The Little Mermaid: Why Halle Bailey’s Performance as Ariel is Unmatched

Halle Bailey delivers a stellar performance as Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and her performance is being considered the best live-action Disney princess adaptation to date.

Disney has been remaking its classic animated movies in live-action for the past decade, including popular princess movies such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, and The Little Mermaid in 2023, with a new Snow White movie slated for 2024.

Despite receiving a modest 68% score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes (which is ironically one of the highest scores for Disney live-action remakes), the reviews unanimously praise the 2023 movie for its strongest aspect: Halle Bailey’s portrayal of Ariel.

The Little Mermaid: Why Halle Bailey’s Performance as Ariel is Unmatched
The Little Mermaid

Halle Bailey joins the ranks of Lily James as Cinderella, Emma Watson as Belle, Naomi Scott as Jasmine, and Yifei Liu as Mulan as the first live-action Ariel in a major remake.

Taking on the roles of the iconic animated princesses has often been a daunting task given the high standards for the actresses to capture the essence of these beloved characters, but none of the actresses have encountered resistance like Bailey, who faced racist “accuracy” complaints.

Despite the unwarranted backlash against Halle Bailey’s casting, the singer-actress has proven herself as the highlight of the film and the best live-action princess for Disney so far.

Halle Bailey has faced racist criticisms that she was unsuitable for the role of Princess Ariel in The Little Mermaid remake ever since her casting was announced in 2019. The backlash stems from Bailey’s physical dissimilarities from the fictional mermaid in the original 1989 animated movie; Bailey became the first Black actress to play Ariel in live-action, while the animated character was white.

The Little Mermaid: Why Halle Bailey’s Performance as Ariel is Unmatched
Hailey Balley in The Little Mermaid

Criticizing the actress based on her appearance is illogical, considering Ariel is a fictional mermaid, especially when the actress flawlessly captures the role. Fortunately, replicating the exact 1989 illustration of Disney’s Ariel was not required for The Little Mermaid remake, enabling the film to achieve its best casting in Halle Bailey. Halle Bailey possesses all the qualities that are essential to portray the best version of a live-action Ariel on the screen.

Bailey has the innate singing ability to make beloved The Little Mermaid songs like “Part of Your World” as magical in live-action as the original movie, the acting skills to engage audiences through the actual story, and the necessary chemistry with her fellow cast members and even the CGI animals to enrich romances and friendships in the live-action adaptation.

While some live-action adaptations may prioritize certain skills over others when casting the right actress, Halle Bailey embodies all the talents, wonder, and heart required for Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid remake.

Casting the right actress for Ariel is also more challenging, given the fact that she is mute for a significant portion of the movie. Ariel’s actress has to have a natural charisma that captivates the audience and skillfully uses body language to express emotion for much of The Little Mermaid’s extended runtime, which is harder to achieve in live-action than animation.

The Little Mermaid: Why Halle Bailey’s Performance as Ariel is Unmatched
Ariel and Eric in The Little Mermaid

Fortunately, Halle Bailey’s charming on-screen presence fulfills all the necessary criteria for Ariel’s live-action The Little Mermaid story, reinforcing how baseless the backlash was in the first place.

Halle Bailey’s Ariel stands out as the most praised of Disney’s live-action remakes, as evidenced by reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s Bailey’s performance that enhances the film beyond a superficial retelling of the same story and scenes, infusing life into the tale that was otherwise criticized for losing the vibrant spirit of the original.

While previous live-action Disney princesses have been commended for their performances in the remakes, they weren’t as universally regarded as the redeeming features of their movies at the same level as Bailey in The Little Mermaid. Additionally, Bailey adds considerably more depth to Ariel that doesn’t clash with her original characterization.

Lily James received acclaim for her portrayal of Ella and her chemistry with co-star Richard Madden in 2015’s Cinderella, but much of the film’s magical acclaim was attributed to Kenneth Branagh’s direction and Cate Blanchett’s scene-stealing villain.

The commendation for Emma Watson’s Belle in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast was more emphatic but still isn’t considered one of the main reasons for the live-action remake’s success. The reaction to Naomi Scott as Jasmine in 2019’s Aladdin was also favorable, but her character was largely eclipsed by the Genie and Aladdin roles.

The Little Mermaid: Why Halle Bailey’s Performance as Ariel is Unmatched
Belle and Cinderella

Meanwhile, it’s the mesmerizing performance of Halle Bailey, who splendidly brings to life all the best aspects of Ariel’s character, that elevates 2023’s The Little Mermaid from being another generic remake to being one of the most dazzling and entertaining Disney live-action adaptations yet.

The Little Mermaid extends the original movie’s runtime by 52 minutes as it uniquely enriches the backstories and personalities of its characters. While Eric has the biggest backstory change, The Little Mermaid’s extended runtime also gives Halle Bailey’s Ariel additional focus as her fears about becoming human are explored through song.

After she lost her voice, Ariel’s emotions in the original movie were mainly conveyed through exaggerated body language and the voice of Sebastian, whereas 2023’s The Little Mermaid adds another song to express Ariel’s emotions and spends more time on giving her a natural romantic bond with Eric.

Giving more agency and depth to Ariel while her voice is gone ensures that Halle Bailey remains the star of the show. Whereas Eric and Sebastian take over more of the animated film when Ariel loses her voice, 2023’s The Little Mermaid recognizes that Bailey is its greatest asset, making sure she still has internal songs and the biggest screen presence even when Ursula has her voice.

While Bailey’s Ariel is still as playful as the original, she’s also given more maturity, therefore reinforcing the idea that her choice to give up her voice for legs was intentional rather than done on a more naive impulse.

Halle Bailey successfully makes Ariel bolder, stronger, and more nuanced than the 1989 character, which helps explain why the actress’s version of The Little Mermaid’s protagonist is Disney’s best live-action princess yet.

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About The Little Mermaid (2023)

The Little Mermaid is a 2023 American musical fantasy film directed by Rob Marshall from a screenplay written by David Magee. Co-produced by Walt Disney Pictures, DeLuca Marshall, and Marc Platt Productions, it is a live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1989 animated film of the same name itself, loosely based on the 1837 fairy tale of the same title by Hans Christian Andersen.

The film stars Halle Bailey in the titular role alongside Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni, Javier Bardem, and Melissa McCarthy.

The Little Mermaid follows a mermaid princess Ariel who makes a deal with a treacherous sea witch Ursula to trade her voice for human legs in order to impress Prince Eric, who is saved from a shipwreck before the time runs out.

Epic Dope Staff

Epic Dope Staff

Our talented team of Freelance writers - Always on the lookout - pour their energies into a wide range of topics bringing to our audience what they crave - fun up-to-date news, reviews, fan theories and much much more.


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