Spoiler alert, white racists were wrong again. Surprise surprise.
The highly anticipated, five years in the making, underwater musical The Little Mermaid is finally out, and it’s incredible. There has been a lot of controversy around this movie, mostly from chronically online loser racists. A lot of them were mad about the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel. They’ll give you a ton of fake excuses about redhead history (what history?) or suggest fan casts of white women with half of Halle’s talent. So there was a lot of pressure on Halle as to whether or not she was the best choice for Ariel. And oh, let me tell you, Halle Bailey is not just the perfect casting choice for Ariel, she is Ariel.
As far as I’m concerned, Halle Bailey is a real-life mermaid who came onto land. I’m not sure what she traded because it surely was not her voice. Every time she sang I got goosebumps in the theater. Her rendition of Part of Your World is tear-jerkingly good. But I was not surprised about that, we all know Halle Bailey can sing that is a fact. However, I did not know what her take on Ariel would be.
Halle’s Ariel was so incredibly natural, she wonderfully embodied her curiosity, her passion, and her empathy. I felt like I was watching the movie for the first time with her as Ariel. She really sells the mermaid fantasy and feels so inhuman and unreal in the best way. Everyone is going to fall in love with Halle because of her portrayal of Ariel after this movie. No one could have done what Halle Bailey did in this movie, no one.
An incredible cast surrounds Halle in this film. Jonah Hauer King is the perfectly charming Prince Eric. He’s so sweet and so fall-in-love-with-able in this movie. There is a softness to him that makes the audience understand why Ariel is so drawn to him. And Melissa McCarthy… Melissa McCarthy made me eat my words. She was an incredible Ursula. She was so cunning, sensual, and conniving. But she also brings a certain empathy to Ursula. We don’t side with her, but we understand her.
The entire cast was incredible, but the work that Halle, Jonah, and Melissa did is very obvious. The underwater world created here was so fantastic and magical I think everyone’s inner child will be in wonder and awe. Making the above world a Carribean kingdom was also a brilliant choice. Even though this world is a hyper-realistic foil to the underwater kingdom, it still feels a little magical to me.
As for the adaptation of the story, I enjoyed it. The changes made to the story some of which are the lyrics, Ariel’s age, and the ending give Ariel agency. I have always believed that Ariel’s sacrifice was about her curiosity about the human world with Eric being the catalyst, but this film shows that more directly which I like. It’s neither taken lightly the price of Ariel’s sacrifice nor how seriously she takes it.
Ariel and Eric really get to fall in love in this movie. The two have similar interests and have similar goals out of life. Eric even has his own grotto which I thought was such a cute parallel. Eric and Ariel get to know one another beyond the fantasy of one another and they get to know each other as people. He teaches Ariel all about his world and Ariel helps Eric get out of his own way. Halle and Jonah have such great chemistry in this film and it makes the audience really root for Ariel and Eric. The changes to the story make their happy ending feel more earned.
This adaptation also really highlights Ariel’s relationship with her father. The strain in their relationship and their conflicting world views are done very well. You can tell that King Triton struggles letting his last daughter grow up and seeing her point of view. But you can also tell that Ariel is young and feels lost at sea. It is when she goes onto land and is lost there too that she’s really forced to grow up. You can feel how hopeless Ariel feels when Ursula, disguised as Vanessa, tricks Eric. All she wanted was a life on land and it broke her heart, but she feels she can’t go home either.
The new music in the film highlights well everyone’s varying emotions. “For the First Time” is amazing I love that we were able to experience coming to land along with Ariel. “Uncharted Waters” at first feels a little unearned, but later in the film when Eric learns the difference between fantasy and reality, it makes more sense. Eric wanted to use anyone and anything to escape the life he was living.
The new songs and scenes wonderfully highlight his side of this story and his want for something different just like Ariel. I was pleasantly surprised by Jonah’s voice. He delivered his ballad perfectly. Scuttlebutt was… quirky and fun, but felt different than the tone of the rest of the film. Also, the choice to have Awkwafina of all people do a rap was…yea. Every single reprise of “Part of Your World” added so much to the story and I love the constant callback to this amazing song about longing.
Growing up a big Disney Princess fan, huge actually, The Little Mermaid was one of my favorites. I learned to swim because I wanted to be just like Ariel. No matter what critiques we may have of the original film, we keep coming back to Ariel for a reason. Ariel’s curiosity, her empathy for those unlike her, and her sense of longing to be a part of something she doesn’t fully understand but knows she needs has remained relatable. Her sacrifice feels so much more important in this movie with King Triton saying at the end, “You shouldn’t have had to lose your voice to be heard” (which made me start bawling in the theater by the way). This movie was worth the wait and honestly is up there with Maleficient and Cruella as one of Disney’s best live actions.
Having a Black woman be Ariel makes so much sense. Black women are constantly working to get to a different place than where we are while the world around us tells us we are wrong. This is why watching Halle Bailey a Black woman play Ariel felt like I was a kid watching the movie for the first time. Halle Bailey being Black adds to the film despite it not being about race. I wanted to watch the movie all over again after it ended. Halle and the music are the heart of this movie and I think she and everyone else involved should be incredibly proud of the work they did on this film.