The Little Mermaid (2023) Digital Movie Review

The Little Mermaid 4K UHD Digital

The Little Mermaid

 – for action/peril and some scary images.
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Halle Bailey, Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy, Jonah Hauer-King, Awkwafina (Voice), Daveed Diggs (Voice)
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: May 26, 2023




Plot Summary

A young mermaid makes a deal with a sea witch to trade her beautiful voice for human legs so she can discover the world above water and impress a prince. (from


Film Review

By now, there’s nothing surprising anymore about Disney continuing to cash-in on their classic animated films by “simply” remaking them in live action form. With varied results, the studio has had some serious hits on their hands by making live action versions of The Lion KingAladdinBeauty and the Beast, and The Jungle Book, among others, but probably the most controversial so far has been their remake of 1989’s beloved fan favorite, The Little Mermaid.

It’s tough to talk about the 2023 remake without ruffling feathers – on both sides of the fence – about the casting of the African American actress Halle Bailey as the lead character, Ariel. For over 30 years, Disney fans have equated The Little Mermaid‘s Ariel with being a doe-eyed caucassian girl with vivid, bright red hair. Halle doesn’t even remotely look the part, even after trying to give the actress orange-tinged dreads to try to pass for “red hair.” But while the look for Ariel fails miserably in this new movie, Bailey is a powerhouse vocalist, which probably explains the odd casting choice. But still, despite proving she has the vocal chops to be Ariel, I have to say I think Bailey was sorely miscast in this role.

Culture clashes for the time period notwithstanding, there are several things about The Little Mermaid that don’t seem to fit. Changing the seagull Scuttle from being voiced by a man, Buddy Hackett, to female rapper/comedienne Awkwafina is an odd choice. I tend to find her persona kind of abrasive, but I did think her performance in 2021’s Raya and the Last Dragon was decent. She seems to be popping up everywhere these days (is she like the female Patton Oswalt or something? Ha!), and I’m not quite sure what the benefit of changing Scuttle to fit her schtick was. Daveed Diggs voices the beloved crab Sebastian, but his Jamaican voice sounds more forced than Samuel E. Wright’s did in the original. Sebastian is so lovable in the 1989 film, but there’s definitely something that gets lost in translation with Digg’s performance and a realistic looking crab standing in for the iconic character. The only animated animal character that seemed to feel “just right” was Flounder, even though, again, it’s hard to get a warm feeling from a talking, photorealistic fish.

It’s hard to talk about a movie like this without sounding like a grumpy curmudgeon who hates anything that is culturally diverse. However, I am more-or-less a purist when it comes to updates of things in pop culture that weren’t broke the first time. We’re living in a day in age where – especially Disney – is trying so desperately to be more inclusive with races and cultures that it tends to overshadow the project. I’m all for new stories, like MoanaCocoLunaSoul or even Encanto, that spotlight different cultures, but the constant changing of established stories to be shoehorned into other cultures for the sake of representation, isn’t necessarily a good thing. Let’s just continue to make culturally rich new stories. Why poke the bear by reinventing stories and beloved characters that are just fine the way they are. Even just looking at King Triton, who’s now played by Spanish actor Javier Bardem and does a decent job in the role, it actually makes no sense why almost every one of his daughters is a different nationality/race. A comment is made about his wife having passed away, but the reality of just one wife being the mother of all of these women is pretty unlikely. This story also establishes Prince Eric as having been adopted, so his mother is African American. This is fine for the story, but it feels as though this was a change made just so it might make more sense for a white prince to be drawn to a black mermaid. Again, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with these racial changes if it works well, but I’m not convinced that it does. And taking into consideration the knowledge that Disney is trying so hard to diversify their programs, it’s hard not to feel like these changes weren’t even made for the right reasons. It becomes distracting while watching features like these.

