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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

COLUMN: Halle Bailey brings life to Disney’s lackluster remake of ‘The Little Mermaid’

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Let me preface this by saying that I’m not the biggest fan of live-action remakes.  

It’s not because I think older animated films are sacred or untouchable. They weren’t a big part of my childhood anyway – I was more of a “Spy Kids” kind of girl. But in an era where original stories are becoming more financially vulnerable at the box office, I can’t help but give the side-eye to studios that continue to recycle the same stories.  

Disney is, and always will be, the biggest culprit. So far, the media conglomerate has churned out over 20 remakes including surprise hits like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Cruella” and duds like “Pinocchio” and “Dumbo.”  

With many remakes currently in development, Disney clearly has no intention of stopping this cycle of story regurgitation any time soon. Why would they? Within its first week in theaters, “The Little Mermaid” grossed more than $200 million worldwide. 

I had few expectations for “The Little Mermaid” but went into the theater with an open mind. I knew I’d get to hear Halle Bailey sing, and that alone is worth the price of admission. 

In the first act, we’re introduced to Ariel, her animal friends, Prince Eric and the sluggish pacing that weighs the film down for the rest of its 135-minute runtime. For context, this film is 52 minutes longer than the animated film. It’s understandable that Disney wanted it to be longer since 80-minute films rarely have successful theatrical distribution, but the extended runtime still feels excessive. 

Even though the new musical numbers affect the pacing of the central story, some of them are pleasant additions. “Wild Uncharted Waters” gives Jonah Hauer-King the space to showcase why he won the role of Prince Eric over hundreds of actors including Jack Whitehall and Harry Styles. His charisma and strong vocal ability shine in the spotlight. 

The same can’t be said for “The Scuttlebutt,” a rap number performed by Awkwafina as Scuttle, a dim-witted bird and friend of Ariel’s. This song feels incredibly out of place amongst the soundtrack’s powerful ballads and fun ensemble numbers. You can tell that it was written by Lin Manuel-Miranda, and not in a good way. Awkwafina’s vocals – if you can even call them that – combined with her refusal to portray the character in a way that is different from her own personality prove that she was terribly miscast. 

Halle Bailey, on the other hand, was born to play the part of Ariel. Her background as a successful musician is apparent; she performs every number with a particular gravitas and sincerity. Bailey’s rendition of “Part of Your World” is pure magic. With every high note, she'll have you convinced she’s a real-life Disney princess. Her playfulness and sensitivity bring dimension to the character and her chemistry with Hauer-King feels genuine. 

As for the rest of the film, I guess it’s... fine? 

That’s the issue with Disney’s live-action remakes. Even with a lead as fantastic as Bailey, the film still feels empty. I saw “The Little Mermaid” only two days ago, yet I’m having a difficult time remembering details about it as I write. It’s difficult to be invested in a story that you’ve seen before, especially when it exists alongside a catalogue of films that serve the same purpose. 

Young audiences will undoubtedly fall head over heels – or head over tail – for “The Little Mermaid,” but Halle Bailey’s star-making performance is the only thing that can save this film from joining the other Disney remakes in the sea of irrelevancy. 

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