The Little Mermaid First Reviews: Star Halle Bailey Animates This Live-Action Remake

Turns out Ariel is in great hands with the film's star, but some critics call this remake of the animated classic "murky."

by | May 22, 2023 | Comments

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Walt Disney caught some flak over its decision to pursue a live-action remake of 1989 animated classic The Little Mermaid (Certified Fresh at 92%), and sentiment from some corners of the internet turned positively ugly when the company revealed that the film’s scaled star Ariel would be played by black actress Halle Bailey.

With the embargo lifting, we finally get to see how critics are responding to the final product, and it turns out Bailey is the best thing about the film.

The Little Mermaid also stars Melissa McCarthy as villain Ursula, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Daveed Diggs voicing Sebastian, Jacob Tremblay voicing Flounder, and Awkwafina voicing Scuttle.

Here’s what critics are saying about 2023’s The Little Mermaid:

How is Halle Bailey’s performance?

“Halle Bailey is all the reason that any audience should need to justify Disney revisiting this classic.”
Peter Debruge, Variety

“While not everything goes swimmingly, Halle Bailey splendidly buoys this ‘Mermaid’ as the naive underwater youngster with dreams of exploring the surface.”
Brian Truitt, USA Today

“Bailey gives a glowing performance of effortless starshine; her singing voice has both sweetness and power, and her smile is the sort on which dreams dance.”
Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times

“There’s such a luminous quality to her desires, and an intensity to her desperation, that she digs down deeper into Ariel than anyone ever has before. And that voice! Her version of original Ariel voice actor Jodi Benson’s classic ‘Part of Your World’ features a spectacular key change – it’ll soon be butchered at every karaoke joint in the land.”
Clarisse Loughrey, Independent (UK)

“Bailey is both the finished film’s only unmitigated triumph and the best argument for this whole live action remake enterprise in one shimmering mermaidcore package.”
Ellen E Jones, Guardian

“In the end I loved Bailey so much as Ariel and her singing voice is so beautiful it allowed me to forgive much of the movies flaws. She really is that good.”
Rachel Wagner,

“As Ariel, Halle Bailey shines brighter than the sun. She’ll silence the haters easily.”
Sarah Musnicky,

How are the other performances?

“A mixed bag overall, but still a must-see for Halle Bailey’s breathtaking work as Ariel and Melissa McCarthy’s deliciously devilish Ursula.”
Perri Nemiroff, Perri Nemiroff (YouTube)

It’s saved by Bailey’s charming performance, McCarthy’s sass and the story’s own eternal magic.”
Helen O’Hara, Empire Magazine

“Disney’s latest live-action ‘reimagining’ of one of its animated musical classics, The Little Mermaid, succeeds largely because of three folks: leads Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King and director Rob Marshall.”
Mark Meszoros, The News-Herald (Willoughby, OH)

“[Director Rob] Marshall and his terrific ensemble manage to navigate the spotty squalls and bring this one home.”
Hope Madden, MaddWolf

“Halle Bailey is tremendous as Ariel, providing powerful, emotion-stirring vocals & a wonderful sense of curiosity. New musical numbers, a slightly updated setting, and Daveed Diggs as Sebastian are other highlights in one of Disney’s best remakes yet.”
Aaron White, Feelin’ Film Podcast

“Bailey has a beautiful singing voice, one which transports familiar Menken songs…into new heights…one of McCarthy’s all time best performances, the actress commanding her scenes, singing in a husky voice and vamping like a Broadway diva.”
Laura Clifford, Reeling Reviews

How does it compare to the animated classic?

“Another ‘live-action’ remake that’s darker and less compelling than the animated original.”
Helen O’Hara, Empire Magazine

“My nostalgia for the 1989 Little Mermaid, a movie I can quote by heart, has probably never been stronger than it is now. Neither has my wearied sense of déjà vu.”
Aisha Harris, NPR

“For now, ‘The Little Mermaid’ exists outside of the very world it so wants to be a part of, one already so lovingly rendered in its predecessor, “real” or not.”
Kate Erbland, indieWire

“Thanks largely to star Halle Bailey, the lavish musical holds up nicely under the weight of those expectations, preserving the original’s essence while updating undernourished aspects of it and riding a warm, hard-to-resist wave of nostalgia.”
Brian Lowry,

How does it compare to other live-action remakes?

