Devon Thomas25 May 2023 | 10:00

‘The Little Mermaid’: An appropriately oceanic plunge into familiar waters

Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ proves to be a rare slam dunk as far as its live adaptations go, bringing the audience an unforgettable cinematic experience and reminding us of the time when it not only cared, but was able to produce magic.

‘The Little Mermaid’: An appropriately oceanic plunge into familiar waters

Theatrical release poster for Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' (2023). Picture: Supplied


Contains no spoilers.

When Disney announced in 2019 that Halle Bailey would be playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid live-action adaptation, I was both super excited but also slightly concerned.

I was excited because this felt like a major W for one-half of the best duo in pop music of the last ten years - Chloe x Halle, but I was concerned because Disney has not had the greatest history of producing great live adaptations.

Of every Disney live-action adaptation I’ve seen, the only ones I go hard for are Maleficent (2014), Cruella (2021), and Beauty and the Beast (2017).

But as more information about the adaptation was released, and especially after that first trailer dropped, I was beyond excited for the film and it quickly became my top three most anticipated films of 2023, behind only Scream VI and Barbie.

Of course, you can’t really talk about The Little Mermaid without at least mentioning the controversy that has luckily not overshadowed the film itself.

After it was announced that Bailey would be starring as Ariel, the internet went into a frenzy where most were excited for my girl, especially given that she looks and sounds just like a Renaissance-era Disney princess.


Some, on the other hand, had it out for my girl from the start, with most saying that she did not look phenotypically like the Ariel we all knew and loved: Ronald McDonald-red headed, green-eyed, no-legged, and, most importantly it seemed, white.

Though most of them would like to argue that this stemmed from their staunch alliance to the adaptation being as faithful to the original as humanly possible, we all know that it’s because they didn’t want a black woman to be Ariel.

Admittedly, these people were in the minority, but they were by far the most vocal about their disdain for Bailey portraying a fictional fish-woman, as if it would be so egregious that a black fish person would have existed in the ocean.

If these people were so adamant that an adaptation be faithful to its source material, Ariel and The Little Mermaid should’ve more closely resembled the 1837 Danish fairy tale where the sea witch takes her tongue and tells her that as a human every step would feel like she’s walking on knives and that if she doesn’t marry the prince, she will die of a broken heart and dissolve into sea foam, which is exactly what ends up happening – it’s honestly terrifying.

Anyway, the empty vessels did not care about resembling the source nearly as much as they cared that Ariel would no longer be as white as Snow, even though her race has absolutely nothing to do with her story and wouldn't change anything about it.

Some of the emptiest vessels tried arguing that making Ariel black would irrevocably wipe out the representation of gingers everywhere as if Chucky and the aforementioned Ronald McDonald weren’t right there.

Alas, just as I thought, Ariel being black had no effect on Bailey’s ability to bring the story to life – and that’s exactly what my girl did.

I’m going to go out on a limb and boldly and bravely state that The Little Mermaid is Disney’s best live-action adaptation to date - I’d even argue that it's just as good, if not better, as the original.

The adaptation does exactly what an adaptation needs to do: it elevates the source material for a modern audience while justifying every step of the way why it warrants existence.


The movie itself does not make any remarkable changes that are immediately noticeable, and I must admit that though I love Ariel down, she is not in my top five princesses.

But with this adaptation, she has definitely shot up the charts to at least the top three – and a huge part of that stemmed from Bailey’s performance.

Much of early chatter about the movie has touted Bailey’s performance as being ‘star-making’ and even though she cemented her star-status with me and the girls with taste with the Chloe x Halle masterpiece Ungodly Hour, I have no doubt that after the success of The Little Mermaid, my girl has the potential of eating the other Hollywood girls up if she wanted to.

Personally, I do not think that there could have been a better casting. From her voice (she carried with Part of Your World) to her very essence, Bailey played her Yoncé-approved ass out of Ariel and was the heart of the film – just as OG Ariel was the heart of hers.

Like, you really want this fish lady to win in the end and I found myself genuinely investing in her and her story more and more as the film progresses, even to the point of fearing her safety whenever it gets compromised and empathising with every emotion she displays, especially when she’s mute.

Bailey expertly captures Ariel’s naivety and earnestness in a way I don’t think could have been bettered by anyone else. It’s honestly beautiful to behold.


And that goes for Jonah Hauer-King’s portrayal as the film’s anchor, Prince Eric (Eriel shippers we up) and, surprisingly, Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal as its iceberg, Ursula the Sea Witch.

Regarding Eric, his and Ariel's love story is some of the most romantic and corny stuff I’ve seen in a while, and I could watch the chemistry between Bailey and Hauer-King for hours. If they were to ever end up together in real life, I would ship it to its very end.

Ursula, on the other hand, presented herself as a formidable foil to Ariel, and her corruption (due to what she saw as betrayal) compared to Ariel's innocence was a masterclass character-based storytelling – something that is paramount to the success of a film like this.

I was hypnotised, entertained, and terrified of Ursula, and that is exactly what I’m supposed to be feeling for a character as menacingly evil as her.

Pretty much everyone else does a great job too, even the computer-generated imagery (CGI) animals, once you can look past how terrifying they look (especially Ms Flounder).


As far as any negatives, I honestly don’t have many and the ones I do have are extremely nit-picky things that I would’ve worked on to finesse and perfect the film, but none have any real weight to my overall enjoyment of it.

Unfortunately, all of them are spoilers in some way or the other, so DM me if you want to know my unfiltered thoughts on them (but only if you’re cute, haha).

In the end, The Little Mermaid might not be trekking into Wild Uncharted Waters, but it manages to avoid yet another Disney shipwreck, producing an excellent adaptation that takes the audience on a refreshing dip Under the Sea and into Part of Her World.

If anyone trashes Bailey being Ariel after watching this film, they are just plain racist.

Giving it 8.5 shiny dinglehoppers out of 10.

Go watch The Little Mermaid in theatres everywhere from 26 May. You can stream the trailer below.