Feature Film Live-Action VFX

‘The Little Mermaid’ review: Spectacular visuals and Melissa McCarthy salvage Disney’s live-action remake

The Little Mermaid starts off with beautiful visuals, but how far can visuals carry one film?

Disney’s live-action adaptation of the 1989 classic of the same title is based on the original story by Hans Christian Andersen. In the story: The Little Mermaid who lives in the ocean, is fascinated with the world of humans. To get a taste of the life on the land and fulfill her longing for a prince, the young mermaid trades her voice in exchange for legs, and gets three days to make the prince fall in love with her.

The plot is the regular three act structure, with the third act stretched to the point of boredom. The first act establishes the characters and their motives, but one cannot come to empathise with the characters, including the protagonist Ariel (played by Halle Bailey) – The Little Mermaid. While Bailey emotes the frustration and disappointment of a young girl (perhaps a mermaid) well, it is the writing and the screenplay that fail to make her convincing enough.

The character of King Triton (played by Javier Bardem) – Mermaid’s father – lacks lustre throughout the film, and is reduced to a man who is solely obsessed with his daughter’s safety. He seems to pop only on occasions when Ariel needs to be reminded to stay in the ocean, away from the humans. The crab Sebastian is fun to watch as he dabbles into two roles – serving as an advisor to King Triton as well as a guardian of the Little Mermaid.

What actually brings life to the movie is the character of Aunt Ursula – played by Melissa McCarthy. From her costume and makeup to her dialogues and her home in the darkest part of the ocean, the sea witch is a charming villain of the story, and you wish she had more screen time. McCarthy brings out a perfect mix of melancholy, envy and hatred in the character, elevated further with her octopus-like form and the generous VFX work done on her scenes. She is especially delightful (and at this point you’d think – “is she even a villain!”) to watch in the Poor Unfortunate Souls track, which sees her prance around her underwater cavern and play with her octopus legs.

One other wonderfully choreographed song is Under The Sea, in which Sebastian – the crab – is convincing Ariel that under the water is the best place to be. The song in the animated film has won two Oscars – for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. In the live-action, the visual effects bring together a plethora of sea creatures. Minute details like using sea snakes as confetti, make the song a visual treat. Another fun-infused track is The Scuttlebutt – watch out for this one!

Coming back to the story, the climax is a dull (not visually) culmination of the decent build-up of the plot. Even while we consume stories in a fantasy world, we know there are some rules – it should not be a child’s play to kill a powerful witch, and a dead person should not be brought alive with the ease with which he was killed. So while the film may not seem to be written solely for children’s consumption, the climax is surely not written keeping in mind an adult audience.

It can be said that the film relies heavily on visual effects to sail through its two hour 15 minutes duration. Some eye popping scenes include the boat crashing scene in the first half, Under The Sea and Poor Unfortunate Souls choreography, a night sequence when Ariel and Prince Eric are on a boat, and the climax fight sequence. Prince Eric’s kingdom is a stunning scape, while all the scenes involving Aunt Ursula are a visual spectacle.

These commendable visual effects are delivered by Framestore, Rodeo FX, MPC, ILM and Union VFX and others. The VFX supervisor for The Little Mermaid is Tim Burke – who has to his credit Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter films.

The Little Mermaid released in theatres on 26 May and features Halle Bailey as Ariel, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Melissa McCarthy as Aunt Ursula, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric and Awkwafina as Scuttle. The film is helmed by Primetime Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Rob Marshall while he has also served as the producer along with John DeLuca, Marc Platt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.