Oddly enough, Jonah Hauer-King’s casting as Eric seems picture perfect. Eric always seemed kind of bland in the original cartoon – compared to the vibrant world around him – but he served the story well enough. Jonah Hauer-King is about as vanilla as his animated counterpart, and isn’t especially interesting or even charismatic, but I admit he grew on me a bit as the story progressed. And the same can actually be said for Halle Bailey’s Ariel. It took quite some time for me to warm up to her performance — seriously, at first, with all its over-abundance of blue screen animation, the movie just felt like a “sweded” version of the 1989 film — but I actually found her most endearing when she was on land and unable to speak while she was getting to know Eric (that sounds odd, I know). Those scenes were the strongest in the film. The underwater sequences were inconsistent at best, with the CGI surroundings quite often looking very synthetic and unrealistic. The same, however, cannot be said for Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula, who certainly looked impressive on the big screen, with menacing, animated tentacles to boot. I’ve never been a fan of McCarthy in anything I’ve seen her in, but it actually seemed like perfect casting for her to play Ursula. She not only looks the part, but she clearly had a blast playing the evil sea witch.

The content of the movie is pretty on par with the original cartoon, and Ursula’s defeat is even tastefully shown, but I can see her character, as well as her pet eels, being intense for some younger viewers. (Side note: was it really necessary to swap Eric killing Ursula in the ’89 movie to Ariel killing Ursula here? Is it really so bad to let a man fight for his girl?) There is no profanity, but some may be turned off by a use of “Lord have mercy” and “Oh good Lord.” And the only content that is even remotely sensual is seeing Eric with his shirt torn open and mermaids with bikini tops. Overall, the movie is pretty mild.

Although The Little Mermaid felt a bit long at times (This version is literally almost an hour longer), I was surprised that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was feeling it might be. I took my family to see the movie at the drive-in for my wife’s birthday – who really wanted to see it – and it was a nice setting for a movie of this kind. My 12-year-old son initially had zero interest in seeing it either, and he said he enjoyed it a lot. The movie works well enough to get by as its own piece of entertainment, but I personally don’t think it really improves upon the original 1989 animated movie. Some added scenes were actually pretty good – like seeing that Eric has a relic room of his own where he keeps things he found while traveling on the sea, much like Ariel keeps things from humans that sink to the ocean floor – but ultimately, 2023’s The Little Mermaid just doesn’t offer enough to justify its existence. At the end of the day, I think I actually have a greater appreciation now for the 1989 animated film than anything else.

– John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/14/23)



iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review

Disney’s live action treatment of The Little Mermaid is now available via digital retailers and will be releasing on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD soon. The iTunes digital copy, and the disc release, feature the following few extras:


Hotter Under the Water (26:16) – This collection of behind-the-scenes segments are available separately or through a Play All option.

  1. A Tale of the Bottomless Blue (2:31) – Director Rob Marshall talks about reinventing The Little Mermaid and going back to the original Hans Christian Anderson tale for inspiration. Both Marshall and the film’s producer talk about how the theme of the movie is about accepting “the other,” and that is part of what drew them to the project.
  2. I Know Something’s Starting Right Now (3:07) is all about finding their Ariel in Halle, who they discovered while watching the Grammy Awards!
  3. Down Where It’s Wetter (7:13) is about creating the underwater world digitally and how they filmed it. They aimed for photorealism when designing the visuals, and then talked about the costume designs and what inspired them. They also decided to make Halle’s hair all digital for the scenes when she’s underwater. They talked about keeping Halle’s real hair for filming and adapting it to work for Ariel’s. Marshall also reveals that all of the scenes underwater were filmed dry on a stage. They used rigs and humans in blue outfits to help move the characters underwater. Halle expresses how difficult it was to move her body like she was swimming while not being in actual water.
  4. Explore the Shore Up Above (6:10) is about Eric’s ship they had built in full on a huge gimbal, to mimic it being at sea. Halle walks us through the castle sets, and then we learn that the beach scenes were filmed on location in Sardinia.
  5. Do What the Music Say (7:21) – The last segment details the original songs they covered for this movie, and their efforts to write new songs in the same vein as the original.

Song Breakdowns – This section covers the legacy of the original songs and the intentions of the new ones, while also talking about how they filmed the scenes as well.

