I’m of two minds about the new The Little Mermaid remake? Reboot? We need a word for the animation-to-live-action movie reinvention, as they’re becoming more and more of a thing. Even if Super Mario Brothers went the opposite direction, to much success.
Actually, I’m of three minds, the third relating to whether or not I should blog about something as timely as a movie currently in theaters. It will mess up my usual timeline: two weeks plodding through 300 words a day followed by two months to edit. I’m not going over it with a fine-toothed comb, or really even improving it one iota. But editing doesn’t help my daily word count, so I wait forever, then just do a quick once-over.
The last step of my normal blogging process is to think of the perfect quip about five minutes after posting it.
I suppose I could wait until The Little Mermaid comes out on Disney+, but at the rate they’re going, the window between that and when they yank it off said service is probably smaller than its existence in theaters. As Daughter continues her candlelight vigil for The Mysterious Benedict Society. I haven’t even told her Flora & Ulysses got yanked, too.
I saw the movie in question when it opened on Memorial Day weekend. Not sure I was overly thrilled to see it. The original, while groundbreaking at the time, kinda pales in comparison to the animated musicals it spawned. The message of wooing a man by looking pretty and shutting the fuck up hasn’t really aged well, either. Although I suppose it’s no worse than Beauty and the Beast, which tells us that true love can only grow through abusive outbursts sprinkled with a bit of Stockholm Syndrome.
That being said, Beauty and the Beast was stunningly beautiful as one of the last non-CGI animated movies. Or maybe it was the first CGI animation? That ballroom scene is still breathtaking.
Thus I was very interested in Hermione and the Beast (I don’t have to italicize it if it’s a bullshit title, right?), the first of these newfangled non-animations. Nonimation? Trademark, motherfucker!
Hermione and the Beast was fine. Still haven’t shown it to Daughter, since animated Beast is much more child-friendly than CGI Beast.
I haven’t seen the Aladdin remake, but it’s certainly on the radar. We saw the stage play in New York, which I assume the live-action movie steals some extra songs and visuals from. I’m sure at some point I’ll watch it and try to swallow my Comic Book Guy “Worst Robin Williams ever!” comments for Will Smith. I like the Fresh Prince (I side with Chris Rock after their kerfuffle, but that doesn’t negate Will Smith being a great actor), but the reports are that instead of turning Genie into a Will Smith character (which, ironically, is how it’s played on Broadway), he tried too hard to play Robin Williams, which ain’t in his sizable repertoire. But again, I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m the last person who should be reviewing it. Unless it’s social media, then we can totally get in arguments without reading the articles we’re arguing about.
The one live-action remake I haven’t seen, and have little interest in seeing, is The Lion King. The reasons why dovetail into my first mind about The Little Mermaid, which correlates with the first half of the movie. Or the bottom half of the mermaid. Because when it was a tail, I might as well be watching a cartoon.
The Lion King, you might be surprised to learn, features animals. (Sorry, should that have come with a spoiler alert?) So the “live-actionness” of it is… computer animation. Sure, we’ve had the complicated technology to make animals appear as if they’re talking since Mr. Ed. It’s called peanut butter. But I don’t think they trained a capuchin monkey to hold a baby lion aloft to an adoring crowd of other lions.
If the animals are being computer animated, they’re still animated. So the only thing that’s changed from the first movie to the second is replacing Matthew Broderick with Donald Glover. Don’t get me wrong, I love Donald Glover, but he’s not in the movie. Just his voice. Which makes it, say it with me, animation.
That’s how I felt about the first half of The Little Mermaid. Sure, recasting the bird with Awkwafina was funny, and Daveed Diggs was a crab, but Flounder was pretty much Flounder. Am I supposed to be impressed that Sebastian was marginally three-dimensional? His eyes were creepy.
As an aside, Daveed Diggs was woefully underutilized. I know he didn’t have much to work with given the requirements of the role, but they added Ariel singing along during “Under the Sea” and allowed the bird and fish to muscle in on “Kiss the Girl.” To make matters worse, they added an extra fast-rap song and gave it to fucking Awkwafina instead of Daveed Diggs? I love Awkwafina. If I want the perfect combination of sassy and spazzy, it’s either her or, ironically considering the cast of The Little Mermaid, Melissa McCarthy. But if I want fast-talking rap, I want motherfucking Lafayette from Hamilton, especially if his character’s in the same room as the damn bird when the song happens.
So I spent most of the first half of the movie wondering why the hell we needed an animated remake of an animation movie. Sure, Halle Bailey (not Halle Berry, although it shouldn’t surprise longtime readers that I assumed the former Bond girl was associated with the movie, because if I can’t tell the difference between Cheryl Tiegs and Chrissy Teigen, I’ve got no fucking chance with a couple Hailey B.’s) was fine, but everything had that “filmed in front of a green screen” feel. Ever since Les Miserables, it’s obvious now when they’re lip synching to something they sang in the studio before filming. So when the mermaid is doing her twirls through the water with her hair floating every which way, it feels disconnected from the song she’s singing. I counted at least ten scene cuts.
