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Today’s Prayer Focus
MOVIE REVIEW

The Little Mermaid

also known as “A kis hableány,” “A Pequena Sereia,” “Arielle, die Meerjungfrau,” “Den lilla sjöjungfrun,” “Den lille havfrue,” “Den lille havfruen,” “Küçük Deniz Kızı,” “La Petite Sirène,” “La sirenetta,” “La Sirenita,” See more »
MPA Rating: PG-Rating (MPA) for action/peril and some scary images.

Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
CONTRIBUTOR

Average (somewhat offensive)
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
• Teens • Young-Adults • Adults
Genre:
Remake Adventure Fantasy Romance Musical 3D
Length:
2 hr. 15 min.
Year of Release:
2023
USA Release:
May 26, 2023 (wide release)
DVD: September 19, 2023
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Relevant Issues

What is true love and how do you know when you have found it?

Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Negative results of rebelling against one’s parent and his instruction

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” —Ephesians 6:1

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.” —Colossians 3:20

Although Ariel’s father is not perfect and could have curbed her in some wiser ways, he truly loves her.

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Making a deal with a devil (sea witch)

Portrayal of fantasy magic and fantasy witchcraft

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Featuring Halle BaileyAriel
Jonah Hauer-KingPrince Eric
Melissa McCarthyUrsula
Javier BardemKing Triton
Jude AkuwudikeJoshua
Noma DumezweniQueen Selina
Jessica AlexanderVanessa
Kajsa MohammarKarina
Lorena AndreaPerla
Daveed DiggsSebastian (voice)
Jacob TremblayFlounder (voice)
AwkwafinaScuttle (voice)
Simone Ashley … Indira
See all »
Director Rob Marshall—“Into the Woods” (2014), “Nine” (2009), “Chicago” (2002), “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005)
Producer Walt Disney Pictures
Lucamar Productions (DeLuca Marshall)
See all »
Distributor Walt Disney PicturesWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Original animated version: The Little Mermaid (1989) — G-Rated

Atlantica is a pretty special place. It is the home of all living aquatic creatures, including the merfolk (mermen and mermaids). The creatures of Atlantica, as well as the sea itself, are ruled by the mighty King Triton who lives with his daughters: Perla, Indira, Mala, Tamika, Karina, Caspia and then there’s Ariel.

Ah, let’s talk about Ariel. She’s always been the black sheep (fish?) of the family. The rest of the family see humans as savage selfish, horrible creatures only out to kill and destroy with no regard for marine life. Ariel, however, sees a different side of humanity, particularly in one human who catches her eye, Prince Eric. “He’s really different from the rest,” she thinks to herself. Overtime, she becomes more and more enamored with Prince Eric. “If only I could live among humans, just for one day.” Careful for what you wish for Ariel.

It just so happens the sea witch has secretly been spying on Ariel, believing Ariel might be the key to seizing King Triton’s trident and taking control of Atlantica and the seas. So Ursuala approaches Ariel and offers her to fulfill her great desire, to become human. All Ariel has to do is get Prince Eric to kiss her in three days, without her voice, mind you, and not just any kiss… true love’s kiss, for if she can, she’ll remain human forever. If she can’t get him to kiss her, however, she’ll turn back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula.

“No this isn’t right,” thinks Ariel. “Fine, then you’ll never be with your true love,” shouts Ursula. Ursula makes a convincing argument. The deal is struck and Ariel becomes a human. Now she really is part of their world…

First off, I’m a fan of “The Little Mermaid,” not simply the story but also the music. As both a movie buff and a music teacher, I am a huge fan of both Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s music. These men were, and continue to be, some of the most iconic film composers in the history of film music. Their music could be found sporadically and helped ignite what was called the “Disney Renaissance,” where, as other critics pointed out, Disney started to go back to its roots in animation and created many more animated classics like “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” etc. As I am a fan of the original, I wanted to ensure that this remake did the original justice.

Shortly before attending my screening, I watched the original 1989 animated “The Little Mermaid.” There were three things I truly appreciated about the original: the passion every actor/actress put into each character, the appropriate use of instruments in each song and the smooth pacing of the film. Going into the screening I wondered how true to the original, musically and performance-wise, they were going to be.

In truth, “The Little Mermaid” (2023) surprised me on every level. While on the outside, many aspects of the original still exist in this film, on the inside this live-action tackles what the animated version didn’t and honestly couldn’t. It goes far deeper into the character’s individual internal conflicts, it provides backstories to characters who, truthfully, needed it in the animated film, and yes, there are a few new musical numbers that strengthened the film.

