The Importance of Representation on Screen: The Little Mermaid 2023 Movie Review


A live-action Disney adaptation plagued with hate and criticism before its official release, The Little Mermaid is an American musical, romance-fantasy written by David Magee, and directed by Rob Marshall.

It’s adapted from the 1989 animation of the same name and is loosely based on the 1837 fairy-tale written by Hans Christian Anderson of the same name.

The narrative follows the life of Ariel (played by Halle Bailey), a young mermaid whose curiosity about the world above, surpasses the constraints of her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), who wishes to keep her safe.

In the event of another shipwreck, Ariel saves young Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from drowning and she proceeds to sing to his unconscious self. This interaction serves as the catalyst for her desire to reach the surface, as she is now in love.

However, to reach the surface, she must enter a deal with the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy). Ariel will become a human for three days, but she must share a ‘kiss of true love’ with Prince Eric before the end of the third day, but there is a catch. Ariel must give up her siren voice, the only memorable quality of hers that Eric remembers.

When the production of this film was announced, and that Halle, a black singer and actress, would be starring as Ariel, Disney’s only mermaid princess, I was ecstatic. Growing up being POC, the only Disney princess that looked like me was Tiana from the Princess and the Frog.

There didn’t seem to be much diversity amongst the many princesses that Disney created, thus the choice to cast a black actress was admirable. I had concerns as to whether their choice was genuine, or if they only cast Halle to tick off a criteria and act under a false pretence of diversity. This concern was further amplified after the global hate that the film has and continues to receive.

Having watched the film for a second time, I can think of no other candidate more worthy of playing Ariel than Halle. She embodied her character incredibly well and I felt like a little kid again listening to her rendition of ‘Part of Your World’.

Representation is such an important factor in a child’s life, and so all the young black and brown children seeing this film will be benefited hugely. This was reflected through social media which captured various kids’ reactions to the film’s trailer.

The film is visually beautiful, and the underwater scenes are very enchanting, particularly during the ‘Under the Sea’ song sequence. The colours were vibrant, the CGI believable, and the sea creatures’ elaborate choreography was a delight to see.

It’s become increasingly clear as to why Marshall was courted to direct this film. His prior work on musicals such as Chicago, which won six Academy Awards, Mary Poppins Returns, and Into the Woods, certainly proves his capability in this area.

An aspect of this film that differs from its animated predecessor is the relationship between King Triton and Ursula as, in this rendition, they’re siblings. I believe that this portrayal of a brother/sister rivalry provides more reasoning for the resentment Ursula harbours towards Triton and his offspring.

I often found myself comparing their relationship to that of the Red and White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, Nebula and Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy, and Scar and Mufasa from The Lion King, as all of the former had resented their siblings too.

There is so much more of this film that I enjoyed, from the comedic duo of Scuttle (Awkwafina) and Sebastian (Daveed Diggs) to the more in-depth and three-dimensional character of Prince Eric.

Overall, I believe that this is a film worth watching, especially because of the many messages embedded within it. For example, we shouldn’t demonise an entire demographic based off of a small group’s actions, nor should we attempt to restrict the curiosity of others, and above all, ‘[we] shouldn’t have to give up [our] voice to be heard’.

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1 Comment

  1. Thnx for share.. Very best post. Ty.

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