those from the original.

The original score though is just as beautiful as the original through Menken’s timeless music. You’ll be treated to delightful and delicate sounds under the sea to accompany the serene aquatic life, harshly contrasted with huge orchestral pieces to represent the unmatched power of the sea. It still holds up as some of the finest Disney music ever created.


In a world awash with live-action Disney remakes, does The Little Mermaid finally perfect the formula? Despite it’s phenomenal music, star performance from Halle Bailey, and impressive aquatic visuals, this is yet another remake that can’t quite hold up to the original.

While there are plenty of elements to love throughout, particularly for fans of the original, there are just as many moments that fall flat. So if you’re a Little Mermaid fanatic, you’ll enjoy being part of this world, but won’t find yourself hooked.

So, why should you watch The Little Mermaid?

  • Enjoyed the original? You’ll likely get a kick out of the remake
  • Stunning performance and singing from Halle Bailey
  • Music that’s just as good (if not better) than the original
  • Wonderful underwater aquatic visuals.

But why shouldn’t you watch The Little Mermaid?

  • Supporting performances fall flat and lack emotion
  • Live-action animals are no substitute for original animated characters
  • You’re still better off just watching the original instead/

A screening was kindly provided by Disney Australia and Shout Communications for the purpose of our The Little Mermaid review. If you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out more of our film reviews and join the Qualbert Discord to talk with us about all the latest films!

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