  1. Wild Uncharted Waters (4:17) is a new song about Eric’s desire to find Ariel, sung from his perspective. They talk about filming it and show us lots of behind the scenes stuff.
  2. Under the Sea (5:19) – To bring this beloved sequence to life, they staged all of the dancing with real dancers as reference for the animators. Marshall reveals that it was definitely the hardest musical number he’s ever had to film.
  3. Kiss the Girl (6:03) was filmed on a stage – instead of in a real cove – and they talk about the complications and challenges of this.
  4. Poor Unfortunate Souls (6:42) – Playing the character of Ursula and getting to sing this song was a fever dream of Melissa McCarthy, who plays her in this version of the story. It’s quite obvious just how much fun she had playing this part!


  1. The Scuttlebutt on Sidekicks (6:49) is about designing the beloved animal characters in the movie. They talk about how they change the kind of bird Scuttle is (and from male to female), with Awkwafina providing the voice. They also briefly talk about her song in the movie and the rap she does.
  2. Passing the Dinglehopper (3:56) – Fans of the original movie will love this segment. The original voice of Ariel, Jodi Benson, had a short cameo as a vendor in town, who hands a fork to Ariel. They talk about how this is essentially a passing of the torch from Jodi to Halle.
  3. Bloopers (2:00) – The bloopers here are mostly just the cast having a good time and laughing a lot. There are a couple goof-ups, but nothing significant. (And there is no profanity.)

Song Selection – Lastly, we have “Song Selection,” where fans can jump to a scene in the movie just to hear the song. (There’s also a Sing-a-long version of watching the entire movie to choose from). The songs in the Song Selection include: “Part of Your World,” “Fathoms Below,” “Part of Your World Reprise,” “Under the Sea,” “Wild Unchartered Waters,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” “For the First Time,” “Kiss the Girl,” “The Scuttlebutt,” and “Part of Your World Reprise 2”


– John DiBiase(reviewed: 7/26/23)


Parental Guide: Content Summary

. Sex/Nudity: We see a bunch of mermaids in bikini-top style tops; Ursula’s outfit shows cleavage; Ursula pushes up on her bosom with her hands; After Ariel is turned human, she’s naked, but her long hair and other objects around her cover any nudity; Sebastian sings a song encouraging Eric to “kiss the girl” about Ariel.
. Vulgarity/Language: 1 “Lord have mercy,” 1 “Oh good Lord”
. Alcohol/Drugs: None.
. Blood/Gore: Eric has a small bloody cut above his eye; Ariel swims by a mermaid skeleton; Ursula holds up a skull and then holds up skulls in each of her tentacles. She then swims with Ariel over a bunch of skulls on the ocean floor; Ariel rips off one of her scales and there’s a little blood in the water; Later, we see a little blood in the water around Ariel’s tail where a scale was torn off.
. Violence: Sailors throw spears overboard in an effort to kill a mermaid they think is in the water; A shark breaks through a shipwreck and chases Ariel and Flounder; We see a ship in a storm hits rocks and catch on fire. It lists backwards and Eric tumbles off the side of the ship. He sinks and Ariel rescues him; A small fish swims by and gets eaten by a bigger fish; King Triton uses his trident to blow up several sections of Ariel’s human trinkets display; Ariel swims by a mermaid skeleton and the skeleton of a large underwater beast; Underwater plants act like tentacles that grab at Ariel as she tries to get away; Ursula holds up a skull and then holds up skulls in each of her tentacles. She then swims with Ariel over a bunch of skulls on the ocean floor; Ariel rips off one of her scales and there’s a little blood in the water; Eels flip over the boat containing Ariel and Eric; Ariel grabs a medallion off a girl’s neck and smashes it on the ground; On land, Ursula hits people with her tentacles, then tackles Ariel and takes her underwater; Two eels restrain Ariel, then Triton. They fry Triton and he sinks in the water; Ursula hit Ariel with one of her tentacles; The eels pull Eric down underwater; Ursula accidentally fries her own eels; Ursula grows huge and creates a whirlpool. She firest on Eric, trying to kill him. She’s about to land a kill shot when Ariel jerks a ship’s wheel to direct it into Ursula, impaling her with the splintered bowsprit. She reacts in agony and sinks in the water.

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