The Little Mermaid movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (2024)


The Little Mermaid movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (1)

Now streaming on:

Disney’s live-action remakes of their beloved, animated classics have seemed like a shameless cash grab with uneven results. Rather than produce original content, the thinking appears to have been: “Here’s a thing people like already. Let’s just give it to them again in a slightly different form.” Some have been legitimately magical (David Lowery’s “Pete’s Dragon,” Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella”), while others have been empty exercises in glossy, computer-generated imagery (“Dumbo,” last year’s atrocious “Pinocchio”).


“The Little Mermaid” is better than the vast majority of these movies, in that it stays true to the core of what people loved about the 1989 original while also expanding the story and characters in necessary ways. The literal fish-out-of-water tale of a mermaid who makes a Faustian bargain to explore the human world and pursue true love feels a little archaic in retrospect. Ariel is an inquisitive and rebellious teenager, but she basically goes from being a king’s daughter to being a prince’s wife. The classic Howard Ashman and Alan Menken tunes, which provide the heart and the backbone of the film, mostly remain intact here, including the insanely catchy, Oscar-winning “Under the Sea.” But in director Rob Marshall’s version, Ariel has greater depth and complexity, and the young woman chosen to play her more than rises to the challenge.

Halle Bailey is radiant in the title role: Expressive, energetic and infinitely likable, with a mixture of girlish sweetness and womanly spine. She finds refreshing new avenues into songs, story beats and even specific lines of dialogue that longtime fans have cherished from the original. And her rendition of “Part of Your World,” a tune we’ve all heard countless times, is unexpectedly stirring. Bailey is up for everything this role demands of her, both physically and emotionally, and she deserves to be a major star.

She benefits greatly from the fact that this “Little Mermaid” offers deeper character development for both Ariel and Prince Eric, which makes their relationship make actual sense beyond a quick, superficial attraction. (This expansion also results in a film that’s nearly an hour longer than the original, but it moves at a decent clip.) David Magee’s script provides parallels in how they’re both trying to break free of their protective parents’ expectations and assert their own identities and ambitions. As Eric, Jonah Hauer-King even gets his own “I Want” song, and there’s more to him than the typically blandly handsome Disney prince.


A quick recap in case it’s been a while: Ariel, the youngest of King Triton's seven daughters, longs to visit the surface world and learn about the wonders of humanity. Her father forbids this, believing people to be violent predators. She dares to defy him with the help of her fish friend, Flounder, and ends up rescuing the daring adventurer Prince Eric from a storm. Smitten, she agrees to a deal with the sea witch Ursula to trade in her transcendent voice for a pair of legs and a trip to the human world. If she can’t secure true love’s kiss by sundown on the third day, she’ll be beholden to Ursula forever.

This version of the fairy tale elaborates on Ariel’s bravery and big-heartedness. It also allows her to spend more time with Eric—who thinks she’s a stunned shipwreck victim and doesn’t realize she’s actually the one who saved him—and enjoy a more substantial connection. Having Ariel explain things about the ocean to the more experienced Eric, even wordlessly, is an inspired touch. So is the fact that she gets to exchange the uncomfortable, high-heeled boots she received at the castle for a pair of comfortable sandals. One of the clever touches allows Ariel to continue singing in her mind, so she’s not completely mute during her time in the surface world. And the way she gets Eric to figure out her name provides one of the movie’s many solid laughs.

The supporting players all step (or swim) into their parts in lively fashion. As always, Daveed Diggs has great timing and delivery as the crab Sebastian, who’s on assignment from King Triton to keep an eye on his daughter. Javier Bardem provides gravitas and tenderness to the role of the king. Awkwafina had big shoes to fill in taking over the Buddy Hackett role of the wisecracking seagull Scuttle and she brings her signature smart-ass persona. Along those lines, Melissa McCarthy tears it up as Ursula, taking over for the legendary voice actress Pat Carroll and putting her own spiky spin on the role.


But the visual effects are the film’s main weakness. Marshall certainly knows his way around a splashy musical, if you’ll pardon the pun. He was nominated for an Academy Award for “Chicago,” after all. But the underwater motion often looks flat and artificial in a way that’s distancing. This is especially true in trying to create the sensation of the mermaids’ long, lustrous hair billowing around them. The “Under the Sea” production number is bursting with vibrant colors, and the sea creatures’ elaborate choreography is a delight. But it doesn’t truly capture the feeling of beingunderthe sea. Flounder, voiced by Jacob Tremblay, makes an especially awkward fit within the live-action setting, especially above the water’s surface.

In terms of underwater worlds, once you’ve been to Pandora, you can never go anywhere else. But the fictional Caribbean island where “The Little Mermaid” takes place is certainly a pleasant escape.

Available in theaters on May 26th.

