Fin-tastic! Halle Bailey is sensational in The Little Mermaid

Fin-tastic! Halle Bailey is sensational in The Little Mermaid

Fin-tastic! Halle Bailey is sensational as Ariel in Disney’s $250 million live action remake of The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid (PG, 135 minutes) 

Verdict: Book now for half-term


Where most of Disney’s live-action remakes have sunk without a ripple (some not even hitting cinemas), its lavish new take on cartoon classic The Little Mermaid has already created a mighty splash.

Flippers were set flapping over Disney’s decision to cast mixed-race pop star Halle Bailey as their originally white-skinned mermaid. That decision is more than justified — for all the best reasons. Bailey is absolutely sensational as Ariel. A star is born.

The story is the same — a watered-down retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s crueller fairy tale. In defiance of her father, King Triton (Javier Bardem), Ariel forms a forbidden fascination with all things human. This scales new heights when she rescues human Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) from a shipwreck and, in time-honoured tradition, succumbs to a star-crossed love at first sight.

Cue a Faustian pact with her evil Aunt Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) in which Ariel agrees to trade her voice and ‘siren song’ in exchange for three days on shore. If Prince Eric doesn’t stump up a true love’s kiss in that time, then Ariel is doomed.

It goes without saying that Disney’s animation is stupendous. You see every cent of that reported $250 million budget (more than Titanic’s) on screen.

Where most of Disney’s live-action remakes have sunk without a ripple (some not even hitting cinemas), its lavish new take on cartoon classic The Little Mermaid has already created a mighty splash

The story is the same — a watered-down retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s crueller fairy tale

You do have to pinch yourself to remember the cast aren’t actually swimming around underwater.

Plus, director Rob Marshall (Chicago) knows his way around a big musical number — the Busby Berkeley-inspired Under The Sea is Disney’s best live-action set piece since Beauty And The Beast’s Be Our Guest, in 2017.

And yet . . . if you revisit the 2D cartoon original, you’ll find the real Disney magic. The 1989 hit was the last Disney feature to be entirely hand-drawn, yet that technologically more basic style generated an inspiring flexibility of imagination and artistry. Compare the wonderfully fluid expressions of Sebastian the crab in that film to the new, super-high-definition computer-generated Sebastian (voiced by Daveed Diggs).

The latter feels straitjacketed by the drive to render him as authentically crab-like as possible, but to what end? Do Disney think we are flocking to these films because we want to see some meticulously photorealist fish? No, it’s to get our cockles warmed by characters we care about.

Thankfully, the voice cast, including Awkwafina (as Scuttle the gannet) and Jacob Tremblay (as Flounder the no-longer-so- adorably-yellow little fish) bring these somewhat cold-eyed computer carapaces to life.

Melissa McCarthy’s screenhugging Ursula, half witch, half octopus, may have you wriggling with delight

However, and perhaps appropriately for a live-action movie, it’s the humans who steal the show.

Melissa McCarthy’s screenhugging Ursula, half witch, half octopus, may have you wriggling with delight. British stage star Noma Dumezweni brings gravitas and a bit of grown-up acting to the new role of Prince Eric’s adoptive mother.

And Javier Bardem could squeeze a furtive man-tear out of the stoniest male viewer’s heart, as his King Triton learns to let go of his youngest daughter.

Yet the film belongs to Bailey, who combines an irresistible, natural star presence with a sublimely strong set of pipes. Her hair-raising number Part Of Your World drew spontaneous applause at the movie’s UK premiere, whereas Prince Eric’s new number, Wild Uncharted Waters, provided a much-needed loo break. A square-jawed Hauer-King may look the part but he’s as limp as his (frequently wet) white shirt.

The new Little Mermaid is no classic but it’s a dependable half- term treat . . . or rather feast, given that it runs for almost an hour longer than the original.

Surely no child or adult really wants a bloated 135 minutes when a zingy 83 minutes would do?  

My Name Is Happy (15, 82 mins) 

Verdict: A tale of remarkable resilience 

Rating: *** 

Many little girls dream of being a pop star. For 19-year-old Mutlu Kaya, her reality TV fairy tale turned into a nightmare. Plucked from her traditional Kurdish community, she reached the finals of the equivalent to Turkey’s Got Talent, only to be shot in the head by a man whose marriage proposal she had rejected. 

