Halle Bailey is outstanding in the live-action The Little Mermaid remake. You may have heard that by now, and it is very true.
You also may have heard that the movie surrounding her is murky, overly long and hampered by paint-by-numbers performances. If you hadn’t heard that before, I’m telling you now. The Little Mermaid is a miss that could’ve at least been a minor success.
Bailey successfully steps into the role of Ariel, and she can certainly sing; she does the Mermaid classics proud. Her rendition of “Part of Your World” is truly rousing and had me thinking the movie might stand a chance, even though I was having issues with the murky look of all things underwater. It’s not just my weary, 50+ eyes; you have to strain to make out a lot of the action in this film.
When Ariel winds up on land with Eric (an extremely dull Jonah Hauer-King), the film brightens up a bit visually, but the pacing starts to drag. At 135 minutes, this one is way too long, stretched out and uneven.
Melissa McCarthy could be a pretty great Ursula if we could actually see her. Most of her underwater antics are blurry, and Ursula’s rampage in the finale could’ve been cool, but it’s strangely silhouetted, either because the CGI wasn’t up to snuff, or the clear visual was too scary for kids. McCarthy, like Bailey, sings her part with aplomb.
The film is directed by Rob Marshall, and this isn’t the first time he’s sucked the life out of a reliable enterprise. After making the decent Chicago, he’s turned in bloated duds like Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine and Into the Woods. He did make Mary Poppins Returns, which got by on Emily Blunt’s charms and an amazing Dick Van Dyke cameo, not Marshall’s bad directorial tendencies.
Before its release, I was ready to dismiss The Little Mermaid as wasted energy—just another lackluster re-do of an animated classic that eschews original ideas. (I know I’m not supposed to admit to that sort of prejudging, but I’m human.) After seeing the film, I actually think a wonderful opportunity was blown. For the first part of the film, I was drawn in, thinking this would all be worthwhile, thanks to Bailey. As the second half played out, I was back to my original, cynical thoughts.
The Little Mermaid is playing at theaters across the valley.