Whenever Disney releases a live-action remake, fans always wonder if the company has updated anything from the original source material. The latest remake usually claims to modernize the storylines of iconic characters that redefine the values and beliefs of modern truth. One of the significant determinations of these remakes is to “fix” the heroines. The creators keep changing the characters’ personalities, and Belle’s arc in Beauty and The Beast serves as a prime example of how the changes made Belle less appealing to her fans.
Contrarily, in the latest adaptation of The Little Mermaid, the director, Rob Marshall, and screenwriter, David Magee, have successfully picked the right character, Eric, who needed the personality update. Ariel remains fundamentally the same, but the new version gives her some more moments to flesh and develop her character.
The original Eric in The Little Mermaid was regarded as a brave and handsome hero, but not much else. The movie presents Ariel’s immediate love for Eric with almost no evidence to support it. However, for the 2023 live-action remake, Jonah Hauer-King played the character with an edge. His version of Eric feels trapped in his kingdom, desiring to go out into the world and experience more.
With Eric’s character modernized and given goals and aspirations that parallel Ariel’s, it makes their ultimate attraction to each other more believeable. Ariel’s desire to escape her father’s control and find love with Eric comes off less as a singular obsession and more as a commonality with Eric, who also seeks to cut free from his mother’s expectations and make a name for himself. These changes give Ariel a more logical and purposeful story.
In the live-action remake, Ariel and Eric spend more time getting to know each other before they develop a romantic attraction. This time is spent bonding over Eric’s collections of various trinkets and artifacts from his travels. Ariel, unable to speak because of Ursula’s curse, still actively participates in these bonding moments, showing Eric a bit of what he has missed from the sea and only she can deliver.
There are some unnecessary changes to the live-action movie’s world-building that do not significantly add anything meaningful to it. The sisters have taken on a more important role, but their contribution to the plot remains unclear. Ursula’s new motif does not come up for much beyond her introduction, and Scuttle briefly raps because it seems like something to do.
However, despite hyper-analyzing these changes, the successful modernization of Eric’s character brings a significant improvement to the story of The Little Mermaid. The ultimate success of the movie isn’t in how good the fish looks, but how well they have developed Ariel’s character arc. Just because Ariel has fallen in love with Eric does not mean she loses agency or becomes any less of a beloved protagonist. Simultaneously, just because Eric is handsome doesn’t mean he lacks substance beyond his charming personality. This update makes The Little Mermaid a more satisfying love story for both new and old generations.
The Little Mermaid will be available in theaters starting May 26th.