The Little Mermaid first reactions flood in as critics praise ‘phenomenal’ Halle Bailey

Halle Bailey as Ariel in a poster for Disney's live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. (Disney)

Disney’s eagerly anticipated live-action remake of The Little Mermaid premiered in Los Angeles last night (8 May) – and reviewers have had their say.

With a star-studded cast, including Halle Bailey as Ariel and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, and a soundtrack by Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and The Little Mermaid‘s original Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, expectations have understandably been high ahead of the film’s release on 26 May.

The casting of African-American actor Bailey, 23, as Disney’s first live-action Black princess has inspired a swathe of young Black girls across the globe, while Identity Thief star McCarthy is stepping into the villainous Ursula’s drag-inspired boots.

Based on the original Hans Christian Andersen tale and Disney’s 1989 animated version, Rob Marshall’s revamp follows mermaid Ariel as she makes a deal with Ursula to give up her voice so that she can meet her true love, Prince Eric (Jonah Andre Hauer-King), on land.

The first reviews heap almost unanimous praise on Bailey, who had already wowed fans with her cover of The Little Mermaid‘s famous song “Part of Your World”.

The Little Mermaid is a live-action remake that retains the heart and soul of the story we know and love, and it’s elevated even further by a note-perfect, star-making performance from Halle Bailey,” wrote film critic Zoe Rose Bryant. “She was born to be on the big screen and she’s why this new take is worth watching.”

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Critic Erik Davis echoed that sentiment, writing: “Halle Bailey IS Ariel and I had chills throughout her performance. This is a Little Mermaid retelling like you’ve never seen before.”

There was also praise for the film’s wider cast, which includes Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs, Oscar-winning Javier Bardem, rapper and comedian Awkwafina and Bridgerton‘s Simone Ashley,

The Little Mermaid is magical. Halle Bailey is absolutely phenomenal. That girl has some pipes. Scuttle [Awkwafina] and Sebastian [Diggs] are hilarious and had me laughing the whole way through,” critic Tessa Smith tweeted.

Some criticism was directed at the CGI and expanded plot, while journalist Simon Thompson described the film as “endearing but uneven” and critic Courtney Howard called it “charming, but incredibly spotty”.

However, it seems Bailey and McCarthy’s on-screen star power largely managed to save the day.

During Monday’s (8 May) premiere, Bailey touched on the importance of bringing much-needed Black representation to the fairytale universe.

“It means the world to me,” she said, “especially for the beautiful babies to be able to see a reflection of themselves.

“I am just honoured to be a part of this and be one of the princesses now because for me it was Brandy as Cinderella [in 1997] and Anika Noni Rose as Princess Tiana [in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog].

“So, the fact that I am getting to continue this, and live on this legacy, is really exciting and I’m just grateful.”

The Little Mermaid is set to be released in UK and US cinemas on 26 May.