A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Little Mermaid is a loose, live-action interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale that's set in early 20th-century Mississippi and will likely appeal to kids who enjoy all things mermaid. There's some action violence, including a high-stakes pursuit, a magical battle between two characters with supernatural abilities, a fistfight, a man who uses a whip to injure others, and a presumed death. Two circus-related characters are creepy/potentially disturbing, and at one point it seems like both a little girl and a mermaid may die from illness. But (spoiler alert!) unlike the original Andersen story, all ends well here. Romance is limited to longing looks and a couple of quick kisses, and there's no swearing or substance use. The movie has an African American supporting character, but at no point is the Jim Crow segregation of the era adhered to or signaled, creating a sanitized view of Southern life at the time.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
In this take on THE LITTLE MERMAID, a grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) tells her granddaughters an abbreviated version of Hans Christian Andersen's classic mermaid tale, following it up with a "true mermaid story" of her own, which proceeds to unfold on-screen. In the early 20th century, Cam Harrison (William Moseley), an English reporter living in the U.S. with his sickly young niece, Elle (Loreto Peralta), is assigned to travel to Mississippi and research a circus act's "healing waters." Cam and Elle, who loves mermaids, fairies, and other creatures, attend the circus, where mysterious ringmaster Locke (Armando Gutierrez) announces the main event: the "living mermaid of the Mississippi." Cam interviews local residents who've been temporarily cured of ailments and illnesses by the healing waters. Cam and Elle meet the "mermaid," Elizabeth (Poppy Drayton), who tells Elle that where she comes from, there's a legend of a human girl born with the heart of a mermaid. As Cam and Elle get closer to Elizabeth, it's clear that Elizabeth really is a mermaid -- and that the ringmaster is actually a wizard who can control her.
Is it any good?
Unless your child is the breed of mermaid fan who must see everything possible about the mythological sea creatures, this is one Hans Christian Andersen retelling that families can skip. Despite veteran actors like Drayton (Downton Abbey), Moseley (The Chronicles of Narnia), Gina Gershon, and the brief presence of the legendary MacLaine in the framing story, the acting feels phoned-in, particularly among the supporting ensemble. As the villainous Locke, Gutierrez (who's also one of the movie's producers) gives a particularly amateurish performance. But it's not just the stale overacting that's the problem here, it's the cheesy special effects, the clunky script, and the off-putting historical elements.
For example, why did writer-director Blake Harris need to hire two Brits to play the principal roles when the movie is set in America? Plus, he set the film in the Jim Crow-era Deep South, only to water down the history of segregation by including a black character who's not only close friends with white townsfolk but allowed to eat in the same restaurants and celebrate on the riverboat with everyone else. This isn't the sort of diversity audiences need; this is ignoring the painful history of Mississippi's racial segregation. Bottom line? There's very little to endear most viewers to this disappointing spin on The Little Mermaid.
Talk to your kids about ...
Talk about the differences between this version of The Little Mermaid and other versions, like Disney's. How does this one compare?
What do you think about the circus/carnival setting? Why are circus folks so interesting to viewers/readers?
How accurately do you think the movie portrays its historical setting? Is it OK to water down uncomfortable realities in movies for kids and families?
- In theaters: August 17, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: November 20, 2018
- Cast: William Moseley, Poppy Drayton, Shirley MacLaine
- Director: Blake Harris
- Studio: Freestyle Releasing
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Fairy Tales, Friendship
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: action
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.