THE best thing I can say about the Netflix offering of The Little Mermaid is it makes one want to revisit the magical Disney animated version. In no way connected to, or even remotely similar to – except for the fact that it features a mermaid – the Disney classic, Netflix’s The Little Mermaid disappoints on almost every level.
It opens with a grandmother – grandma Elle – played by Shirley MacLaine, reading the Hans Christian Andersen tale to her two cute granddaughter’s. This is used, in pictorial fashion, as the opening credit sequence to the film. As she finishes telling them the story, she teases them by hinting that the story was not how it was depicted in the book and that mermaids are possibly real. The children are eager for her to tell her tale.
Oh, how I wish they had not been. MacLaine, a veteran of many a classic film – Terms Of Endearment, The Apartment, Steel Magnolias to name a few – appears at the begin of the film and at the end. Even though she is telling the story and the film utilises voiceovers in parts, she is not used. One can only reason that she read the script and thought ‘sod it! The cheque will top up my pension!’ Because there is no other reason to be in this film.
William Moseley plays Cam, a young, cynical, reporter who, by some mishap that is explained far too late in the film for me to have been caring anymore, ends up as the sole guardian of his niece, the sickly Elle, played ably by Loreto Peralta.
She suffers from an unknown ailment that causes her to cough and be generally poorly when she exerts herself too much. Like asthma then or any number of respiratory conditions.
Set in the thirties or forties, Cam is sent to investigate the claims of a circus vendor who is allegedly curing many ailments with sea water ointment. The circus, for some inexplicable reason, is in Mississippi. Cam takes himself and his sickly charge off to the deep south of America. Elle, being a child, believes in magic and helpfully, the existence of mermaids.
On arriving in Mississippi Cam and Elle head to the circus where the star attraction is Elizabeth – Poppy Drayton – a mermaid. Elle feels an instant connection to Elizabeth, even has her uncle tells her that it must be a trick. After the show, Cam and Elle go in search of the all-healing sea water ointment but are told in no uncertain terms that it is out of stock.
Until this point, the film had been quite engaging. Some of the script had been a little clunky, but the actors had managed to make it work. The colours also are magnificent, making the film look beautiful when working strictly with the in-camera image. Unfortunately, the post-production, with the exception of colour, and special effects, especially in the second half of the film, detract from the picture quality.
Once the central premise of the film had been introduced – free the mermaid – the film begins to fall apart. Not because of a bad, lazy premise, but because of the under written characters. The antagonist of the piece, Locke – yes, really – played by Armando Gutierrez, is the circus master and the person who holds Elizabeth captive.
Locke is portrayed as menacing, but Gutierrez is given so little to work with – a poor man’s ringmaster costume and cheap make-up – and so little screen time, that it is impossible for his character to be seen as the big bad, or to even appreciate how he creates such fear amongst his peers. We are just expected to take it as so.
As the film progresses – in time, not quality – it only gets worse. Characters are introduced for convenience but not at all fleshed out. Our sceptical journalist, earlier captivated by Elizabeth, meets her on a boat and is not even slightly perturbed when he finds out she is actually a mermaid. Not to mention the frankly ludicrous scene of him chasing after her, diving into the sea and easily catching up to her. She’s a mermaid. A MERMAID!
He is just as nonplussed when Thora – Shana Collins – one of the circus folk and one of the aforementioned characters introduced for convenience, freezes time! She stops time! She stops time so as they can escape the circus and he acts as if he has seen that sort of thing every day of his life. Just another time freeze.
The final half hour of the film is almost farcical, becoming a race against time to get Elizabeth back to the ocean after Thora – she is SUPER powerful you know – temporarily turns her mermaid tail into legs so as she can escape the circus. Meanwhile, Locke – remember him? I barely did – pursues them with all the urgency of an actor who knows he’s getting paid regardless of the performance.
As the film peters out to an obvious and underwhelming conclusion, one is subjected to special effects so abject they look as though they were created on an Amstrad computer.
Grandma Elle finishes the story and her cherubic granddaughters ask what happened to Elle. Grandma Elle gives a knowing smile, turns away from the girls and we, the suffering viewers, get to watch the girls react as she does ‘something’ magical off-screen. Barf.
This film is so god awful it as though Netflix is trying to out do itself for bad films. Just to reiterate, this is not the Disney version. Far from it. Elizabeth – Poppy Drayton – does sing one song, so gets to show off her vocal prowess. That is as close as it gets to the Disney classic. It is really not close enough. Do not watch this film.