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Under the controver-sea


WORLD Radio - Under the controver-sea

Disney’s remake of The Little Mermaid has its flaws, but it’s not woke. Plus, previews of upcoming summer films

Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King in Disney's The Little Mermaid Disney and Lucasfilm LTD

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, May 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Summer movies.

Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer for many Americans, and the movie industry knows it. Film studios save their biggest and best movies for the summer, and this season is no exception. Here’s WORLD arts and culture editor Collin Garbarino to give us the rundown.

COLLIN GARBARINO: Audience’s expectations for summer movies get pretty high. We don’t just want movies. We want spectacle, and in most cases, we want the spectacle to feature characters we already know and love. Movie studios have answered the call, and just about every weekend for the next couple of months, a new film will arrive in theaters hoping to become the next blockbuster.

Kicking off the summer, we have Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid arriving in theaters this weekend. It stars Halle Bailey as Ariel and Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric.

MUSIC: [“Part of Your World”]

I’ll admit I went into this film expecting to hate it. The follow-your-heart theme of the original film always struck me as dubious advice. Also, recent Disney movies haven’t been great. Then, there was the whole black mermaid controversy that absorbed social media and Disney’s recent tendency to sneak LGBT references into its content. My expectations couldn’t have been lower. But to my surprise, I kind of liked it. I mean, it’s not the best Disney movie ever, but it certainly isn’t the worst.

MUSIC: ["Under the Sea”]

Let’s start with the bad. At two hours and 15 minutes, the movie is at least half an hour too long. Disney added three new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, two of which, I’m sorry to say, are totally forgettable. The first part of the movie, when Ariel is still a mermaid, isn’t great. The computer-generated mer-world looks a tad plastic, and the actors don’t deliver their lines with enough whimsey. But Melissa McCarthy makes a decent Ursula.

URSULA: So, here’s the deal. I’ll whip up a little potion to make you human for three days. Got that? Three days.

Often these live-action remakes stick too close to the animated movies, making me ask, “What was the point?” The Little Mermaid has plenty of scenes that replicate the original shot-for-shot, but it also puts a fresh spin on the story. The parts where it abandoned its source material are the parts I enjoyed the most.

The setting has moved to the Caribbean. Eric’s adoptive mother rules over a multiethnic island of castaways, and the island scenes have a colorful multicultural vibe. The shift means Ariel’s dark skin makes sense in the context of the plot. To be honest it was kind of nice to see a cast that looks like my city of Houston.

I also really liked the voice work from Awkwafina and Daveed Diggs as Scuttle and Sebastian.

SEBASTIAN: Are you listening to me?

SCUTTLE: Yes. uh.

SEBASTIAN: You won’t tell him. I won’t tell him. And I will stay in one piece. You got it?

SCUTTLE: Got it. Sorry, what'd you say again?

SEBASTIAN: I’m a dead crab.

The movie tries to update the story in various other ways—and some viewers will love certain changes and probably hate others. Ariel comes across a little more noble—she actually pauses to wonder if what she’s doing is wrong. Ursula is a little more treacherous. Some other changes bring the movie more in line with 21st-century expectations. There’s a little more female empowerment. Ursula’s lines about how men don’t like talkative women get cut, and Sebastian changes his tune too. In 1989, “it don’t take a word, not a single word,” to kiss a girl. Now, Eric’s told he needs to use his words to ask her for that kiss.

There’s no hint of an LGBT agenda in the movie, but some viewers will probably still call the live-action The Little Mermaid woke. I don’t think it’s woke. It’s just a solid contemporary update with a few clumsy scenes.

But whether or not The Little Mermaid sounds like your cup of tea, there’s plenty of other movies coming up.

In June, theaters will get a bunch of franchise films. Next weekend, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse swings into theaters. It’s a sequel to 20-18’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. My expectations for this PG animated movie are sky high since the original is one of the best superhero movies ever. I’m probably setting myself up for disappointment.

We’re also getting three PG-13 movies. A 5th Indiana Jones movie comes out June 30. The reviews coming out of the Cannes Film Festival aren’t great, but Harrison Ford said it’s a good movie, and I can’t imagine he’d lie about that. Earlier in the month, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts plans to once again exploit Gen-Xer nostalgia with a new adventure, this time set in 1994. And DC Studios will release The Flash, one of the last installments in its comic-book universe before its imminent reboot.

If you’re suffering from franchise fatigue this summer still offers a few options.

EMBER: Meet the residents of Element City.

In June, Pixar will release the PG-rated Elemental—a movie about elements that don’t mix living alongside each other. Who knows? Maybe the once-great Pixar will escape its five year malaise with this one.

July will bring Christopher Nolan’s biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. But be warned, Oppenheimer is his longest movie to date clocking in at 2 hours and 49 minutes. Also Margot Robbie stars in Barbie, but don’t let your little girls get too excited about seeing it because it seems aimed at teens and adults.

MUSIC: [Mission: Impossible theme song]

I, however, am not suffering from franchise fatigue. The movie I’m most looking forward to is the seventh Mission: Impossible movie, Dead Reckoning, which opens July 12. Mission: Impossible is my favorite series of spy movies, and other than the somewhat mediocre second film, Tom Cruise has never let me down. It would be impossible for me to pass this one up.

I’m Collin Garbarino

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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