That tragic event is heavily foreshadowed in this dedicated documentary which reveals how femicide is so shockingly commonplace in Turkey (392 women were killed just last year) that Mutlu’s own sister was, subsequently, also shot and murdered by a jealous ex-boyfriend – an army officer.

Mutlu, however, survived – albeit with a bullet in her brain and years of painful rehab ahead of her. 

Plus she has (partially and poignantly) recovered her voice and is using it to fight for justice. Her name, ‘Mutlu’, means ‘happy’ in Turkish – an irony she is fully aware of.

There’s no ducking that it’s a tough, intimate, and painful watch. Like Mutlu’s own father, who confesses he can hardly bear to visit his disabled daughter, the temptation is to look away. 

Yet film makers Nick Read and Ayse Toprak ensure it’s an inspirational and patiently powerful one too. 

Not quite fully-fleshed out as it might be, but Mutlu’s resilience is remarkable. Her recent reinvention as an online sensation with over 2million followers makes one feel that TikTok is at least good for something.

Sigourney’s gardening trouble 

Master Gardener (15, 111 mins, rating: **) stars Sigourney Weaver as the imperious chatelaine of a gorgeous colonial garden. Would that the film had cleaved more closely to her character’s sidelined story.

Instead, we get a dour, flawed and peculiarly mannered parable of male redemption from Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader.

Joel Edgerton gives an intensely studied turn as the emotionally stunted head gardener in the Deep South, whose white supremacist past surfaces when he forms an (entirely unconvincing) attachment to a new, young, mixed-race apprentice (Quintessa Swindell).

The atmosphere is initially alluring yet, as the violence begins, this becomes not the film you’d naturally expect or desire — a stiff, stilted drama.

You may think you’ve nodded off and woken up in the early Noughties while watching Hypnotic (15, 94 mins, **), a ludicrously contrived sci-fi thriller that, to quote Blackadder, twists and turns like a twisty turny thing. Ben Affleck is the cop hunting for the kidnapper of his little girl, William Fichtner is his spooky-eyed suspect and Alice Braga a sultry tarot-reader who offers cryptic insights.

No spoilers for what’s ahead in this Inception-lite mind-bender, except to say the fun of Robert Rodriguez’s clever-boots caper lies in the increasingly tiresome goose chase, not the destination.

Who’d have thought the best of the rest this week would be Sisu (15, 88 mins, ****)? This taut, super-gory, English-language picture is set in the final days of World War II. As the Nazis beat a scorched-earth retreat from Finland, they encounter a legendary ex-Commando doggedly trudging (with his dog) in the opposite direction.

To say much bloody action ensues would be a wild under-statement. Imagine John Wick in a shoot-out in a ketchup factory.

However, as Jorma Tommila’s veteran single-handedly dispatches legions of Nazis, the preposterous splatter is realised with such inventive vim that the experience is almost cathartic.

4 crackers from Cannes by Brian Viner

The 76th Cannes Film Festival yielded plenty of treats. I liked Firebrand (***), an intense drama about an ailing, choleric Henry VIII (Jude Law) and his sixth wife, pious young Catherine Parr (Alicia Vikander). Tudor scholars will choke on their mead at some cheeky moments of historical revisionism, but it’s bold stuff from Brazilian director Karim Ainouz.

Another age-gap marriage features in the excellent May December (****), between Gracie (Julianne Moore) and the much younger Joe (Charles Melton). They caused an almighty scandal after falling in love when he was just 13 and she 36, after which she was imprisoned as a paedophile.

It is based on a real-life case, and director Todd Haynes cleverly studies the pair, years after the scandal, through the eyes of an actress (Natalie Portman) who arrives to see what makes Gracie tick, ahead of playing her in a film. It’s very nicely done.

Anatomy Of A Fall (****) is a terrific thriller which ends up like the best episode of Crown Court you’ve ever seen. Unfolding mostly in English, it’s about a German novelist (the brilliant Sandra Huller) accused of murdering her French husband, with their blind son as a key witness.

Huller also excels in the best film I saw, the German-language The Zone Of Interest (*****), about the domestic life of the Auschwitz commandant. It is loosely based on a Martin Amis novel and, although news of his death broke just after the screening, it won’t be down to sentiment if this brilliant, chilling picture, by British director Jonathan Glazer, wins the coveted Palme d’Or.

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