“But a Mermaid Has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.” -Hans Christian Anderson
The movie opens with a shot of the sea with the above quote superimposed upon it while an orchestra plays in the background. A creature can be seen swimming alongside a ship as the men above try to capture it. One of them explains to a sailor known as Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), later revealed to be a prince, that they’re trying to catch a mermaid.
The camera pans below the water revealing a beautiful diverse mixture of flora and fauna, plants and fish and, of course, mermaids and mermen. King Triton (Javier Bardem) appears, surrounded by his seven daughters of the seven seas. For all of the hubub the film initially received for casting an African American actress as Ariel (Halle Bailey), this scene shows that each of the kings daughter’s are of a different complexion which makes sense as they each rule over their own sea from around the globe. I thought this was a great rationale and could appreciate it without Disney relying on ill-fitting exposition in order to justify Ariel’s skin color.
Speaking of Ariel, she is missing from the meeting with her father and Sebastian the crab is tasked with finding her. “Hopefully I won’t have to search the seven seas,” he laments. Cameras cut to Ariel and her pufferfish friend Flounder (Jacob Tremblay) as Ariel discovers a shipwreck and proceeds to explore it. Ariel’s fascination with the human world is on full display as she picks through the debris of the wreckage before her and Flounder narrowly escape a shark attack.
Ursula Is Watching
Scuttle (Awkwafina) is introduced to the audience in the next scene and is a Gannet as opposed to a Seagull like in the cartoon original. Scuttle identifies one of Ariel’s human treasures, a fork, as a “dinglehopper” and begins to expound on what it’s purpose is before Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) arrives to inform Ariel that her father is looking for her. As Ariel, Flounder and Sebastian return home the camera reveals that they were being watched by a pair of eels belonging to Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), the octopus and king Triton’s sister.
King Triton scolds Ariel for her interest in humans, warning her of the dangers of swimming in the waters around the shipwreck. It wouldn’t be a Disney movie without a musical and Arieal breaks into the classic song, “Part Of Your World” from the original film as she expresses her dissatisfaction with her father’s rules.
Some foreshadowing occurs in the next scene as Ariel, against her father and Sebastian’s wishes, swims to the surface of the water, attracted by the lights and sounds of fireworks and singing coming from the sailboat that Prince Eric is on. She overhears Eric’s complaints of being trapped in a castle and the look on her faces shows an air of understanding as she faces similar issues under the sea. Eric’s ship crashes as a storm rains on his birthday celebration and a fire on the sinking ship forces the crew to abandon ship. Eric is unable to make it to the lifeboat as he goes overboard in the opposite direction while saving his dog Max. Ariel sees this and saves him, swimming him back to land as he is unconscious and narrowly escaping before the royal guards arrive to save Eric.
Stay Or Leave
Back home Sebastian catches up with Ariel and attempts to convince her via song that life is better “Under Da Sea”, another classic Disney tune. On land, back at his home, Eric argues with his mother, Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni) as she wishes to quell his desire for exploration much like King Triton wishes to do with Ariel. The two share similar fates as Ariel is trapped beneath the sea and Eric is trapped on a small island. Both know that there is a larger world out there that they are being forbidden from exploring. Much like Ariel, Eric disobeys his mother and hops on the next ship away from the island.
After King Triton discovers Ariel’s cache of treasure and disobeying his orders regarding humans he destroys everything, leaving the little mermaid crying among the wreckage of the wreckage. Ursula sees this as her opportunity and reaches out to the disheartened Ariel, promising to help her. Ariel follows the same to eels as before to Ursula’s lair where Ursula convinces Ariel that King Triton has been overly controlling to her as well. “We’re not very different, you and I,” she says, luring Ariel into her trap and Ariel falls for Ursula’s words hook, line and sinker.
The Cursed Promise
Ursula promises to make Ariel human for three days in exchange for her voice. The conditions are simple, Ariel must kiss Eric or else she’ll revert to being a mermaid and will belong to Ursula. Ariel agrees and transforms into a human while still underwater. She makes it to the surface where she is rescued by a fisherman who delivers to the castle where Prince Eric resides.
Prince Eric has been restlessly looking for the woman who saved him but is dismayed when he finds out that Ariel cannot speak because the woman who saved him sang to him so he comes to the conclusion that this can’t be her. This is the moment that Ariel realizes her mistake. On top of everything, Ursula place another spell on Ariel that causes her to forget the terms of the deal: she forgets that she has to kiss the prince in order to stay a human.
Despite her inability to talk, Ariel and Prince Eric hit it off during her time at the castle. As they spend more time together the audience is treated with the hilarious antics of Scuttle, Sebastian and Flounder as they sing the song “Kiss The Girl” in an attempt to get Eric to kiss Ariel and break the curse.The magic moment almost happens during a boat ride but it is thwarted by Ursula’s eels who capsize the boat. Ursula sees how close she was to losing her deal with Ariel and so she results to more dirty tricks, transforming herself into a human as well as giving herself Ariel’s stolen voice.
The Wrong Girl
Recognizing the voice as belonging to the woman who saved him during the earlier shipwreck, Eric immediately proposes to Ursula immediately, leaving Ariel devastated. She runs away and during the search for Ariel, Scuttle uncovers Ursula’s plan and four of them rush off to the wedding to stop Eric from marring Ursula.
At the wedding, Ariel and crew make it just in time and Ariel is able to grab her voice back from Ursula. Unfortunately it is too late and the curse is sealed, transforming Ariel back into a mermaid in the middle of everyone. With no legs to run, Ursula takes Ariel and drags her back into the sea where she is confronted by King Triton who is powerless to stop what has already been done. Triton makes a deal with Ursula and trades his trident, as well as his power, for his daughter.
In a final battle, Eric and Ariel fight and defeat a giant trident-powered Ursula in the open sea. With Ursula defeated, King Triton is revived and seeing how much she wants to be with Eric he uses his powers to transform her back into a human. In true Disney fashion everyone lives happily ever after as Ariel returns to the castle to finally marry Prince Eric. Overall, Disney’s Live Action Little Mermaid 2023 was an excellent watch that I would highly recommend for the whole family.