When it comes to the overall performances, some actors/actresses really shined and some fell flat. For example, Halle Bailey truly shined in this role. She is meek, but not weak, and when she sings my mouth dropped, especially on “Part of Your World.” Her version of this classic is tasteful yet not overly flashy, just enough of her own touch to make it her own. Melissa McCarthy’s performance is also strong and her rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is fairly strong, even though half is spoken (for reasons I was confused about, because Melissa has a really nice voice). Javier Bardem fell flat as Triton. It just wasn’t the right part for him. Daveed Diggs provides an incredibly humorous Sebastian,

My concerns include the overall pacing of the film: the original was a half hour shorter than this film, and while I can appreciate the additional content, the pacing needed to sped up to make up for this (I checked my watch at least more than once). I also had some issues with the final sequences of the film: it felt far darker than the original film ever did, so parents take caution if you consider taking little ones. The original was G-rated, whereas in this new PG version, Giant Ursula is far more frightening.

Content of possible concern

VIOLENCE: A character is impaled with a ship’s broken mast and killed. Sailors are seen trying to harpoon fish (unsuccessfully). There are discussions about the Sea King trying to lure sailors to their death. A shark is seen chasing Ariel and Flounder briefly. A character is hit on the head with a cigar pipe. There is a massive storm at sea that throws people overboard and catches the ship on fire (we even see people jumping overboard). We witness a character destroying Ariel’s trinkets. Urusla’s garden is seen attacking a character (briefly). A carriage is seen almost running over people. A bird attacks Vanessa (aka Ursula in disguise) as does another character. A character is seen being shocked by eels. A character is electrocuted, but brought back to life later. A character is seen eating a live shrimp.

LANGUAGE: Idiot (2), stupid (1), shut-up (1)

SEXUAL: Ursula presses her hands underneath her breasts at times.

NUDITY: Since this is a live-action remake, the outfits are more defined. As such, more of the mermaids’ midsection is revealed and the mermens’ chest and shoulders are bare. Ariel is seen naked when picked up from the ocean (she covers herself with her hair and her legs so nothing graphic is seen). We see her later in the tub (again everything is covered). Eric’s intended, Vanessa, wears some revealing clothing in her room (very brief). Eric is sometimes seen with an open shirt.

OCCULT: There are some very brief discussions of sea gods and the folklore of merpeople and King Triton is based on real Greek mythology. Someone mentions a “siren song” was used to heal a character and also to enchant someone into falling in love with her. Ursula is a witch and is seen using potions, chants, and spells to change Ariel into a human (and someone else later on).

ALCOHOL: Sailors are briefly seen drinking during a party on board.

WOKEISM: There is a not so subtle environmentalist messaging within the film, including a scene with King Triton and his daughters cleaning up a shipwreck and talking about the humans and how they leave their messes all over the ocean floor and have no regard for marine life—“killing all the coral, destroying the reef and upsetting the balance.” There is also a message about progression (progressiveness) and not being left behind that is mentioned a few times throughout.

OTHER: Ariel is very defiant to King Triton and sneaks up to the surface world often against his wishes. Eric is often defiant and disobedient to his mother, the Queen, and leaves the castle against her wishes. Ursula’s lair is dark and ominous.

Lesson

One of the underlying reasons Ariel longs for the surface world is because she desires more than what she has in the ocean. She is not content with how things are and with where she is. She wants more.

As Christians, it is not necessarily wrong to want something, but it becomes problematic when we continually ask for more and more and never find satisfaction in what we are given. Since God is the ultimate provider, and in His providence gives us everything we truly need, we must be patient and wait on Him, for his timing is perfect. In Ecclesiastes it states…

“Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.” —Ecclesiastes 6:9

Paul said this to the Phillipians

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” —Phillippians 4:11-12

But then Paul concluded by stating…

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:19

Final Thoughts and Cautious Recommendation

“The Little Mermaid” (2023) caught my attention in more ways than one. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this adaptation as much as I did. As a standalone film, not judging it by its 1989 twin, it is an enjoyable addition to the Disney collection, as it has heart, nostalgia and gives more context to the story than the original was allowed to provide. At the same time, however, the price to pay is a little more gravitas in terms of atmosphere and the bar for the level of peril has been raised quite a bit this time around, so parents should take caution before proceeding.

Overall, however, I believe that this film is probably okay for most families with older children and teens. I would suggest leaving the youngest ones at home (I heard a toddler at one of the screenings I attended, and they definitely started crying in fright during a couple of more intense moments). As always, viewer discretion is advised.

