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    ‘The Little Mermaid’: Disney embraces kitschy nostalgia



    Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and Ariel (Halle Bailey) in Rob Marshall's


    The controversy began in 2019, when Disney revealed the name of the lucky individual who would play Ariel, the Little Mermaid, in the live-action remake of the 1989 classic. Her name is Halle Bailey, she’s a 23-year-old African-American actress and singer who, during the casting process, won all the votes. This was enough for internet users to gather vitriolic steam on social media, motivated by the long periods of idleness during the Covid-19 lockdown.

    Read more Article reserved for our subscribers A wave of hatred hits the Black Little Mermaid

    Seeing Disney entrust the role of a White mermaid to a Black actress, some denounced a very opportunistic act of contrition on the part of the studio, ready to sacrifice its public’s childhood memories on the altar of wokism. On the contrary, another, more discreet, part of the public was delighted by such a choice and bombarded the Internet with videos where little Black girls euphorically discovered that a Disney heroine finally looked like them. In short, nothing new in the world of social media, where polarization feeds a “bad buzz” that is now part of the marketing plan of a blockbuster.

    At first glance, The Little Mermaid does not pack any major surprises and perfectly fulfills its key function as a nostalgic gift offered by the very lazy, opportunistic strategy of a live-action remake. The audience can relive their childhood encapsulated in a Disney classic, now enhanced with new songs and some additional changes that make Ariel less a heroine in search of love and more in search of emancipation. It should be perfectly clear, Bailey’s skin color turns out to be a detail that is made insignificant by the undeniable talent of the young actress who, in addition to racist attacks, had to overcome grueling filming requirements that consisted of shooting part of the scenes underwater , playing scenes against a blue background, and interacting with digital chimeras.

    big gay parade

    But the real interest of the film lies elsewhere, in this aberration which consists in offering a little more realism to a universe which, by definition, has no due to pay to reality. Mermaids, Tritons, ocean witches and fishes, it’s a whole underwater world that chitchats, tears each other to pieces, and sings at the top of their lungs amid the coral. By giving flesh to a purely fantasy universe, The Little Mermaid exacerbates its kitsch dimension to the point, at times, of looking more like a big gay parade. Ursula, played by the excellent Melissa McCarthy is the kind of camp heroine that John Waters would not have disowned and Javier Bardem as King Triton wearing long hair and a crown is ready for the underwater Gay Pride festivities.

    In fact, the film is monstrous because it is perpetually torn between its fidelity to the 2D original and its demand for hyperrealism. This is what the first views said, scandalized to see what the studio did with Ariel’s companions, Sebastian and Flounder who are transformed into the most banal fish and crab; the viewers were equally appealed by the obvious special effects.

    But could it be otherwise? Is it possible to successfully adapt The Little Mermaid without producing some of the ugliness which – in this case as in the case of the recent Marvel films – proves fascinating to observe? The failures and visual aberrations allow the film to go beyond its function as a perfectly marketed product to become a laboratory where the digital effect meets its limit and plays with it, producing in the process a kind of poetry that is as unpredictable as it is perfectly mutant.

    American film by Rob Marshall. With Halle Bailey, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem (2:06).

    Translation of an original article published in English on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.

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