Grey is not a good colour on Flounder, but it does sum up director Rob Marshall’s live-action version of the Disney classic, The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid’s computer-generated imagery appears vapid and unimaginative in comparison. Most of the film is faithful to the 1989 original, which is perhaps its biggest folly.
The Little Mermaid can’t find a balance between storytelling and virtue-signalling, with the unfortunate result that its attempts at being modern (like with the casting of a young Black actor in the lead role) feel more like tokenism.
Still, there are some sweet moments in The Little Mermaid, like when Ariel teaches Eric to blow a sea horn (get your mind out of the gutter) or when she tells him her name by pointing to Aries the constellation (she lost her voice, remember?). However, these are not enough to keep afloat what is essentially a cautionary tale for controlling parents and reckless teenagers.
Let’s take a moment to look at the black Ariel, who evoked heated reactions from conservative factions of the internet. It feels disappointing that Disney’s attempts at modernising Ariel are just skin-deep (literally). There’s no attempt at going past the cliché of Ariel falling in love with the first man she sees or adding nuance to her decision to exchange her voice for the opportunity to be a conventional woman.
It is truly a pity that even in 2023, Ariel’s rebellion has to be catalysed by her infatuation and that freedom is not viewed as reason enough to fight. The intent might be to make young black girls feel seen but it begs the question of what exactly are we showing young adults? Surely the youth deserve more than a performance of wokeness?