  • Violence: Moderate
  • Wokeism: Moderate
  • Nudity: Mild
  • Sex: Mild
  • Occult: Mild
  • Language: Minor (no profanity)
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—My family and I loved it! Halle Bailey did an incredible job as Ariel and I got chills watching her sing in many scenes! Jonah Hauer King’s (Eric) and Melissa McCarthy’s (Ursula) performances were also outstanding and really brought more dimensions and complexity to their characters. Overall a really beautiful film and we look forward to seeing it again!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Laura Wilson, age 43 (USA)
Positive—It seems like I’m almost the “only person in the world’ who did not see the original Disney animation prior to going to see the current live-action remake of “The LIttle Mermaid’ (2023). So my comments are based solely on the current film, without comparison to the original Disney cartoon film.

When I walked out of the film, I felt positive, inspired and upbeat. The actress Halle Bailey who stars as the mermaid “Ariel’ seems to be perfectly cast for the role. It’s a pure joy to watch her in the film. Parts of the film are like a sweet romantic comedy. A major theme is dealing with the “other.’ “Land’ and “sea’ overcome their basic fear and mistrust of each other.

The queen, a black woman, who had adopted and is now raising a white son, the prince, who falls in love with the mermaid, a black woman—adds for an interesting angle in the remake of Han Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale.

Other themes in the film are truth vs. Deception, the power of the voice and dealing with authority in one’s life. For us movie goers, who live on the land, we usually don’t have the privilege or luxury of seeing the beauty under the sea. The beauty of the undersea world in the film allows us to appreciate all the more the beauty we do have on the land around us.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Ken, age 65 (Israel)
Positive—I just saw it last night with a girlfriend. We both thought it was well done. Although there was some fighting, drinking, the spell casting and defiance, we both really enjoyed it and would go see it again!! As a Born Again Believer, I wasn’t offended by the movie’s content. I felt the various messages of getting to know people that are different from you and the consequences on defiance and parents listening to their children and no one has all the answers came across loud and clear. I think we must guard our hearts with all diligence and filter what we see, say, hear and think through the Word of God. As a parent I would talk to my children to get their thoughts on the movie. What they thought of it and the various characters. Was it scary to them? Lessons that should have been learned? This movie allows for parents to point out teachable moments. I give this movie 5 stars!!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Debra, age 62 (USA)
Positive—This Little Mermaid version is 10 times better than the older version in my opinion. I’m speaking solely for morality—the difference between good and evil was much more clearly defined. The respect verbally, and the reunification and sacrificial love shown by both father and daughter is so much sweeter than the older version. This Mermaid is not at all presented as a bratty, selfish teenager we once knew. As my nearly 6 year old child put it so well: “Mom, she (Ariel) is just really curious like me.

Some of the most outstanding changes:

The real respect and love Ariel shares with her father is far more genuine. As is his concern for her future.

Ariel is presented as a curious, bright young woman, her Mermaid costume is NOT over sexualized as it is in the first film.

Prince Eric seems much more humble, and genuinely interested in a budding friendship/early romance with Ariel. He comes across as a young man still trying to find his way in life, and unbeknownst to him at the time, seeking a life partner to join him. (Good reflection on Biblical romance and marriage)

Ursula is much more in depth and believable as a DECEIVER and not just a villain. Her well thought through tactics, looking to divide and destroy (sound familiar to Christians?) coupled with Ariel’s reluctance and vulnerability are outstandingly prophetic to our times.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Sarah, age 35 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral—Personally, I didn’t care for this movie. While there was nothing offensive in the movie that wasn’t already present in the original movie (the Sea Witch who is portrayed negatively, Ariel’s deal with her which is also portrayed negatively, and the sea realm and world being based off of Greek mythology), it just wasn’t as good of a film. I admit I liked some of the changes to the story, as well as one of the songs, but most of this movie was inferior to the original movie. Flounder looks creepy in this version, and the acting for Sebastian and Poseidon is horrible (the former sounds like he’s trying too hard to imitate the original voice actor and failing, the latter comes across as monotone with none of the authority that the original had).

The movie also incorporates pointless changes that don’t improve the story. All of Poseidon’s daughters are different races, which makes no sense unless this movie is trying to imply that Poseidon had a bunch of wives (which, yes, is pretty much how Greek mythology goes, but some concepts are better left on the cutting room floor). A detail is added of Ariel’s memory being erased so that she won’t be able to complete the deal, which actually ends up creating less suspense because Ariel no longer knows that she has a time limit and isn’t afraid (It also raises questions of whether Ursula’s contract was really binding anymore if she didn’t even hold to her own side of the agreement).

