The scuttlebutt on the new "Little Mermaid"
Posted by: TheBroadwayMaven (DavidBenkof@gmail.com) 06:57 am EDT 05/25/23

From today's Broadway Maven Weekly Blast:

Here’s the good, the bad, and the (literally) ugly on Disney’s new, live-action The Little Mermaid:

• Extra songs. Lin-Manuel Miranda contributed lyrics for one new song each for Ariel and Prince Eric, plus “The Scuttlebutt,” a gossip-oriented rap number for seagull Scuttle, played by actress Awkwafina. Upon first hearing the soundtrack, I found the song extremely annoying for its loud squawks and childish tone. But it became an earworm for me, and I started to notice the multilayered Miranda rhymes — and I now consider it the best new song in the show. (Sadly, to make room for the new music, the only broad comedic number from the original property, “Les Poissons,” has been cut.)

• Altered lyrics. Miranda was also assigned to fix “problematic” lyrics in two songs. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” originally contained extended praise of silent women. It seems odd to object to offensive words sung by a villain (octopus Ursula, played here with panache by Melissa McCarthy), especially since those cuts meant some of Howard Ashman’s most delectable lyrics ever had to go. (My favorite gems: “but they dote and swoon and fawn” and “after all, dear, what is idle prattle for?”) And the post-#MeToo version of “Kiss the Girl” literally includes the scolding phrase “use your words.” Meh.

• Clever script. The most satisfying improvements on the animated version involve dialogue that enhances earlier material. For example, Ariel observes that the “dinglehopper” (fork) Scuttle identifies for her looks like a small version of her father’s trident (it does). And that awkward moment in the lagoon when Prince Eric guesses Ariel’s name because Sebastian the crab whispers it to her? Instead, there’s a clever mechanism by which the mermaid-cum-human silently guides the prince into saying her name.

• Halle Bailey. A lot of peevish (and sometimes racist) speculation has suggested that Disney chose a black actress to play the beloved red-headed mermaid in a stroke of woke activism. I guess that’s possible, but now having seen the film I think it’s more likely that they just chose the singer with the best voice. She really is that good.

• Javier Bardem. Ghastly. While most of the acting in the movie is excellent (Daveed Diggs as Sebastian is a particular standout), Javier Bardem’s King Triton is wooden and deadened and sounds like he’s reading lines at best.

• Creepy computer-generated images. Disney has yet to find a way to make “live” anthropomorphic objects and animals look as cute in CGI as they do in hand-drawn animation. First there were the clockwork Lumière, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. Though well-acted, they were anything but huggable. And here, Scuttle, Sebastian, and Ariel’s young friend Flounder are too hard and angular to be truly charming.

The new film is dedicated to Ashman’s memory. While that wonderful lyricist’s stamp is still all over the property, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a worthy successor. (But of course he is.)

Definitely worth the plunge. (I’m in Montreal and plan to see it again this weekend — in French.)

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