Halle Bailey Gives The Little Mermaid Its Voice | Review

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Disney’s live-action take on The Little Mermaid arrives this week in theaters, bringing together a solid remake that’s plenty enjoyable for the whole family.

The seas are alive with the sound of music, and songs they have sung for about 34 years. Disney is set to release The Little Mermaid on May 26th, the latest in a recent string of live-action adaptations covering classic animated features from the company’s famed renaissance period, only this particular remake manages to pull off what most of it’s kin have been unable to do.

The Little Mermaid (2023)
Directed By: Rob Marshall
Written By: David Magee, Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring: Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, Awkwafina
Release Date: May 26, 2023

The film, in part, recaptures a chunk of the magic that made the original so special in the first place. Though not without its faults, The Little Mermaid is an exercise in sincerity and, dare it be said, the first authentically emotional experience the copy-paste Disney projects have produced in some time. This feat, however, is propped up almost entirely by one thing – a breathtaking debut performance from the mind-blowingly talented Halle Bailey.

Bailey, who rose to stardom as one-half of the musical duo Chloe x Halle, is simply undeniable as Ariel. A multifaceted talent, the singer-actress brings a certain authenticity to the role that seeps out of the screen and into viewers’ hearts, almost singlehandedly giving the film’s thematic claims of love and longing their credibility.

The romance between Ariel and Jonah Hauer-King’s Prince Eric is believable, in large part, because Bailey’s charms would be liable to make anyone fall for her on the spot. A masterful mix between adorable naivety, hard-headed determinism, and genuine, pulpable humanity makes her heroine one of the most likable, accurately-cast members of the Disney princess collection.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Vocally speaking, nobody else compares. If nothing else sticks from this take on The Little Mermaid, Bailey’s renditions of Alan Menken’s classic compositions are sure to become the preferred versions for many in the audience. Her performances are so devastatingly good, they make many of the other numbers seem bland by sheer contrast. Not to say the rest of the cast doesn’t make a valiant effort, but Hauer-King and Melissa McCarthy, who goes all-in on a campy Ursula, just don’t have the same capabilities.

Daveed Diggs and Awkwafina, surprisingly, come closest to matching Bailey’s level of spectacle in the music department, but only because of their drastically different approach and high-energy styles. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new additions to the soundtrack, used mostly for the CGI characters, might get the meme treatment online, but in the context of the movie, they’re actually quite entertaining.

(L-R): Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina), Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), and Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Unfortunately, the film’s wonderful performances are often undercut by their direction and staging. As hard as they might try, the set pieces aren’t nearly as visually interesting as it feels they should be. Some of the more intimate numbers are saved by the cast’s delightful chemistry, but even that isn’t enough to rectify the half-hearted digital choreography that runs rampant throughout what are supposed to be the movie’s big, awe-inducing scenes. The VFX work in many of the underwater sequences also fails to do the film any favors, with characters’ bodies and movements often dipping into the territory of the uncanny valley. Javier Bardem, specifically, has a courageous turn as King Triton muffled by an unintentionally comedic, inorganic profile.

That being said, there are plenty of jokes that land when they’re actually intended to. As mentioned, McCarthy puts everything she has into an over-the-top portrayal of Ursula that works far better than most would have expected. The majority of the film’s biggest laughs come from perfectly-delivered lines by McCarthy, while many more reside in Diggs’ and Awkwafina’s charismatic voice-acting as Sebastian and Scuttle.

(L-R): Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric and Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo by Giles Keyte. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Bailey, too, sells Ariel’s fish-out-of-water antics to a degree of complete amusement. Jacob Tremblay’s Flounder, though, just sort of exists for the sake of being there. His unimportance to the story or overall enjoyment of the movie is enough to make one wonder why the character is included at all. In fact, there are a few additional aspects in The Little Mermaid that serve either no purpose to the story or quickly become outright counterintuitive.

The narrative sometimes suffers from a case of wanting to milk as much as it can from its leads and their potential star power, which is a shame, because the story works so much better when it lets Bailey and company ease into their roles and move the plot along organically.

Not the Souless Remake You Feared
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halle-bailey-gives-the-little-mermaid-its-voice-reviewAt the end of the day, however, The Little Mermaid is not the creatively bankrupt mess that Disney fans feared it might be. It's also not a masterpiece, but it succeeds in being genuinely enjoyable and a truly heartfelt tale for the whole family. Without Halle Bailey, it might have risked falling into obscurity, but the young powerhouse is able to lift a middling production just above average and it give it the voice it so desperately needs.