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Review: The Little Mermaid 2023

Warning: Here Be Spoilers...

By Natasja RosePublished 8 months ago 6 min read

*Unlike some of my readers, I was alive during the Disney Rennaissance, so I'm specifying 2023...

I've already posted about Disney Live Action Remakes in general, so I won't be rehashing the differences between Live Action and Animation again here. I might touch on it occasionally, as additional context, but if that's what you're looking for, go click the link below.

Likewise, this is not going to be a rant about making Ariel a Mermaid Of Colour. Disney already introduced a black mermaid in 1993, and racially diverse mermaids in 2000, so if you're complaining about that, you're late to the game. Pre-teen me ignored the complaining then, and *mumble mumble* me will ignore it just as easily now.

I will go into that change a bit, since this is one of Disney's rare examples of Diversity Done Right, rather than Random Race-swapping, but if you're looking for a thousand words or ranting about Wokeness Ruining Everything, look elsewhere.

Now, onto the review...

The Good

Increased backstory and Worldbuilding. This applies to both Ariel and Eric.

Ariel's sisters are home for a visit, and spend most of their time acting as Triton's Regents in other parts of the world. Ariel is expected to soon join her sisters in this responsibility, something that increases both her isolation as the only child still at home, and Triton's expectations of her. Soon, she will be responsible for ruling one of the seven seas, yet she can't even be on time to greet her sisters. What if her obsession with the surface world endangers her subjects? Is she ready?

Eric isn't a prince by birth, but adopted into the Royal Family (which goes a long way toward explaining why a prince with no parents or siblings in the picture is allowed to spend all his time on the ocean with only an elderly courtier for supervision). Not being in line for the throne gives Eric more freedom, while being part of the Royal Family does instill a sense of duty and responsibility to his people. Eric knows that one natural disaster could leave their Island kingdom in dire straights, and wants to strengthen diplomatic and trade ties with their neighbors.

Humans and Merfolk are in a kind of Cold War here, each thinking that the other is out to get them, assuming malice in shipwrecks that damage the reefs and bad weather that damages the coastline. It's an interesting perspective.

Ariel as an Anthropologist/Eric as an Explorer. It's also very clear that Ariel didn't just want to become human for Eric. He's equal or even secondary to her passion for learning about a different world, much like a historian or anthropologist. This is her dream, and the chance to explore it with a handsome love interest is just icing on the cake. It's a theory I saw tossed about on the interwebs long before this movie was greenlit, and I'm glad Disney followed through on it.

Eric, too, isn't head over heels with a girl whose face he saw once. He'd like to find her and thank her, obviously, but he's not planning to marry a potential hallucination, just make sure that she is safe and has somewhere to go. But there's also that voiceless fellow shipwreckee, charming and interesting, who shares his interests in the world beyond his Island home and says more without a word than most people say to him ever... Ariel listens to Eric's stories about his travels, and even shows him things about his mementos that he didn't know.

What can I say? It's nice to see Eric be as into Ariel as she was into him.

The Underwater Scenes and Ocean Montages. Are CGI Sebastian and Flounder a little creepy? Yes, but at least they look like they are supposed to. Animated Sebastian was some weird cross between a lobster and a crab, and I don't even know what Flounder was supposed to be, other than 'clearly not a Flounder'. The CGI Scenery, on the other hand, was stunning, and made me, with my 20-year-long phobia of putting my head underwater, want to go snorkeling somewhere tropical.

Culture Change

Remember when I said that Disney finally did Diversity right? This is what I'm talking about. A dark-skinned Ariel would have made far less sense if the story was set in the original Denmark, yes, but that's not what happened.

When he's showing Ariel a map of the places he's been, Eric references the Empire of Brazil, which was a thing in 1800s South America. He also talks about parts of Africa, and his kingdom is a mix of peoples, with the architecture of the palace not unlike that of Spain, the Middle East and North Africa. The music and food when Ariel is being shown arount the Island are reminiscent of Jamaica or Haiti, suggesting that rather than Europe, this story takes place in the Caribbean.

They didn't just race-swap Ariel, they actually built the story to the point where a dark-skinned Mermaid makes sense.

Selective Memory Loss

This was another touch I liked.

When Ariel swaps her legs for a voice and is told that she has three days to make Eric kiss her, Ursula sneaks in a trick: Ariel won't remember that she needs to get the Prince to kiss her.

This both makes it very clear that Ursula was operating in Bad Faith, which was a little more ambiguous in the Animated version, and gives Ariel and Eric a more natural relationship without the deadline hanging over them.

The Bad

As much as I loved the movie, I would be remiss in not mentioning the things that... didn't land quite so well.

CGI Animals

One of the areas where Animation has a definite advantage over Live-Action is the animals. Cartoon animals can be far more expressive, and lack the Uncanny Valley Creepiness of their CGI counterparts. CGI is catching up, but until then, the animals will remain a drawback.


I've seen a lot of Ursulas, in Musicals, Disneyland performances, and School Plays. The Sea Witch is a role requiring a lot of energy, and Melissa McCarthey... just didn't.

If there was one character that sounded like she was just reciting lines for a paycheck, it was her. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad, if she weren't contrasted by all the other characters putting so much energy into their characters.

Further Thoughts

The interesting thing about re-makes is seeing how they evolve for their current audience, vs the original audience. Sometimes it falls flat, but The Little Mermaid really hit the mark, particularly in a time when bodily agency is an international conversation, and a lot of people are struggling to reconcile expectations vs what they want.

This may be my new favourite Live Action, up there with Maleficent and Beauty and the Beast.

Whether you watch it once, or follow my example of repeat viewings, it's worth seeing.

By Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash

If you liked this story, leave a heart, a comment or a tip and share it around, and check out my other work on Medium and Amazon.

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About the Creator

Natasja Rose

I've been writing since I learned how, but those have been lost and will never see daylight (I hope).

I'm an Indie Author, with 30+ books published.

I live in Sydney, Australia

Follow me on Facebook or Medium if you like my work!

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Comments (5)

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock8 months ago

    Great review. Detailed & on point (& me in full agreement upon those who are "woke to complaining about others they claim to be woke").

  • Oh, my gosh, I loved this review! It was honest and thorough, and now I want to pay my money to go see it instead of waiting until it’s free on Disney+!

  • sleepy drafts8 months ago

    I have to agree with Judey, this is the most nuanced review I've seen so far! There was so much attention to detail in this. Wonderful work!

  • Judey Kalchik 8 months ago

    This seems the most balanced of any review I’ve read. I graduated high school with the director, Rob Marshall. I liked his remake of Cinderella and I want to see this, too

  • Mariann Carroll8 months ago

    Thank you for this informative review in detail 🥰

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