Comparing the live action and animated versions of The Little Mermaid.

Terrified, I set out with my two daughters to watch Disney’s live-action remake of Disney The little mermaid this weekend and was pleasantly surprised. I say concern because most remakes of The Mouse House have offered little to no value other than a few stylistic flourishes and unnecessary changes to the overarching narrative.

Terrified, I set out with my two daughters to watch Disney’s live-action remake of Disney The little mermaid this weekend and was pleasantly surprised. I say concern because most remakes of The Mouse House have offered little to no value other than a few stylistic flourishes and unnecessary changes to the overarching narrative.

Thankfully, The Little Mermaid stayed close enough to its animated counterpart, adding just a few stylistic flourishes. Sure, this approach also renders the image completely obsolete – why is a shot-by-shot remake of anything necessary? — but it also ensures fans have less to complain about. Some of director Rob Marshall’s changes are superficial, while others flesh out the plot in more detail.

When I saw the latest version of The Little Mermaid, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to compare and contrast the characters and specific situations between the live-action and the popular 1989 animated classic. Be there and give my opinion on which film was outstanding in its execution. Let’s dive in!



The original film begins with a fish escaping the clutches of Prince Eric’s crew and swimming towards the colorful mermaid kingdom of Atlantica. It’s a magical moment full of color and life that leads straight to a music concert introducing Sebastian, King Triton and Triton’s daughters.

Rob Marshall’s remake begins with a lengthy sequence presenting Eric’s thirst for adventure, then heads to the sea for an extremely serious meeting between Triton and his daughters, who are now leaders of different regions around the world. We never see the kingdom; As far as we know, the Seven Seas consist of Triton, his daughters, and a talking crab. Also, the underwater world is a pretty desolate place, which makes it clear why Ariel would want to give up the sea for a more spectacular life on land.


Speaking of which, my biggest criticism of The Little Mermaid 2023 is Triton, played by Javier Bardem with all the enthusiasm of a cabbage-eating shark. The actor portrays Triton as a fishy version of Anton Chigurh, lacking the sparkle that made Kenneth Mars’ “Triton” memorable and complex. Bardem is completely miscast in the role. Although I have to admit that it’s probably asking too much of an actor to portray an honorable king with a tail.



This is tough, in a good way! Jodi Benson’s version of Ariel remains a high bar when it comes to voice acting and singing, her rendition features bright red hair and a great sense of adventure. While Halle Bailey’s “Ariel” is a little more emotionally grounded, I thought she absolutely nailed it with her performance. She instills a sense of innocence and wonder in Ariel and encapsulates the various ballads that are scattered throughout the film.

As in the original, the character spends half of the film without the ability to speak, and yet Berry manages to convey a just right mix of naivety, strength, and charm. Considering Ariel’s popularity as a Disney princess, it’s a small miracle to see a slightly new version that works. And given her personal conflict, it makes a lot more sense that she kills Ursula.


I’m not Melissa McCarthy’s biggest fan, but the actress was pretty great as Ursula. I’m not sure we needed the family ties to Triton, but McCarthy nonetheless captures the essence of Pat Carroll’s iconic villain, and often sounds just like the late actress/comedian. Also, it was fun to see an irrevocable, out-and-out bad guy for a change.

Wanting to rule the seas, Ursula finds a way to trade places with Triton and carries out her diabolical plan almost perfectly. If I were to decide which take is better, that would be a mistake. Sure, McCarthy mostly takes cues from Carroll’s performance, but she makes her role great and somehow makes Ursula even more menacing.


Prince Eric

Kudos to everyone involved for trying to make Prince Eric more than just a blue-eyed sailor, but he’s not captivating enough to capture our attention. Played by Jonah Hauer-King, live-action Eric longs to sail the seas, collects objects from the sea and seems to despise his heritage.

He is neither particularly princely nor heroic. He’s a nice guy who gets into different situations completely ruthlessly and reacts accordingly. At least the feisty Eric was noble, brave, determined and no pushover. Still, Hauer-King interacts well with Bailey and is at least charming enough to cheer on when the mermaid shit hits the fan.

supporting characters

Aside from Daveed Diggs’ Sebastian, I was disappointed with Ariel’s pals in the live-action version of The Little Mermaid. Awkwafina’s “Scuttle” is mostly annoying, Jacob Tremblay’s “Flunder” doesn’t make much of an impact, and “Flotsam” and “Jetsam” lack dialogue. And the new songs are pretty bad. I didn’t mind the realistic approach to the characters, but none of them quite compare to their animated counterparts, voiced respectively by Buddy Hackett, Jason Marin and Paddi Edwards.

And for all our dedication to animation, why cut out the Chef Louis sequence, arguably the funniest part of the 1989 film? I appreciated Grimsby’s role in the real story – dedicated to Eric’s happiness and acting as his voice of reason – compared to the cartoon, where he’s just a stiff servant with nothing to do but make scathing comments.


The Set Pieces

As mentioned above, the beginning of the live action is a disappointment, but otherwise Rob Marshall does a pretty good job on some of the more meaningful set pieces. The storm sequence is exciting and the final fight correspondingly intense. Unlike Aladdin’s boring chase, the live-action version sticks to what worked with just a few minor tweaks.

One problem with the film as a whole is the pacing. While the original zips by in a blistering 80 minutes, the remake stretches to 2 hours and 15 minutes. By the time we got to the grand finale, my interest had waned a bit, although Mega Ursula was still spooky to look at.

The end

Finally, the ending of the remake leaves a lot to be desired. In the animated film, Eric and Ariel kill Ursula, restore order to the kingdom, and promptly marry. Ariel hugs her father and we get the gist: everyone learned a valuable lesson and can now live happily ever after. The remake is heading towards a confusing ending where Ariel and Eric go exploring the world or something.

After defeating the Sea Witch, Ariel returns to her underwater life and then randomly appears next to Eric while he’s playing fetch with Max. They embrace and then head out to sea after Triton pushes her boat into what is believed to be the first example of a motorboat in human history. The ending isn’t magical, it should have stayed closer to the original and married the kids. Also, this mermaid kingdom consists of about twenty people. The original at least allows Triton to ride a wave to hug his child before throwing a colorful rainbow over the event.

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