At any time when a brand new Disney live-action remake of an animated basic comes out, there’s all the time a hullabaloo about what, if something, modified from the supply materials. Particularly, followers query whether or not the newest remake updates something to take trendy requirements into consideration, or a creator boasts that it does — whether or not it’s giving LeFou an “solely homosexual second” in 2017’s Magnificence and the Beast or canning the Siamese cat track in 2019’s Girl and the Tramp.
For no matter purpose, although, a lot of the filmmakers behind these tasks appear decided to additionally “repair” the tales’ foremost heroines — normally shedding what made them so interesting within the first place. Probably the most nefarious living proof is Magnificence and the Beast’s Belle, a personality beloved by younger bookworms all over the place. Making her a book-lover wasn’t sufficient for the 2017 remake, which additionally turned her into an inventor for some purpose — after which did completely nothing with that plot level.
However within the case of the brand new Little Mermaid, director Rob Marshall and screenwriter David Magee really picked the best character to replace.
That isn’t Ariel, who for essentially the most half retains just about the identical persona she had within the unique, although she definitely will get extra moments to flesh it out. Ariel is a beloved heroine, and Marshall and Magee perceive what made her so interesting within the unique animated Disney movie. She’s curious, passionate, and idealistic, and the 1989 film takes nice care to focus on these issues, whereas additionally embracing her faults, like her absent-mindedness and stubbornness. Halle Bailey’s stellar efficiency as Ariel within the live-action model bolsters all of these factors. Even with some added moments, her Ariel is just about recognizable. She isn’t the one who wanted to bear a contemporary makeover, in any case.
The character who actually wanted a change was Eric.
The unique animated Eric is a hero of his period. He meets the minimal necessities to be a Disney Prince, in that he’s good-looking and courageous, and never a lot else. Within the 1989 movie, Ariel sees him on a ship, taking part in together with his canine, and instantly falls in love with him. That’s fairly true to the unique Hans Christian Andersen story — to not point out the Disney fairy-tale motion pictures that got here earlier than — however in 2023, we’d like extra proof that it is a man worthy of Ariel’s time, and worthy of her giving up every little thing to try to be with him.
Photograph: Giles Keyte/Disney
The 2023 live-action model of Eric, performed by Jonah Hauer-King, isn’t only a hunk. He feels stressed in his palace, and he needs to discover the world past his island nation, however he feels trapped by his mom’s guidelines. That’s a direct parallel to Ariel’s story, so it is sensible that she would relate to him. Her cut price with Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) is extra about her want to flee her father’s controlling guidelines about her being in love. (Ariel’s “Daddy, I really like him!” line doesn’t make the minimize on this model.) There’s a way of consolation in figuring out that there’s not less than one individual on land who would perceive her selection to go away the ocean. In Eric, she sees extra of a kindred spirit than a soulmate.
The brand new Little Mermaid additionally offers Ariel and Eric extra time to get to know one another. As an alternative of the dinner scene the place Ariel bungles fundamental social interplay, now Ariel and Eric bond over Eric’s huge assortment of trinkets he discovered on his adventures. Because it seems, they’re each whole nerds relating to their pursuits, and so they’re each simply squirming to speak about what they love with somebody. Ariel nonetheless can’t discuss due to Ursula, however she’s nonetheless an lively participant within the interplay, displaying Eric a factor or two about his treasures from the ocean, and eagerly poring over his maps. All their interactions are fueled by an ungainly but cute attraction that simply makes their romance all of the extra plausible, and value rooting for.
Photograph: Giles Keyte/Disney
There are some superfluous modifications to the live-action film that don’t actually add something significant. For example, Ariel’s sisters are rulers of their very own seas, not Triton’s ornamental choral singers, however they nonetheless don’t contribute a lot to the plot. Ursula has added motives, however that doesn’t come up past her introduction. Scuttle the seagull (voiced by Awkwafina) raps for a bit, as a result of positive, why not? Should you assume too laborious about a number of the extra consequential world-building modifications in 2023’s The Little Mermaid, the film begins to unravel.
However what makes The Little Mermaid isn’t whether or not the fish look good, or what precisely fuels Triton and Ursula’s feud. All of it comes again to Ariel and her journey, which is fueled by the central romance between her and Eric. Simply because Ariel falls in love doesn’t imply she’s not a powerful and beloved protagonist, and simply because Eric is a good-looking and dashing prince doesn’t imply he lacks the substance behind that charming smile. By updating their romance, the 2023 Little Mermaid makes the love story extra satisfying — and resonant for a brand new technology.
The Little Mermaid swims into theaters on Could 26.