Representation is important. We learned with Black Panther how important it was for little black boys to feel seen and represented when they saw Chadwick Boseman stand tall with all the Marvel Avenger Heroes. Halle Bailey’s Ariel is not a superhero, and she is not playing an African, or even an African-American. She has been casted as the beloved Ariel in Disney’s live action version of “The Little Mermaid.”
The Little Mermaid is a Euro centric story written by a European man in the 19th century based in Denmark. With the magic of Disney, the story mentions a home country and in this iteration of the story, it occurs in the Caribbean.
There are and will be many who will have a hard time with this movie because of Halle Bailey’s skin tone, as she feels a tad bit out of place being cast in this movie. But if you can suspend reality, and everything we think about race, and interracial dating, and slavery, and colonization let those thoughts go and enjoy the story for what it is, a magical fairy tale. You start to enjoy the innocence of Bailey as Ariel. She has a child-like naivete, a softness, she feels and sounds like a fresh-faced Disney character.
Bailey, who has a voice like an angel, and does the songs of this classic complete justice. Javier Bardem brings gravitas to his role as the great sea King Triton and Ariel’s doting father, who of course wants her to stay away from the wicked world on land with the humans. Opposite of King Triton, is his sister Ursula masterfully played by Melissa McCarthy, who is jealous of her brother’s favor and power.
The other celebrity performances include Daveed Diggs, who you may know from Hamilton, Blind spotting or Blackish, as he voices Sebastian the Crab, a loyal servant of Triton who’s tasked to look after young Ariel, much the way Jiminy Cricket looks out for Pinocchio.
Despite Diggs not being of Caribbean descent he masters the accent, at least to the untrained ear. Native Caribbeans would say his performance gives more Yankee than Yardie, but the accent is good enough to work for this film. Akwafina, who is in just about everything, voices the lovable Scuttle (a Gannet bird, a change from Seagull that was in the animated film). Scuttle even drops a bar in the movie, probably from the influence of Lin Manuel Miranda who was a producer on the film.
If you can suspend reality, and not project racial division. And your thoughts about race relations or what would have really happened in the 19th century, if a black mermaid came ashore.
Then, you can just enjoy the story for what it is. If you can do that, well you will enjoy the songs, and the love story and maybe even shed a happy tear. Little black girls, will be able to see themselves on lunch boxes, and dolls, and in this film. That’s worth a little discomfort to their parents, uncles and aunts.
If you love Disney, go see it, if you love Halle Bailey go see it, if you love a good love story, go see it. Also go see it in the theater, this film deserves your patronage.
Rating a 4.5 out of 5 stars.