The Little Mermaid review: A solid remake of the fishy fairytale

Lucy-Jo Finnighan
The little Mermaid live action still

The Little Mermaid live-action movie proves that life is better under the sea, even if there’s a plethora of unnecessary remake additions.

As of late, Disney has been re-imagining many of their most famous animated films and transferring them into the live-action world. From Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, to Aladdin, The Little Mermaid is the next classic to be given the live-action treatment.

The original first came out in 1989, became a massive hit, and is now one of the most beloved animated films of all time. So naturally, the live-action remake has a lot to live up to. Not only that, but considering a lot of people are fatigued by remakes, the film already has an uphill battle.

So, how does the live-action Little Mermaid fair? Well, let’s get into it, and don’t worry, we’ll do our best to keep this review spoiler-free. (Although, you’ll probably already know the whole story already.)

The Little Mermaid takes you under the sea

The movie doesn’t waste much time before showing you its strong point: its underwater world. Thankfully, the ocean is not as dark and dingy as many of the trailers would have you believe, and the CGI is decent enough to not be distracting.

The Little Mermaid also takes the time to let you bask in the wonder of this world. Many of the Disney live-action remakes often fall into the trap of assuming that we’ve seen the original, and thus hit the necessary beats of setting up environments and characters at a rushed pace. This movie begins to fall into that trap more and more as it goes on, but at the very least it doesn’t start this way.

One big issue of the film’s start is that there’s no opening musical number. The opening song in the original was hardly the most memorable scene, but this choice fails to set up the tone of the movie. It makes it so that when ‘Part of Your World’ – the first musical number in this movie – begins to play, it’s almost jarring.

The songs are okay, but the performances are great

However, what’s not jarring is how good Halle Bailey is at these musical numbers; her powerful and beautiful voice alone is worth the prince of admission. The movie also smartly uses her voice more than the original does, giving her extra songs that she sings in her head once she’s on land.

However, these new songs leave little to be desired, with many of them sounding the same. Prince Eric’s are good and adds some extra characterization, but his voice is jarringly autotuned. Scuttle’s song is Awkwafina and Lin-Manuel Miranda at their worst. One added song that feels right is a sad mini-reprise of ‘Part of Your World’ at the film’s climax, but overall, many of the original songs had people clapping in our screening, and the new songs received no such applause.

Thankfully, the songs we all know and love are given the treatment they deserve – for the most part. Despite not being a singer – and despite not being a drag queen as many audience members wanted – Mellissa McCarthy excels as Ursula, bringing humor and energy to every scene she’s in. It’s been a while since we’ve had a 90s-esque Disney villain that delights in being evil, which is the one silver lining of having all these remakes.

Sebastian, played by Daveed Diggs is also a stand-out in this movie. The ‘Under the Sea’ number is, of course, one of the best scenes in the film, and while the expressionless CGI “realistic” sea creatures can be jarring at first, somehow Sebastian’s quips are even funnier coming from his stiff crab face.

This is sadly the only area where this new Ariel is lacking. Bailey has mastered the curiosity and the lovability of the original Ariel, but lacks the energized giddiness that she possesses once she gets to shore, along with the comedic timing needed to make her fish-out-of-water situation as funny as it originally was. She does get some funny moments with Prince Eric, and thankfully their chemistry is far better than what initial clips and trailers had audiences believe.

Disney remakes need to stop holding our hand

Eric himself (Jonah Hauer-King) is fleshed out a little more in this film thankfully, though this leads to an issue that most Disney remakes have: there is far too much reliance on exposition. Modern Disney films have seemingly forgotten that the audience doesn’t need its hand holding throughout every scene. Besides those quippy Buzzfeed articles titled “10 things in The Little Mermaid that don’t make sense,” we don’t need a reason why Ariel doesn’t just tell Eric about her plan, or why Ursula hates King Triton. It’s a fairy-tale, therefore logic should not take precedent over emotional wonder.

One case in which this expansion of information would have worked is why Ariel is not allowed up to the surface, which is actually a plot point taken from The Little Mermaid 3. The humans are also wary of the merpeople, and while this adds history to the core tension of the film, it doesn’t feel utilized enough, to the point where everyone’s sudden change of heart at the end feels unearned.

However, speaking of emotional wonder, the end of the film will likely do away with any issues you may have. Somehow, you may find yourself tearing up and smiling through simply the visuals and the music alone, though the final embrace between Triton (Javier Bardem) and Ariel will absolutely bring in the waterworks.

The Little Mermaid 2023 review score: 3/5

The Little Mermaid was naturally going to have the same problems that all Disney live-action movies are plagued with, but it’s certainly one of the better ones.

The emotional beats are delivered well enough by a solid cast, and the images and sounds are big and beautiful enough that you would be missing out by not making a trip under the sea. By which we mean a trip to the cinema.

The Little Mermaid is set to premiere in cinemas on May 26. To read more Little Mermaid Coverage, click here.

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About The Author

Lucy-Jo is a Movies and TV Writer at Dexerto, and has previously written for Screen Rant and Girls on Tops. After earning a Master's Degree in Film and Literature, Lucy-Jo now loves covering films, TV shows, and anime, especially if it's something by Mike Flanagan, or anything drenched in camp. You can contact her at