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Film Review: The Little Mermaid

FILM REVIEW
THE LITTLE MERMAID
Rated PG
135 Minutes
Released May 26th

With today’s technological developments, a live-action The Little Mermaid is not only possible, but it is an immersive (no pun intended) experience. The undersea world reflects the real ocean in colors, the rhythm of the currents and the variety of living things. If you are a scuba diver or snorkeler, you will recognize this. One shot mirrors the “Little Mermaid” statue in Copenhagen Harbor, and the story has the complexity of the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, with dark passages as well as fun, romance, and lightness. The storms and shipwrecks are beautifully realized, and the power of the sea is symbolized in with the tumultuous ocean filling the screen. Javier Bardem, as “King Triton,” wields tremendous power. 

Director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca had seen the 1989 animated version of The Little Mermaid together and fell in love with it. At that time, they were involved in theatre rather than film. Fast forward, they began making films together.  They dreamed of making a live-action version of The Little Mermaid and to have it look as real as possible. CGI sea creatures had to look lifelike, not cartoonish. The cast was set up on elaborate rigs to mimic the ocean’s currents, diving, circling, and moving rhythmically. Original composer Alan Menken, with Marshall, made sure that each song was tailored to the actor’s talents and emotions. A full orchestra and a professional dance troupe helped to create the music and the movements of the sea creatures. Lin-Manuel Miranda, a producer on the movie, wrote some new lyrics. However, most of the music is the original score. Marshall, DeLuca, and Miranda instinctively understand the language of musicals – they know that when a character breaks into music, it must occur naturally.

Star Halle Bailey was an R&B musician with her sister Chloe on Beyonce’s label, and she and Chloe played the Forster Sisters on Grown-ish. She was the first to audition for “Ariel.” Her performance was so exceptional she brought tears to Marshall’s eyes. He and DeLuca saw hundreds of women of every ethnicity for the role, but no one came close to Bailey. British/American actor Jonah Hauer-King, who plays King Eric, has a vulnerability and awkwardness under his handsome façade that works very well in this role. His first solo is a bit tentative, but he gains confidence later in the film. Daveed Diggs, of Hamilton fame, perfectly voices the comedic crab, “Sebastian.”

Melissa McCarthy kills it as “Ursula.” She had doubts that she would be able to master the role, as she’s not a singer, but she understood the character better than anyone else could have. In the original animated version of the film, Ursula was based on the legendary drag queen Divine, who died in 1988. This inspiration for the role is well-known in the LGBTQ community but not common knowledge to the public. McCarthy wants to change that. She had seen the animated movie many times in her early twenties while working as a nanny to two little girls. She recognized at the time that Ursula was based on Divine. She completely grasps the character and projects her essence unmistakably to the audience. Says McCarthy, “I know her in my heart. I know how damaged she is, and I desperately wanted to have some drinks with Ursula.” Her performance of the song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” will, I predict, go down in history as one of the great musical performances. 

The depth of the visuals, the coloration, the compelling characters, and the rhythm – this movie has it all, and it’s a joy to watch. McCarthy says of director Marshall, “He did this beautiful thing. He built the world we all want to live in. There’s variety there. It’s like everybody wins. Everybody has a seat at the table.”
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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