They also added a song for Eric, pining away for the mystery woman who saved him, and it’s painful. He’s running around his castle and down some stairs while a faux-1980s power ballad warbles out. Might’ve been great if it wasn’t done better in Frozen II. Again, if we’re going to be live-actioning this shit, it’s gotta be better than the cartoons.
Shit, I just realized we’re about a decade away from the live-action Frozen. Can I send forth a hard pass on that one now? Frozen III, I’d be fine with. Frozen without Josh Gad and Kristen Bell? Are you high?
My opinion shifted dramatically right about the time Ariel lost her tail. And her voice. Shit, maybe I’m falling for the first movie’s premise. But trust me, it had nothing to do with whether or not mermaids should shut up. Besides, she has at least two “internal” songs, so she’s substantially less quiet than her redheaded forebear.
The reason I changed my opinion was because the dynamic of the movie changed. No more twirling in front of a green screen with her fellow actors locked in a sound room somewhere. Instead it was two or more actors interacting with and responding to each other. I think it’s called… acting?
Here’s where I finally answered my question of why does this movie need to be remade with real humans. Human actors can do facial expressions. Or point or furrow her brow or smile. Halle Bailey (C’mon, she’s got to at least be named after Halle Berry, right? If that’s your last name and you name your daughter Halle, you’re clearly signaling something.) does a great job of conveying the frustration, the desperation, of not being able to talk. Some scenes felt right out of The King’s Speech.
Although Ariel can’t talk, she can communicate. It wouldn’t seem strange to make a rom-com where the two characters have some barrier to clear communication, right? It’s the entire premise of, well, every rom-com I’ve ever heard of. Sometimes one of the main characters is vacationing in Italy. Other times, it’s just a misunderstanding, but the entire genre is based on falling in love despite some failure of clarity. Hell, the Hallmark Channel wouldn’t exist if characters could get their head out of their ass long enough to say, “Wait, are you Santa Claus?”
The best scene that couldn’t exist in the cartoon version is when he complains about not even knowing her name. She points to the constellation Aeries, which he had just showed her and named off. She got him to say Aeries, then put her hand on his mouth after the “Aerie,” then kept pulling down on his lip. After working through things like Ariem and Arieb, she pulls down on his lip slower to get him to Ariel, then nods. Okay, maybe a stretch, but it was cute. Eric is falling in love with her despite her lack of voice, not because of it. The way to a man’s heart isn’t to look pretty and shut up, but to engage with him despite the barriers.
Now that I mention it, does Eric ever even learn Ariel’s name in the original? Doesn’t really matter, because we shouldn’t teach our daughters that their names are important when wooing a dreamy mate. I also think the live version added a caveat that Ariel was cursed to forget her goal of getting Eric to kiss her. Again, maybe that was in the original, or maybe it was added because they realized that with a good actress, the whole “get the guy to fall in love with you without speaking” is amazingly simple. And if she could do it on her own, we wouldn’t get to need to hear both Awkwafina and Flounder screech over Daveed Diggs in “Kiss the Girl.”
Did the eels mess up the kiss at the end of that song in the original? I seem to remember it was just a “setting the mood” song, and that he clearly wasn’t going to kiss her because, hell, she hadn’t even helped him figure out her name with a seductive lip pulldown. In the live action, when there’s no reason in hell they wouldn’t kiss on the romantic boatride, Ursula sent eels to topple the canoe to prevent the kiss.
Okay, so I went back and rewatched the original “Kiss the Girl.” A few things jump out. First, he did learn her name, but only because Sebastian came right out and told him, thus taking away Ariel’s agency. Which means the crab speaks English, or whatever language he’s using. And nothing’s more romantically realistic than a guy trying to guess a lady’s name only to hear a strange Jamaican accent whispering it upon the air. Of course, this takes away any agency Ariel has in her own storyline.
In the original, she’s also trying very hard to get the kiss, which might confirm my belief that she knew her goal the whole time. Not to get him to fall in love with her, but just to get a kiss. So she’s just jamming her damn lips in front of his face every time he tries to get any conversation going.
Oh, and Flounder and the bird intruded their singing upon Sebastian’s song in the original, too. My bad, Awkwafina.
The boat does indeed flip over at the end, but the YouTube clip I saw failed to convey if that was intentional or not. I’ll assume it was just a mishap, because if Ariel can’t have agency, why should Ursula? A villain is just a villain. They can’t have any realistic motives or incentives to see their plans through. The foil must know he’s a foil.
I know, I know, agency? She’s a Disney princess, LOL.
She ought to be thankful she’s even awake during the whole process.