Now playing

Force of Nature: The Dry 2
Sheila O'Malley

Irena's Vow
Christy Lemire

Civil War
Matt Zoller Seitz

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg
Marya E. Gates

Blood for Dust
Matt Zoller Seitz

Nell Minow

Film Credits

The Little Mermaid movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (9)

The Little Mermaid (2023)

135 minutes


Halle Baileyas Ariel

Jonah Hauer-Kingas Prince Eric

Daveed Diggsas Sebastian (voice)

Awkwafinaas Scuttle (voice)

Jacob Tremblayas Flounder (voice)

Noma Dumezwenias Queen Selina

Javier Bardemas King Triton

Melissa McCarthyas Ursula

Art Malikas Sir Grimsby

Jessica Alexanderas Vanessa

Emily Coatesas Rosa

Lin-Manuel Mirandaas Chef Louis


  • Rob Marshall


  • David Magee


  • Wyatt Smith

Latest blog posts

Always a Rebel: Alessandro Nivola on The Big Cigar

about 4 hoursago

Cannes 2024: The Weirdo Films of Cannes

about 5 hoursago

Cannes 2024: The Substance, Visiting Hours

about 17 hoursago

Jack Flack Always Escapes: Dabney Coleman (1932-2024)

about 19 hoursago





The Little Mermaid movie review (2023) | Roger Ebert (2024)


What are critics saying about The Little Mermaid 2023? ›

With Halle Bailey making a major splash in the title role, Disney's live-action Little Mermaid ranks among the studio's most enjoyable reimaginings. Halle Bailey is outstanding in The Little Mermaid -- and most of the other new additions to this version of the story hit the mark as well.

Is the new Little Mermaid movie any good? ›

The back and forth between Sebastian and Scuttle was hilarious and well written. Melissa McCarthy was a fantastic Ursula and how she was depicted was perfect, especially at the very end. Overall, this is one of the best Disney live action remakes. I would score this a strong 8-8.5/10 and strongly recommend it.

What is the rating on the movie The Little Mermaid 2023? ›

Why did The Little Mermaid get bad reviews? ›

Straight up CGI fish and crab. Songs are bad. Halle Bailey has great voice, and can sing, but other than that, the songs are terrible. A lot of times actors singing go out of tune or lose rythm mostly because the line doesn't really fit the music.

Is Ariel The Little Mermaid autistic? ›

Character Info

Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” has been headcanoned as autistic, because no one who sings a song about wanting to not just learn about an interest, but literally be in that world, is neurotypical.

How much did Halle Bailey get paid for The Little Mermaid? ›

According to Showbiz Galore, she was reportedly paid $1.5 million to don the tail and seashells, though some news outlets reported slightly more modest earnings of $500,000. Despite the online backlash about casting a Black Ariel, this project made Halle Bailey a household name, especially among young Disney fans.

Is Ursula Triton's sister? ›

Ursula was played by Melissa McCarthy in the 2023 live action remake of The Little Mermaid, directed by Rob Marshall. In this version, like with the Broadway musical, Ursula is the estranged younger sister of King Triton (played by Javier Bardem), thus making her the paternal aunt to Ariel and her sisters in this film.

What are people saying about the new Little Mermaid movie? ›

Here's what critics are saying about it. Disney's "The Little Mermaid" remake, starring Halle Bailey in the lead role, is in theaters Friday. Critics give unanimous praise for Halle Bailey's performance as Ariel. The new music pales in comparison to the original and contains "surface level" diversity.

Why did Disney make Ariel black? ›

Representation of an African American woman as a love interest and a beautiful being should become natural. This version of The Little Mermaid is great for young people because it allows them to better appreciate diversity and gain a better sense of the world.

Was Ariel's mother a human? ›

Does Halle Bailey actually sing? ›

Does Halle Bailey sing in 'The Little Mermaid'? Yes, Halle definitely sings in The Little Mermaid. The Atlanta, Ga., native's singing voice was one of the many reasons she was selected to play Ariel.

Was Chloe Grace Moretz supposed to be in The Little Mermaid? ›

When the Lost in Translation alum called quits on the venture, Universal hired other talents for their version of The Little Mermaid. With Coppola's exit, news broke of actress Chloë Grace Moretz being hired to play the role of Ariel; the same role which the director wanted to see Maya Hawke play.

How many people dislike The Little Mermaid? ›

The Little Mermaid remake: Disney's live-action remake of The Little Mermaid receives 1.5 million dislikes - The Economic Times.

Was The Little Mermaid well received? ›

The Little Mermaid—which also stars Javier Bardem, Daveed Diggs, and Awkwafina—is also among 2023's top ten films worldwide to date, earning $570 million at the global box office. The film was praised by audiences who gave it an “A” CinemaScore and a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.

What are the gender issues in The Little Mermaid? ›

While you may think The Little Mermaid is teaching your child a lot of valuable life lessons, the film is actually telling your child to obey society's rigid gender roles: men are strong, larger than the females, and never cowards while women are petite, beautiful, and dependent on men.

What happened to Little Mermaid in 2023? ›

Ariel returns home, where she is unhappy without Eric. On Sebastian's advice, Triton transforms Ariel into a human permanently, and she reunites with Eric. The pair decide to travel together, with the blessing of both their parents and the support of people from both their worlds.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jerrold Considine

Last Updated:

Views: 5901

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (58 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jerrold Considine

Birthday: 1993-11-03

Address: Suite 447 3463 Marybelle Circles, New Marlin, AL 20765

Phone: +5816749283868

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Air sports, Sand art, Electronics, LARPing, Baseball, Book restoration, Puzzles

Introduction: My name is Jerrold Considine, I am a combative, cheerful, encouraging, happy, enthusiastic, funny, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.