Everyone calm down — the fish in the live-action Little Mermaid actually look fine

In comparison to the original film, they appear less unappealing in the actual movie than they did in some of the previews. However, that is not to say they look great, particularly when juxtaposed with the original film. The majority of the clips that were released for promotional purposes focused on faithfully recreating scenes from the animated classic, which involved incorporating lifelike fish, Sebastian the crab, and other creatures into moments where they primarily interact with the human (and mermaid) characters. Nevertheless, realistically portrayed animals will not possess the same emotionally stirring expressions as their animated counterparts. Let there be no misunderstanding.

It’s quite astonishing to see how sea creatures in the animation film “The Little Mermaid 2023” by director Rob Marshall not only embrace but also embody the absurdity and ridiculousness of their existence. One can’t help but find it amusing and fascinating when a fish or crab speaks like an actual human, and how self-aware they are about their own being. The film effectively captures the essence of Ariel’s desire to be noticed by humans, as depicted by a crab frantically waving its tiny claws while trying to keep up with humans walking by. However, the most intriguing aspect is not just the visually captivating animation, but also the yearning expressed through a realistic portrayal of a crab.

A wee little crab on the deck of a ship, standing on a net and looking up at a seagull
It’s hilarious to hear Daveed Diggs’ voice come out of this guy.
Image: Disney

The interactions in the movie “The Little Mermaid” are similar to the set-pieces in the performance “Under the Sea.” Some of the bigger moments in the movie are forced and unnatural because the focus is on a bunch of dancing animals, without any expressions to indicate that they are enjoying themselves. Additionally, the story in this version of the movie looks like a big high school biology lesson about the parts of a cell. When sea creatures come out, they don’t have expressive faces.

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The true comedic brilliance lies in the combination of those animals and humans. Observing a nature documentary with a narration by Donald Glover was akin to witnessing the emotionless, wooden expressions on the faces of the animals as they experienced immense tragedy and triumph. The lack of contrasting elements, with all computer-generated animals, is what made the live-action Lion King appear unimpressive.

The scenes in which animals have a photorealistic effect are often played for laughs, whether it’s the hilarity of the realism or the intentional comedic moments. Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Triton leans down to have a serious heart-to-heart with a crab, which is wonderfully done. There is a scene where Flounder gasps for air and flops on the deck of a ship, trying to tell Ariel something, and Sebastian shoves him off the boat and into the water, just to watch another young person go astray. Scuttle, as seagulls do, generally flaps around and makes obnoxious loud sounds, with moments of her being too loud and annoying, just like seagulls.

It may appear that the internet backlash against the new live-action version of Little Mermaid, where filmmakers are attempting to chase the expressive emotions of animal companions like Chipmunks and Sonic the Hedgehog, is disastrous. However, instead of trying to replicate the expressive and cartoony emotions of the original 1989 animated feature, the filmmakers have taken a different approach. The animals in this live-action film are not as expressive as one might expect from modern audiences, but somehow, it works in its own weird way and the drawings from the original version are still gorgeous.

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