I’ll leave it to you decide, based on that trailer, if this new live-action version of “The Little Mermaid” is worth your time (more than, say, the live-action “Pinocchio” starring Tom Hanks, which went straight to Disney+ last year). Halle Bailey was first cast as Ariel all the way back in July 2019, which feels like a lifetime ago: before the pandemic or the launch of the Disney+ streaming service. There’s been some ridiculous discourse about the historical accuracy of casting a Black actress as Ariel, as if mermaids weren’t already mythical creatures with no basis in verifiable reality. However, Jodi Benson, who voiced the original animated Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,” has expressed support for Bailey, saying she’s “absolutely amazing” and “the spirit of a character is what really matters.”
The real question with this “Little Mermaid” remake is whether theatrical audiences are ready to embrace it the way they did with Jon Favreau’s photorealistic “The Lion King” remake. That opened just before Bailey was cast, became the second-highest grossing film of 2019 (behind only “Avengers: Endgame”), and still ranks among the ten highest-grossing films of all time.
For years, Broadway attendees and theme park goers turned out to see live-action shows “remaking” their favorite Disney animated films, and “The Little Mermaid” is the one that kicked off the whole Disney renaissance, so it may still hold a special place in people’s hearts. However, streaming has undeniably changed the game, and there’s no telling how many people might be inclined to wait and watch this movie on Disney+, if at all.
Whatever happens, Disney will likely continue asking, “Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat?” until audiences say no. “The Little Mermaid” swims into theaters on Friday, May 26, 2023.