Comparing The Little Mermaid Live-Action and Animated Versions

With trepidation, I ventured out with my two daughters to watch Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid this weekend and was pleasantly surprised. I say trepidation because most of the Mouse House’s remakes have offered little to no value outside of a few stylistic flourishes and unnecessary changes to the overarching narrative.

Thankfully, The Little Mermaid stuck close enough to its animated counterpart, adding only a few stylistic flourishes. Sure, this approach also renders the picture completely obsolete — Why is a shot-for-shot remake of anything necessary? — but it also ensures fans will have less to complain about. Some of director Rob Marshall’s changes are superficial, while others flesh out the storyline in greater detail.

Upon witnessing 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 film and the beloved 1989 animated classic. Join me as I offer my opinion on which film excelled in its execution. Let’s delve in!


The original film kicks off with a fish escaping the clutches of Prince Eric’s crew and swimming towards the brightly colored mermaid kingdom Atlantica. It’s a magical moment bursting with color and life, leading directly to a musical concert that introduces Sebastian, King Triton, and Triton’s daughters.

Rob Marshall’s remake opens with a lengthy sequence that introduces Eric’s yearning for adventure, then heads into the ocean for a super serious meeting between Triton and his daughters, now leaders representing different regions across the globe. We never see the kingdom; for all we know, the Seven Seas consists of Triton, his daughters, and a talking crab. Also, the underwater world is a rather desolate place, which makes it easy to see why Ariel wants to ditch the ocean for a more spectacular life on land.


Speaking of which, my biggest complaint about The Little Mermaid 2023 is Triton, played by Javier Bardem with all the enthusiasm of a shark munching on cabbage. The actor portrays Triton as a fishy version of Anton Chigurh, lacking the twinkle that made Kenneth Mars’ Triton memorable and complex. Bardem is sorely miscast in the role. Though I’ll admit, it’s likely asking too much of any actor to portray an honorable king with a tail.


This one is tough, and in a good way! Jodi Benson’s take on Ariel remains a high bar in voice acting and singing, her iteration boasting bright red hair and a wide-eyed sense of adventure. While Halle Bailey’s Ariel is a little more grounded emotionally, I thought she knocked it out of the park with her performance. She brings Ariel a sense of innocence and wonder and nails the various ballads sprinkled throughout the film.

As in the original, the character spends half the film without the ability to speak, and Berry still manages to convey a proper mix of naivety, strength, and charm. Considering Ariel is beloved as a Disney princess, seeing a slightly new take that works is a minor miracle. Plus, considering their personal conflict, having her kill Ursula makes a lot more sense.


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

Ursula wants to rule the seas, finds a way to barter with Triton, and executes her diabolical plan with near perfection. If I were choosing which take was better, this would be a wash. Sure, McCarthy mostly channels Carroll’s performance, but she does a great job in the part and somehow makes Ursula even more threatening.

Prince Eric

Kudos to everyone involved for trying to flesh out Prince Eric into more than just a blue-eyed sailor, but he’s not captivating enough to hold our attention. As portrayed by Jonah Hauer-King, live-action Eric yearns to sail the seas, collects ocean items, and seems to despise his heritage.

He’s not particularly princely, nor does he come across as heroic. He’s a nice guy who falls ass-backward into various situations and responds accordingly. At least animated Eric was noble, brave, determined, and not a pushover. Still, Hauer-King does interact well with Bailey and is at least charming enough to root for when the mermaid shit hits the fan.

Supporting Characters

Daveed Diggs’ Sebastian aside, I was underwhelmed with Ariel’s pals in the live-action version of The Little Mermaid. Awkwafina’s Scuttle is mostly annoying, Jacob Tremblay’s Flounder doesn’t leave much impact, and Flotsam and Jetsam aren’t given any dialogue. And the new songs are pretty bad. I didn’t mind the realistic approach to the characters, but none match their animated counterparts, voiced by Buddy Hackett, Jason Marin, and Paddi Edwards, respectively.

Moreover, for all its devotion to the cartoon, why cut the Chef Louis sequence, arguably the funniest bit in the 1989 film? I did appreciate Grimsby’s role in the live-action story — he’s devoted to Eric’s happiness and serves as his voice of reason — compared to the cartoon, where he’s just a stiff servant with nothing to do but offer snarky commentary.

The Set Pieces

As stated above, the opening of the live-action film is a letdown, but otherwise, Rob Marshall does a pretty good job with some of the most significant set pieces. The storm sequence is thrilling and the final battle is appropriately intense. Unlike Aladdin’s bland climactic chase sequence, the live-action version sticks to what worked with only a few minor tweaks.

An issue with the film overall is the pacing. Where the original zips by in a swift 80 minutes, the remake stretches everything out to 2 hours and 15 minutes. By the time we reached the big finale, my interest had waned somewhat, even though the sight of mega Ursula was still chilling.

The Ending

Finally, the ending in the remake leaves a lot to be desired. In the animated film, Eric and Ariel kill Ursula, restore order to the kingdom, and are promptly married. Ariel hugs her father, and we get the gist — everyone learned a valuable lesson and may now live happily ever after. The remake lumbers towards a confusing conclusion that sees Ariel and Eric depart on an exploration trip around the world or something.

After vanquishing the sea witch, Ariel heads back to her life underwater, then randomly appears next to Eric while he plays fetch with Max. They embrace and then head off to sea after Triton pushes their boat in what is likely the first example of a motorboat in the history of mankind. There’s no magic to the ending, which should have stuck closer to the original and let the kids marry. Also, this mermaid kingdom consists of about twenty people. The original at least allows Triton ride a wave to hug his kid before casting a colorful rainbow over the event.

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