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The Little Mermaid review: ‘It’s about people being who they know they should be’

A delightful allegory of transformation and being true to oneself.

4.0 rating

By Dale Fox

A composite image of Ariel and Ursula from The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid is everything we expected and more. (Image: ©Disney)

Mermaids, music, and Melissa McCarthy. We could probably end our The Little Mermaid review right here by guaranteeing you that those three ingredients alone make seeing this movie worth your time. Thankfully, the rest is just as worthy.

First, the important parts. Yes, McCarthy completely slays as Ursula. Yes, ‘Under The Sea’ is as joyful as it ever was. And yes, the movie is filled with moments that will become GIFs forever filling our social feeds. (‘Hair flip’ – you’ll know it when you see it).

Disney doesn’t always get it right when it comes to live-action remakes – we’re looking at you The Jungle Book and Aladdin. However, The Little Mermaid stays (mostly) faithful to its original animated version. It’s also been brought into the 21st century with its casting choices and impressive CGI.

The Little Mermaid centres on rebellious teenage mermaid Ariel (Halley Bailey). Forbidden by her father King Triton (Javier Bardem) to visit the surface world, she frequently does so anyway – a relatable allegory for many. It’s on one of these trips she comes across the handsome Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). This sets in motion her wish to become human, so she can live the life she always dreamed of. 

“There’s so much joy and love and identity to be found in this”

The underlying theme to The Little Mermaid has always this one of transformation. “I’ve said all along that this film is about people making themselves into who they know they should be,” Martina Laird, who plays Lashana, told Attitude at the movie’s London premiere. “I think there’s so much joy and love and identity to be found in this.” 

Channeling both her own past as a drag queen and the animated version’s inspiration of Divine – with a hint of Bette Davis for good measure – McCarthy’s Ursula is everything we wanted and more. Every moment she’s off screen is a moment you’re wondering when she’ll be back. 

Bailey’s Ariel is just as spectacular. The star affirmed to Attitude the character “has always had a special place in all of our hearts.” The actor’s soaring vocals surpass the original’s, while her Ariel’s naive yet determined character is sure to inspire a whole new generation of mermaids.

The Little Mermaid is released in UK cinemas on 26 May.