At The Movies With Josh: The Little Mermaid

This has to be the worst casting decision in a movie all year. No, no, not Ariel. To play her, the actress should be pretty (Halle Bailey is). She should be able to sing (Bailey can). She should be able to act (check!). The casting I disliked was for her dad, played by Javier Bardem. It’s the first movie I’ve seen with him where he just didn’t fit the role. Luckily, he’s not in the movie much (can you imagine going back to 2007 and telling people the killer in No Country For Old Men was going to someday play Ariel’s dad?).

It was directed by Rob Marshall. With the exception of Chicago, I haven’t been a fan of his work; yet what he does with The Little Mermaid makes it the best of all the live-action Disney adaptations (Cinderella, Pinocchio, The Lion King come to mind). If the movie weren’t this good, the long run time would’ve hurt, but you’ll love spending time under the sea (and on land) with these characters.

For anyone unfamiliar with the ‘80s animated film, Ariel is a mermaid who wants to live on land. She’s the youngest of King Triton’s (Bardem) daughters, and she’s the rebellious one. She checks out shipwrecks looking for knick-knacks, despite sharks lurking about. She brings along her crab buddy Sebastian (voiced by Daveed Diggs). Sebastian’s accent might bother some people. I did read something online about how a Jamaican actor should have been hired, but I’ve always contended – any actor should be able to play any part, despite their ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. That’s another debate for another time.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the voice of Ariel’s loyal fish friend, Flounder, was done by Jacob Tremblay (I first saw him in Room, where he breaks your heart). 

Melissa McCarthy is terrific as Ursula the Sea Witch. She steals a few of the scenes she’s in. Ursula makes a deal that gives Ariel human legs in exchange for her voice. But she needs a kiss from Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) or there would be some dire consequences.

My wife didn’t care for the actor playing the Prince. I thought he looked like a young Tucker Carlson, which I think made her like him less. I thought he was just fine in the role.

Often one of the best parts of a movie is when Awkwafina shows up. She’s the voice of the seagull Scuttle. When she tries to get the couple to kiss while they’re in a canoe, by doing the bassline we often do with our mouths to make fun of ‘70s porn films – it’s a joke that will go over every kid’s head, but will make adults die laughing. It’s even funnier when she does a new song (there were 3 or 4 new tunes) called The Scuttlebutt. Yes, musical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the lyrics, and they’re brilliant. I haven’t been able to get The Scuttlebutt out of my head, and am driving my wife nuts singing it around the house, often while grabbing her butt.

The original tunes are all there (I understand they updated some problematic lyrics, but I don’t remember the original movie enough to know what those were). Hearing Kiss the Girl, Part ofYour World, and Under the Sea, all done so well here, makes this so much fun. Under the Sea was the weakest of the bunch.

The cinematography was sometimes gorgeous; other times, a bit drab and dark.

Some of the fights and explosions, done in live-action instead of animation, might make things a bit scary for the real young ones. I brought a friend with a 7-year-old. When we walked out, I asked her what she thought about it. I was expecting her to say “It was great” or “I want to be a mermaid.” The possibilities were endless. Instead, as she took one last handful of popcorn, she merely said, “7 out of 10.” 

I replied, “Excuse me?” 

She again said, “7 out of 10. That’s what I’d rate it.”

Oh. I didn’t realize we had a budding critic on our hands. Well, in my rating system, I’m giving it 4 stars out of 5.

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