In 2015, Disney started turning its iconic animated films into live-action features with “Cinderella.”
They went all-out by getting Kenneth Branagh to direct with a cast that included Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Lily James and Richard Madden.
It also helped that the original 1950 version had a runtime of a little more than an hour and could benefit from a little theatrical window-dressing.
This opened the floodgates and Disney started cranking out live-action updates which were all mostly successful from a commercial standpoint while leaving a lot to be desired creatively.
Now in the name of quarterly profits, it’s time for “The Little Mermaid” to take its turn. Fortunately, the movie lands in the upper end of Disney’s remake addiction thanks to a strong cast, some workman-like direction and the iconic soundtrack.
Halle Bailey (best-known for her TV work on “Grown-ish”) plays Ariel, the mermaid princess who longs to leave the ocean behind and join the human world, which is not welcome news to her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem).
Things are complicated further when Ariel saves young prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from drowning and falls head-over-fins in love. Ariel strikes a deal with the sea-witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) to become a human, although there plenty of strings attached.
Ariel’s animal friends become less cute and more creepy when given the photo realistic treatment behind the voice acting work of Daveed Diggs as Sebastian the crab, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder and Awkwafina as Scuttle the seagull, in a part that was originally voiced by Buddy Hackett. That’s quite the 30-year casting journey to get from Buddy Hackett to Awkwafina.
“The Little Mermaid” already boasts an all-killer, no-filler list of songs (“Under the Sea,” “Part of Your World,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Kiss the Girl” is as strong a musical lineup of any Disney movie) and gets a boost with a couple of new songs form Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Director Rob Marshall has directed his share of musicals from “Chicago” to “Into the Woods.” Here he mostly gets out of the way and lets the cast – and their voices – shine through.
Where he does struggle is with the look of the movie. At times the underwater effects are so impressive it looks like you are watching a Jacques Cousteau documentary, and then at other times it just looks like the actors are hanging in front of a green screen in a warehouse in Burbank.
Still, the positives outweigh the negatives and there are some nice touches that make this reimagining of the classic film worth your time.
“The Little Mermaid” is rated PG for action/peril and some scary images.