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Halle Bailey Brings The Magic To Disney’s Latest Remake

May 24, 2023

The live-action adaption of the beloved animated classic, “The Little Mermaid” —now over-scrutinized by everyone, especially bigots, in the lead-up to its release— hits high notes musically, but its murky visuals are a problem at times. The film goes under the sea, yes, and its score by Oscar winner Alan Menken and Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda is perfect. While it has choppy waters at times, leading lady Halle Bailey, who is on her way to stardom, helps keep this classic together. 
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2023’s ‘Little Mermaid’ begins similarly to the animated version, introducing sixteen-year-old Ariel dreaming of a life above the sea. The first view of Bailey as Ariel is breathtaking; it’s easy to see how filmmaker Rob Marshall decided that Bailey was right for this character. Her youthful zeal and natural radiance help take you into Disney’s version of Hans Christian Anderson’s enchanted universe. 
Many people will already be familiar with the music from the original, making this adaptation an easy sell. Songs like “Part of Your World,” “Kiss the Girl,” and “Poor Unfortunate Soul” return. Some of the words and arrangements in these timeless classics have been updated to reflect the times. This is evident in the song “Under the Sea,” performed by Daveed Diggs, who plays Sebastian the Crab. Bailey’s backing harmonies add a fuller sound to the revised rendition.
It can be challenging to realize the animation fantasy in a live-action film. In this case, Marshall uses an unconventional approach to bring Anderson’s vision for this universe to life. Much of it was shot on a green screen, and the aquatic parts were later reconstructed using an underwater tank and CGI. Older viewers may perceive the film as too dark, which may be intended to depict the darker areas of the water, but the texture is inconsistent and distracting at times. The manufactured look takes some time to get used to, and the transitions above and below the sea aren’t always smooth — but after a while, the music and performers compensate for the lack of spectacular elements.
“The Little Mermaid” was shot using sound stages, and the parts showing the town were shot in Sardinia; however, the set design seemed a little lackluster, given how bright Eric’s home is in the animation. Colleen Atwood, the costume designer, too, fell a touch short when it came to Ariel’s costumes on land. It lacked Ariel’s enthusiasm and excitement when she was near Prince Eric. Because Ariel is a vibrant character experiencing land and human life for the first time, her costuming could have aided in painting that story along with her physical acting. Instead of a costume that reflected her personality and surroundings, she was placed in a neutral ensemble, killing some of Ariel’s joy to finally be near the Prince. These production elements prevent the film from reaching its full potential; nonetheless, the performances make it a winner.
Halle Bailey is Ariel. She is the film, and she is why people will discuss it for years to come. Her tone and portrayal are perfect. She is the image that young girls have of a princess. Furthermore, this live-action adaptation nailed it by choosing an artist who could act and sing. This is a complex composition, and Menken did not simplify the iconic song “Part of Your World” nor the new “For the First Time,” which Miranda wrote. The orchestration is complex, and Bailey’s vocal does not miss a beat.
Without allies, any Disney musical would be incomplete, and Ariel has Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) in “The Little Mermaid.” Diggs is endearing and amusing. Unlike Bailey, he was not on screen in human form and had to communicate Sebastian’s frustrations and anxieties through his voice. The end result is simply wonderful. Awkwafina as Scuttle and Javier Bardem as King Titum receive honorable mentions. Each does their part to help tell this timeless story. 
Prince Eric is the one who has Ariel willing to risk all for love. Jonah Hauer-King has previously appeared in films and television shows in his native England, but this is his first major leading role. The audience sees a more compassionate portrayal of the Prince in the Live Action rendition. He’s a young man wrestling with his identity while handling the pressures of his role. Eric, like Ariel, dreams about a world beyond his Kingdom.
The two protagonists, who come from such different worlds, have a connection since they both struggle to break free from their family’s expectations. There is a genuine spark between Hauer-King and Bailey, and it is clear that they care about each other way beyond their characters. This is evident when the song “Kiss the Girl” is performed. 
Of course, our heroine can’t arrive at her happily ever after without a villain, and in comes Ursula (Melissa McCarthy). By leaning into Ursula’s evil, McCarthy discovered who she is. Her facial expressions — from lifting her brows to pretending fury at Triton’s failure to understand Ariel’s curiosity — were spot on. Ursula is one character whose outfit accurately conveys who she is, and McCarthy made it an extension of her performance.
The two qualities that assist The Little Mermaid in overcoming its technical challenges are music and Halle Bailey. In an era when audiences are accustomed to seeing the unthinkable made possible on the screen, the technical team failed to recreate the animation’s elegance. This would be acceptable from other studios, but this is Disney. Even though this segment of the film is not executed well, it is still an excellent film. New tracks like Jonah Hauer-King’s “Wild Uncharted Waters” and David Diggs and Awkwafina’s uptempo “The Scuttlebutt” are fun additions to an already timeless soundtrack. Furthermore, Disney has finally given us a talent in Halle Bailey, who can act as well as sing to carry out this amazing music. Magic is something that children of all ages desire to experience, and “The Little Mermaid” has magic to share because Halle typifies that enchantment. [B]
“The Little Mermaid” arrives in theaters on May 26.

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