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Film Review: Halle Bailey Swims to New Heights in Breakout Performance as The Little Mermaid

The visual beauty and emotional allure of any classic Disney movie fairytale is that they not only rely on spectacular effects and fantastical traditional mythology, but also find ways to connect their themes to modern audiences. The studio’s latest live-action reimagination of one of its iconic animated films, 1989’s Oscar-winning fantasy musical The Little Mermaid, is certainly no exception.

Both of Disney’s iterations of The Little Mermaid are inspired by the timeless tale written by Danish author Hans Chris8an Andersen in 1837. Both screen adaptions tell the quintessen8al story of the titular outsider, to whom audiences worldwide can relate to and understand.

The new live-action movie, which also features elements of photorealism, particularly for its scenes set underwater, was directed by visionary filmmaker Rob Marshall. The helmer used his experience of directing two other Disney musical movies – Into the Woods and Mary Poppins Returns – to bring The Little Mermaid screenwriter David Magee’s magical story to the screen.

The Little Mermaid follows Ariel (singer-songwriter-actress Halle Bailey of the Grammy-nominated musical duo, Chloe x Halle, and Grown-ish), a spirited 18-year-old mermaid with a beautiful voice and a thirst for adventure. She is the youngest child of King Triton (Javier Bardem), who rules the oceans from his underwater kingdom, and is the most defiant of his daughters of the Seven Seas. Frustrated with the confines of her life, Ariel is fascinated with the world above the surface, but it is a world inhabited by humans, with whom Triton has forbidden all merfolk from interacting.

Ariel spends her time with her aquatic friend Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) collecting human artifacts from ship wreckage scattered across the ocean floor, which she stores in her secret grotto. But one day, disregarding her father’s rules – and the pleas from Flounder and Sebastian (voiced by Daveed Diggs) – a crustacean and the King’s major-domo – she can’t help herself and swims to the surface to discover a majestic shipping vessel manned by the adventurous Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), whom she rescues when his ship is destroyed during a storm.

Upon discovering that Ariel journeyed to the above world, Triton furiously destroys all the human treasures in Ariel’s grotto. Despondent and more determined than ever, Ariel’s desire to learn more about the human world only intensifies. Desperate to fulfill her longings, Ariel makes a deal with Triton’s sibling, the evil Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), a sea witch feared by all merfolk. Ariel chooses to give up her mermaid gifts, including her siren song, in exchange for legs and a chance to experience the human world. However, she must receive true love’s kiss before the end of the third day or she will belong to Ursula for eternity.

Once on land, Ariel finds herself in the Queen’s Island castle, where she officially meets Prince Eric. But Eric initially ignores her, as he is focused on finding the young woman with the beautiful voice who saved him, not knowing that it was actually Ariel.

Eventually, Eric begins to fall for Ariel, recognizing that they are true kindred spirits. When Ariel realizes she has been tricked by Ursula, she joins forces with Sebastian, Flounder and the seabird, Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina), to try and break the sea witch’s spell. This results in a climatic showdown between King Triton and Ursula which will determine who rules the seas once and for all, leaving Ariel and Eric to attempt to bridge the gap between their two divided worlds.

While the new adaptation of The Little Mermaid is set in the 1830s on and around a fictions island in the Caribbean, the feature is driven by story elements that remain relatable to modern audiences around the world. Magee’s contemporary script chronicles a girl who feels displaced in her world, which remains true to Ariel’s iconic story that she views her life differently from everyone around her. However, the new, improved story also infuses the protagonist’s journey with the sense of female self-empowerment that has become championed in recent years.

Driven by a great sense of passion and courage, Bailey infuses her portrayal of Ariel with a brave sense of courage as she embarks on an epic journey of self-discovery. The titular main character learns not to be afraid of the people who she feels are impending her growth, especially her father and sisters, as well as the humans who fear the myths that surround merfolk. Her struggle to have others accept her for who she is, as well as her desires and curious nature, reflect the world’s divisions in contemporary society.

Ariel is a gripping, thought-provoking incarnation of misunderstood youth in a world of clashing ideologies. She’s a classic outsider who loses her voice, both literally and figuratively, but is determined to persevere and have her opinions and emotions not only be heard, but also taken seriously.

Bailey was so passionate and vulnerable in her portrayal of one of cinema’s most endearing and enduring heroines because she understands and relates to Ariel’s wistful nature and intelligence. Both the actress and character knows what they want, and don’t back down until they achieve it.

The Little Mermaid not only thrives on its contemplative story and Bailey’s stellar acting in her breakout lead role, but also its visuals. The live-action reimagination’s production designer, John Myhre embraced the fact that there were several CG animated characters, and that a significant portion of the settings take place underwater, which were created digitally by visual effects supervisor Tim Burke during post-production.

Myhre embraced the balance of the reality of the land and the fantasy of the sea that Marshall longed to incorporate into The Little Mermaid. He lead the design of the spectacular practical sets that were constructed on the back lot and on soundstages at Pinewood Studios in London, after conducting research with the film’s art department.

The sets for the musical’s underwater world, notably Ariel’s grotto, Ursula’s lair and King Triton’s palace, are the most magnificent. Each area was specifically conceived with its own design, which thrive with the subtly different color palettes and tones that reflect each character’s personality. Ranging from the lighter blue tones of the ocean’s surface near Ariel’s grotto that emphasize her natural good nature to the dark purple tones of Ursula’s lair that conceal her evil intentions, the colors enhance Myhre’s spectacular sets and help to tell the story. Triton’s beautiful underwater kingdom also stands out, as it was designed to feel like a busy modern city with a deep, strong, jewel-tone-like color palette.

Myhre worked with The Litle Mermaid‘s stunt coordinator, Adam Kirley, as well as its choreographer, Joey Pizzi, and co-choreographer, Tara Nicole Hughes, to plan every shot in advance. The crew members helped the actors create their physicality in and around the sets in an innovative and safe manner.

The underwater scenes were shot against a blue screen, and the actors were fitted into a series of state-of-the-art rigs that included wires and a harness that helped simulate underwater movement. Also with the help of talented stunt performers, the crew was able to help the actors perfect their physicality as they navigated their characters through the visually dazzling and fully developed. underwater world.

The Little Mermaid thrives on its equally emotional and uplifting story of the independent titular outsider, to whom audiences worldwide can relate to, as she determinedly strives to fulfill her the destiny she has chosen for herself. Under Marshall’s powerful musical direction, the movie features a passionate and vulnerable breakout performance by Bailey, who captures the true brilliance of Ariel’s wisdom and determination. Set against stunning production design by Myhre, Disney’s latest live-action reimagining of its classical fairytale shouldn’t be missed.

Grade: A-

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures will release The Little Mermaid in theaters tomorrow, May 26.

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Karen Benardello
Karen Benardellohttps://cinemadailyus.com
As a life-long fan of films and television shows, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic in 2008. Karen has since been working in the press in New York City, including interviewing film and television casts and crews, writing movie and television news articles and reviewing films and televisions series. Some of her highlights include attending such local events as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and New York Comic-Con, as well as traveling across North America to attend such festivals as the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW and the Toronto International Film Festival. She has been a member of the Women Film Critics Circle since 2012, and the New York Film Critics Online since 2019.


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