Last of all, and most egregiously, there was a random rap song three quarters into the movie, which only served to interrupt the flow and clashed with the tone drastically to the point that it was unintentionally hilarious.

All in all, this film was a disappointment, and is another movie to add to the hypothetical shelf of pointless remakes. I’m not going to say not to go see it, because I’m sure some Christians will get enjoyment out of it, but if you have a choice between the original movie or the remake, the original is the much better option, and if you’re a fan of the original, expect to be disappointed.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 2
Curt, age 26 (USA)
Negative
Negative—This live-action remake of the beloved animated masterpiece “The Little Mermaid” gets lost in Wild Uncharted Waters. The acting ranges from poor to subpar, and the writing, directing, etcetera, are pathetic.

Biblically speaking, though, there is not much in the way of offensive content, aside from violence which is amplified more than in the 1989 classic. Refreshingly, unlike the remakes of “Beauty And The Beast” and “Aladdin,” and “Toy Story IV,” “Onward,” “Lightyear,” “Strange World,” “Better Nate Than Never,” etcetera, there are no homosexual characters or references, be they ever so subtle or overt.

MILD SPOILER!!!… The scenes of Ariel naked after she gets turned into a human are risque in live-action, even though of course, there is no nudity. END MILD SPOILER!!!…

The biggest stain on this remake was casting a black girl as Ariel. The character was written as white in the original story. There are some good stylistic choices, but others fall flat as a flapjack. Stay through the credits, which are beautifully stylized. There are scary images and violence and peril. The Little Mermaid (2023) is rated PG. “Swim Under The Sea” with the animated prequel television series, the original animated classic, and The Little Mermaid II. Consign this remake to the depths after one viewing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
D, age 37 (USA)

PLEASE share your observations and insights to be posted here.

Secular Movie Critics
…Could this version of “The Little Mermaid” stand alone if the original didn’t exist? Possibly. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s songs and story structure remain intact and are its only salvation. But, again, why watch the live-action remake when the original is so much better and suited more for kids? …
Alan Ng, Film Threat
What Happened to the Frothy Pleasures of “The Little Mermaid”? …Bailey is, unfortunately, completely failed by the dull, misguided production around her. As the studio has done with other live-action remakes, Disney betrays its own lack of imagination and an essential misreading of what made its original children’s fare such a joy to audiences in the first place. …
Angelica Jade Bastien, New York Magazine (Vulture)
…Like other live-action remakes, “The Little Mermaid” is a neatly packaged story ribboned with representational awareness. There’s enough in it to fill an evening, but it doesn’t inspire much more than a passing sense of déjà vu. …
Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter
…It’s functionally good-natured rehash fare, bogged down by some watery CG and a few uncomfortable dips into “uncanny valley”, yet buoyed up by Bailey’s winning titular performance …[3/5]
Mark Kermode, The Observer
…A thoroughly pointless cash grab of a thing, this new Little Mermaid is one of the most uninspired films to slither out of Disney since the company started raiding its own vault. …Dreary in tone, dour in imagination and paced like a sea snail stuck trawling the crusty barnacle of a beached whale, director Rob Marshall’s redo is not only difficult to sit through but also makes little business sense. Too frightening for the under-10 set, too drippy for the YA crowd and too painfully dull for any self-respecting adult, The Little Mermaid doesn’t seem to be made for anyone in particular. …
Barry Hertz, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
…Another ‘live-action’ remake that’s darker and less compelling than the animated original, but it’s saved by Bailey’s charming performance, McCarthy’s sass and the story’s own eternal magic. …[3/5]
Helen O'Hara, Empire [UK]
…including a cringe-worthy rap song performed by Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), this Little Mermaid feels more or less like two-hour-plus cosplay with the texture and gravitas of a Disneyland sideshow. …[1/4]
Greg Nussen, Slant Magazine
…At the end of the day, people won’t be lining up at a Disney park to ride a clamshell into a ride based on this live-action version. And that tells you everything you need to know. Next time, maybe just give this kind of money to the ink and paint department. …
Richard Whittaker, Austin Chronicle
…Bailey is the best thing about this film but, despite a team crammed with talent, this live action reworking can’t match the magic of the 1989 classic. …
Ellen E. Jones, The Guardian