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The Critics' Little Mermaid Reviews Are Out – And They're More Varied Than A Seafood Platter

Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid
Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid

Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid

After a number of delays owing to the pandemic, Disney’s ‘live action’ remake of The Little Mermaid is finally here.

And while the film seemed to be pretty well received on social media after early previews, it seems the critics are much more split in their reviews, which were published on Monday.

One thing they all seemed to agree on was Halle Bailey’s performance as Ariel, which garnered near unanimous praise.

Less convincing seemed to be the film’s visual effects and how Ariel’s underwater world and some of her aquatic friends were brought to life using CGI.


Some were also unsure that it stands up to the original Disney animation – still beloved by fans nearly 35 years on from its release – while others claimed it is a faithful reimagining.

Here’s what the critics had to say...

Critics have given their verdict on The Little Mermaid
Critics have given their verdict on The Little Mermaid

Critics have given their verdict on The Little Mermaid

The Guardian (2 Stars)

“The Little Mermaid doesn’t lack for talent or audience goodwill – director Rob Marshall did wonders with Mary Poppins Returns – but the siren call of supposedly surefire box office has sunk it nonetheless. There is dry land in sight though, and it’s the same outcrop on which the House of Mouse was built: the realisation that some stories – the most magical ones, in fact – are best told with animation.”

The Telegraph (4 Stars)

“It serves as a handsome homage while persuasively making the case as its own discrete entity. This time, Ariel is played by 23-year-old singer Halle Bailey. With five Grammy nominations, she brings an unarguable emotional force to the musical numbers, filling them with blustery yearning. On screen, too, she has genuine star wattage, outshining Jonah Hauer-King’s Prince Eric.”

Empire (3 Stars)

“Another ‘live-action’ remake that’s darker and less compelling than the animated original, but it’s saved by Bailey’s charming performance, McCarthy’s sass and the story’s own eternal magic.”

The Independent (2 Stars)

“McCarthy, as Ursula, offers her best tribute to the character’s original inspiration, the drag queen Divine. It’s a commendable performance that will make you wonder what might have been if Disney had the guts to feature an actual drag queen in the role. But it speaks to a wider issue here: Bailey aside, this Little Mermaid is yesterday’s fish served up dry and inedible.”

Digital Spy (4 Stars) 

“The Little Mermaid retains the heart and spirit of the animated classic, while adding new elements that offer a fresh perspective on familiar events. Thanks in large part to Bailey’s outstanding performance, this adaptation has the potential to captivate a new generation of Disney fans.”

The Times (3 Stars) 

“Much of it is slickly directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago) with the enthusiasm of someone relishing the lavish upgrade (rumoured budget: $200 million). He transforms the opening shipwreck scene and the climactic battle into vast, eye-popping set pieces. The original musical standouts, including Under the Sea and Kiss the Girl, retain their power and narrative position, although the new tracks from Lin-Manuel Miranda, especially a Hamilton-style faux rap called The Scuttlebutt, will need several listens before the impulse to ram fingers deep into ears is quelled.”

Evening Standard (4 Stars) 

“If the new version isn’t quite as consistently satisfying as the cartoon, it’s easily the best of all the recent live-action Disney adaptations. The Little Mermaid is popping candy for the soul. Which is why I’ll be seeing it again, asap.”

The Hollywood Reporter

“Thankfully, Bailey doesn’t disappoint as Ariel. Her performance adds edge to what is ultimately a serviceable film. Whether she’s belting out a newly arranged Part of Your World or silently observing her less than charming prince (Jonah Hauer-King) navigate his own social constrictions, her charisma radiates off the screen. The Beyoncé prodigy and the other half of the Grammy-winning duo Chloe x Halle gracefully presents her own Ariel: The character is still sweet and sharp-tongued, but there’s a touch more bite to her defiance. Her voice, the narrative’s raison d’être, sounds ethereal, too. Reconciling the strength of Bailey’s portrayal with the rest of the film, however, takes some work.”


“At least half of Disney’s recent cover versions have been colossally disappointing, turning touchstones of Americans’ collective childhood into garish CG eyesores while threatening to tarnish our memories of the original. Well, good news in the case of The Little Mermaid: Halle Bailey is all the reason that any audience should need to justify Disney revisiting this classic. Director Rob Marshall found his Ariel, and together, they’ve made a keeper.”


“Bailey has a ‘star is born’ role here and makes Ariel her own, even with the memories of Jodi Benson still alive from her vocal performance in 1989 and a Broadway version of the tale. Haver-King brings just the right amount of swagger to the befuddled Prince, and Bardem’s underwater king is perfect with one incredibly poignant father/daughter moment that will bring tears by the time the credits roll. The vocal work of Diggs and the irrepressible Awkwafina could not be better.”

The Little Mermaid is released in UK cinemas on Friday 26 May. Watch the trailer below...