I’ve written a whole lot of stuff about the original animated The Little Mermaid. I even wrote an entire piece regarding the first time I saw it and how I fell in love with this Disney classic. There are still some things that remain cloudy because there are things which don’t exactly line up. The original film was released in 1989. I was born in 1995. Even up to this day, I cannot for the life of me figure out how I was able to watch The Little Mermaid on the big screen since it shouldn’t have been showing in theaters when I was 5. The only explanation I can think of is… Disney magic! Whatever the reason, The Little Mermaid is still one of my favorite movies of all time and is still my favorite Disney animated film ever.
I actually made a vow to myself to not really talk about The Little Mermaid on this blog as the only thing I would basically do is gush about how much I love this Disney classic. However, I do feel I have to mention all of this because Disney is making a live-action version of The Little Mermaid. They just released a teaser for it and, to be honest, I don’t have high hopes for it.
A lot of people have come out of the woodwork to denounce the live-action Little Mermaid movie and I’m actually one of them. However, I’m not condemning this version of my beloved animated movie for the same reasons. The most vocal critics have, unsurprisingly, been because of Disney’s decision of casting a female of color in the role of Ariel, the titular Little Mermaid. Now, I’m not familiar with the casting process and I can’t really tell if Disney opted to hire Halle Bailey because she was the best fit for the role or not. However, it’s because Ariel in the original animated version of the fairy tale was fair-skinned which really put a lot of people into a tizzy. As of right now, I am giving Disney the benefit of the doubt and just think they got Halle Bailey because she’s a good enough actress and can pull off the massive singing chops necessary for the role. That still doesn’t change the fact I still think the live-action version is going to be any good.
One of the reasons why I don’t think the live-action version of The Little Mermaid will be up to snuff is, based on the trailer, everything looks muted when it comes to the colors. It’s kind of hard to compete with animation on this front. After all, animation is all about colors, shading things to make them look exactly the way you want them to. You can only do so much in real life. I totally understand this but my dumb brain still can’t shake the fact how the “real” version looks so dull when compared to the “original” version. Granted, we only saw a brief glimpse of what the live-action version of The Little Mermaid will look like in the teaser. There’s also a chance Disney will go back and review the footage and spruce things up so everything looks a little bit brighter and colorful. That doesn’t change the fact that, right now, the scenes that are set under the sea look dull and lifeless. Definitely not what I imagine when I think of The Little Mermaid.
I’m also concerned about how they’re going to handle the anthropomorphic creatures like Sebastian the crab, Flounder the tropical fish and Scuttle the seagull. In animation, they can get away with making these kinds of characters look a little more cartoony and giving them humanoid facial expressions. They can also give them more human mannerisms that the real animals can’t do in the cartoon world. Things like Scuttle picking up things with his wings like they were hands look fine in animation. You can’t get away with that in live-action or else it’ll just look weird. Then again, I have the sinking feeling they’ll all look weird anyway. Despite all the advancement we have with CGI and computer animation, you can’t make a realistic looking crab look cartoony and not have it clash with the live-action characters. It will destroy the suspension of disbelief in an instant. Disney hasn’t shown the live-action versions of Sebastian, Flounder and Scuttle yet but, if their live-action past is any indication, a lot of their personalities will simply get lost in the transition from animation to the “real” world.
This does lead to the biggest reason why I don’t have high hopes the live-action version of The Little Mermaid will be any good. It’s because Disney’s track record of making live-action versions of their classic animated films is not good. I’m being very generous when I say they’re not good, by the way. Sure, they are visually stunning but, most of the time, the amazement comes from how they managed to replicate an animated creature into live-action or how good the CGI looks. However, when it comes to actually stacking up to the source material, the “real” ones fall flat. They always feel like soulless recreations devoid of all the passion of what made the original great and, at worse, totally mess up the message of the animated story by trying to tweak it in weird ways.
To kind of explain what I mean, I have to talk about the Disney live-action remake I generally dislike, Mulan. The live-action Mulan is one of their more critically acclaimed versions and I can’t say I can disagree with them on a technical standpoint. The acting is pretty good and all the weird camera angles used to capture the action is really well done. It’s a good movie when it comes to those aspects.
Where the live-action version of Mulan falls flat for me is how Disney failed to capture the essence of what made Mulan a good story in the first place. In fact, they utterly destroyed it. I may not be a big fan of the animated Mulan movie but I do love the message that’s being told underneath. There is the inspirational story of a young girl who joins the draft to spare her father from enlisting. That’s still there in the live-action film. What’s missing, unfortunately, is the character growth of the titular character.
You see, in the animated version of Mulan, she starts out like the rest of the recruits as green and untrained in combat. After some time and training, however, she does get better at fighting and actually uses her wits and brains to accomplish things that brute force cannot accomplish. Things like climbing the post and using the weights as straps shows how much she’s learned and grown. Mulan manages to gain the respect of everyone in the troop eventually and becomes a full-fledged soldier by the end. She does this all while keeping her disguise as a man intact.
How does the live-action version of Mulan handle how she becomes a respected member of the squad? They give her superpowers. Oh, she has to hide the fact she has superpowers but she does use them at a level which shows she way, way, way better than any of them. So, no growth of the character because she’s already much more powerful than everyone else. The crux of Mulan’s journey in the live-action film is all about being true to yourself despite how others perceive you. This is also told in the animated version but there’s also the underlying message of trying to better yourself through hard work. I’ve already ranted all about this before but I have to reiterate this because this is what the live-action Disney remakes do. They make little changes that may seem innocuous but they actually change the entire tone of the story and lesson the original animated films are trying to tell.
This is something Disney has done in practically all of their live-action renditions of their animated classics. I get these alterations are needed to sort of justify greenlighting them in the first place. If they don’t make changes, why make a “real” version in the first place? The problem is these changes don’t really add up to anything substantial or makes sense.
Why give Mulan superpowers when it destroys the subtle message of trying to improve yourself? Why have Tramp get abandoned when he was young in Lady and the Tramp when it makes his more carefree personality feel fake? Why make it so Scar loves Mufasa’s wife when wanting to be king was enough motivation for him in the animated film? Why add so many human characters in Dumbo when a talking mouse was enough? Why add a tragic backstory to Lady Tremaine in Cinderella to make us empathize with her when we’re supposed to hate her guts? Why give Beast a magical teleportation book when it’s never used again after the scene its used in? If they’ve done these things in their previous live-action films, you can bet Disney will try to muck up the live-action version of The Little Mermaid as well.
I could be totally wrong, of course, and the live-action version of The Little Mermaid might actually prove to actually be good. I am not confident, though, mainly because of Disney’s tragic bad history with their live-action remakes. If it is bad, which I am predicting, at least I’ll always have the original animated movie to fall back on.
How do you think the new live-action remake of The Little Mermaid will be? Let me know in the comments section below!