The Little Mermaid, despite a few misfires, is one of Disney’s best live-action reimaginings to date.”
Emily Zemler, Observer

“If the new version isn’t quite as consistently satisfying as the cartoon, it’s easily the best of all the recent live-action Disney adaptations. The Little Mermaid is popping candy for the soul.”
Charlotte O’Sullivan, London Evening Standard

“As the studio has done with other live-action remakes, Disney betrays its own lack of imagination and an essential misreading of what made its original children’s fare such a joy to audiences in the first place.”
Angelica Jade Bastién, New York Magazine/Vulture

“With Halle Bailey, life under the sea is better than anything Disney live-action has done in nearly a decade.”
Maureen Lee Lenker, Entertainment Weekly

The Little Mermaid is arguably the best live-action Disney remake since Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella. The splendor is there; the romance is crafted with care — but something’s still missing.”
Lyvie Scott, Inverse

Related: Disney Live-Action Remakes Ranked

How dare a movie studio make money!

“Despite real actors, CGI and brand new material, ‘Mermaid’ is the studio’s latest flesh-and-blood cash grab that’s more lifeless than far better two-dimensional painted drawings.”
Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post

“A thoroughly pointless cash grab of a thing, this new Little Mermaid is one of the most uninspired films to slither out of Disney since the company started raiding its own vault.”
Barry Hertz, Globe and Mail

How is the new material?

“While it’s still an exercise in re-branding and revenue, the results at least provide some dazzle, some romance, and a handful of pretty-good new songs with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda.”
Alonso Duralde, The Film Verdict

“What’s on-screen too often feels like wan, second-rate imitation, and the few differences seem motivated less by a spirit of imagination than one of joyless anxiety.”
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

“For all its pizazz, everything about this Little Mermaid is just more muted. Miranda’s new songs are odd, too, and don’t seem to fit.”
Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press

“‘The Little Mermaid’ origin story lacks room for this more feminist take. It simply is not deep enough.”
Carla Meyer, San Francisco Chronicle

“What works best are the elements it takes from the original… While this version doesn’t always find its sea legs, there’s enough of those original ideas recreated here that it can’t go too far wrong.”
Alyssa Mora, IGN Movies

How is the production overall?

“Occasionally, the familiar pleasure of this fish-out-of-water story cuts through the murky execution, like a trinket catching a ray of moonlight while sinking to the seafloor.”
A.A. Dowd, Houston Chronicle

“This Little Mermaid feels more or less like two-hour-plus cosplay with the texture and gravitas of a Disneyland sideshow.”
Greg Nussen, Slant Magazine

“Its most iconic moments are borrowed and copied wholesale, serving as little more than a reminder of simpler days watching clamshell VHS tapes released from the Disney Vault. Maybe that’s enough for some people. But maybe, like Ariel, we should want more..”
Leigh Monson, AV ClubE

“As The Little Mermaid crawls by at a snail’s pace, the wondrous moments are weighed down by wasted opportunities for spectacle, emotion, and unapologetic bombast.”
Kristy Puchko, Mashable

Any final thoughts?

The Little Mermaid key art

The Little Mermaid

Click image to open full poster in a new tab.

“A star-making turn from newcomer Halle Bailey and some poignant subtext about fathers and daughters elevates this latest Disney live-action remake.”
Kevin Maher, Times (UK)

“It serves as a handsome homage while persuasively making the case as its own discrete entity.”
Alex Diggins,Daily Telegraph (UK)

“A ho-hum adaptation buoyed by a lovely lead turn.”
Lovia Gyarkye, Hollywood Reporter

“‘The Little Mermaid,’ Disney’s latest live-action remake, is surprisingly good. In fact, it is the best one yet.”
Kaely Monahan, Arizona Republic

“This film is not perfect and the climax is lacking. But it is charming, funny, and sincere and it makes me want to be part of that world.”
Nicole Hill, Nerdist

The Little Mermaid captures the enchanting musical fantasy of the animated classic. Audiences will swoon as a beautiful mermaid falls in love with a dashing prince. Halle Bailey’s soaring vocals and radiant energy illuminates the underwater depths.”
Julian Roman, MovieWeb

67% The Little Mermaid (2023) (Walt Disney Pictures)

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