There’s nothing like watching a remake of a Disney animated movie to remind you how much times have changed.
The little mermaidMouse Factory’s latest remake of the beloved cartoon classic manages to be an even safer update on the G-rated original, which already took Hans Christian Andersen’s dreary tale and turned it into a family love story, adding a sprightly Howard Ashman – Alan Menken sets it up and wraps it up on a positive note.
1989 year Mermaid is a quietly corny coming-of-age film where a busty teenage sea creature is terrified of being above ground, mainly to get closer to the human prince she rescues after a shipwreck. She makes a Faustian bargain with the bitter sea witch Ursula. In return, Ursula’s angelic voice slaps her feet and tells her that she has three days to get a kiss from the dude or the mermaid is hers forever.
The remake is more sanitizing for your protection, as Ariel (Hallie Bailey, the virginal half of the twin-sister duo Chloe and Halle) is introduced as a rebellious young rascal who just wants to get away from her environment and see what the hell is Out There. (The living Prince Eric, played by Britain’s Jonah Hower-King, is more soulmate than object of desire, as Ariel overhears him telling his companions that he, too, wants to explore the world.) Ariel strikes the same chord. deal with Ursula (a slithering, regrettably restrained Melissa McCarthy), but in this story, Ursula erases her memory of the deal when she makes her way to earth. This makes Ariel and Eric’s courtship more like an extended Tinder date, complete with them meeting each other at a funky island market.
This “The Little Mermaid” goes out of its way to be more inclusive and progressive for today’s audience. While the ultimate goal is for our princess to hook up with a prince, this version still gives her some good old fashioned independence. People on social media have already lost their minds over the cocoa-colored Bailey’s casting as Ariel, angering those who loved (or even fantasized about) the pale-skinned redhead from the original. Those same people probably aren’t going to dig the many different faces that populate this film. The king-father of Ariel is played by the Spanish scientist Javier Bardem, and her sisters (including Bridgerton/Sex Education castmate Simone Ashley) is a group of girls of different nationalities. It’s also a rainbow coalition over the water, as the island is ruled by a dark-skinned queen (Noma Dumezweni), aka Eric’s adoptive mother. We also have David Diggs and Awkwafina as the crab and seagull, respectively, joking around and helping Ariel on her mission to kiss the boy.
While there is a lot of diversity on screen, there are still a bunch of white guys behind the scenes. Rob Marshall (who previously ran Mary Poppins returns and To the forest) is once again responsible for another Disney musical fantasy. He uses most of the $250 million budget to make the underwater scenes look more convincing than the above-ground scenes, which look like they were filmed on an abandoned miniature golf course. (Like almost every studio film that comes out, this one still suffers visually from looking dull and poorly lit.) He enlists Poppins screenwriter David Magee to come up with a dreamy/creamy story and brings Menken back to update some songs and work over new ones with producer Lin-Manuel Miranda (including a rap number by Diggs and Awkwafina that sounds like something Lil’ Dicky would come up with as a joke).
But since this is a strong girl movie about a mermaid of color, they couldn’t get Ava DuVernay (didn’t Disney still give her a cold reception A Wrinkle in Time’with a cold reception?) or A woman is a kingWill Gina-Prince Bythewood sit in the director’s chair? I believe they could add, shall we say, some soul to the proceedings. Despite all the shades of the cast, the film is still disappointingly vanilla.
Doing The little mermaid multicultural fairy tale, Disney pretty much guarantees that anyone who talks bad about it will be a racist bitch. Well, I’m black, and I still think this movie — as proud and comprehensive as it is — is a bland, neutered Disney pat on the back. The little mermaid basically two hours and 15 minutes (the cartoon ran for 83 minutes!) of a major media conglomerate assuring viewers that they are not racist.
Heck, they could have just saved their money and done what most billion dollar corporations do: send a really supportive tweet during Black History Month.
Subscribe to the Cleveland Scene newsletter.
Follow us: Google news | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter