Take this as a sociological experiment: what happens if you send a forty-nine-year-old white male, allergic to nostalgia, not particularly fond of modern.


“Disney classics” and completely allergic to live-action versions of animated films, to see the glitzy new cinematic iteration? Disney’s The Little Mermaid , the fairy tale originally written by Hans Christian Andersen ? Will this lab guinea pig be able to put aside all her cognitive biases and write a balanced and as objective review as possible? Or will she give in to his nature and get carried away by the instinctive dislike she feels for such operations?
We’re about to find out.

First of all, let’s clear up one issue: rewriting fairy tales has never been, is not and never will be a problem. Indeed, to be honest, we have always done it, ever since children’s stories were entrusted to the oral tradition and, to be honest, the major work of rewriting and cleaning up uncomfortable themes was done by the Grimm brothers, who collected, reworked and they made the fairy tales of the German tradition “drinkable” for their time, handing over a version that, over the years, became canon, but which canon was not at all. The same can also be said for Andersen who, in his literary production dedicated to children, did nothing but take Danish folk tales and adapted them for the cultural and social context to which they belonged. So was it ever a problem that Disney has been doing the same (and this since its inception) with its animated adaptations of famous fairy tales? The answer is no: the Burbank production house has done nothing but adapt the fairy tales to the sensitivity of the time, to keep them alive. Following this logic, if there has never been anything disrespectful in the freedoms thatJohn Musker and Ron Clements (writers and directors of the first animated version by Disney) took each other in 1989 with the original text (which was not fully original) by Andersen, there is nothing disrespectful in the liberties they have taken today director Rob Marshall and David Magee (writer), in the live action adaptation of that animated film.

Yes, the story has been moved to the Caribbean. Yes, the geographic shift was done to justify Halle Bailey (a black actress) playing Ariel . Yes, Halle Bailey was chosen not only because she is good (and she really is good) but also to send a clear message of inclusiveness that puts the film fully in the pay of the sensibility of the present time. It being understood that Andersen also wanted to send the message of inclusiveness when he wrote the original work (even if in that case the theme, however strongly metaphorized, was homosexuality).

To argue about this issue is simply ridiculous. So, let’s move on and talk about serious things. How is the movie? Actually, not so bad. Indeed, I have to be honest, if I was a boy or a girl, I would have liked it and also a lot because it has a good pace, a number of action scenes, some nice musical moments, many funny and funny characters, visual effects that, even if they certainly can’t compete with Avatar and his way of water, are by no means to be thrown away in the representation of the sea and underwater environments. Let me be clear, my aversion to Disney’s live action adaptations remains, but once you accept the fact that audiences like them, I have to say that this – in its context – is one of the ones I found least annoying in an absolute sense, because Rob Marshall (the director of Chicago and various other successes but also of Mary Poppins Returns , unfortunately) pays homage without overdoing it, maintains a light touch, never exaggerates in staging and maintains those qualities of freshness that the cartoon had 1989. To improve everything, an excellent musical sector (but that was taken for granted given the goodness of the original material) and aMelissa McCarthy who eats up every scene in which she appears (but, even that, was quite predictable given the character she plays, that is, the splendid and terrible Ursula). Not so good the omission of a very funny and much loved scene (the one in the kitchen, probably omitted so as not to offend the vegan sensitivity of the new target audience but, again, let’s go back to the previous discussion: these films must live in the present) and Javier Bardem as Triton, who appears as (pardon the pun) a fish out of water and all the while seems to be saying: “ I used to act with the Coens!”. My last note concerns the conclusion: given that the 1989 cartoon had already distanced itself quite a lot from the ending of the original fairy tale and given that this adaptation deviates in several points from the cartoon, it was not possible to go all the way and change the fact that, however strong and independent, in the end it is Ariel who has to upset her most intimate essence in order to be next to her prince? Wouldn’t it have been a nice message if, in this version by 2023, it had been Eric who changed his nature to accompany Ariel into his world and not vice versa? I mean, couldn’t you have turned into a mermaid for him instead of a human for her? But perhaps that’s still too much to ask for something like this and we’ll have to wait for the 2053 remake.

So, going back to the social experiment we started from, did I like this movie or not? No, but it’s my fault because I’m not one of the people the film is intended for. If I were, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot and probably also found it very inspiring. Having said that, I walked out of the hall singing “Under the sea” and that must mean something.