The First ‘The Little Mermaid’ Reviews Cannot Stop Raving About Halle Bailey As Ariel: ‘A Star Is Born’

With The Little Mermaid set to splash into theaters this week, the first reviews are rolling in, and the critics are head over fins for Halle Bailey. The young actress scored the coveted role of Ariel in the live-action remake, and virtually every review cites that casting decision as the film’s most powerful weapon. Bailey’s rendition of “Part of Your World” is frequently cited as a show-stopper that, dare we say it, could be on par with the original.

While the rest of the film received so-so remarks, Bailey’s performance appears to be worth the price of admission alone, and it’s certainly convinced more than one critic that these Disney live-action remakes can be more than moneymakers.

You can see what the reviews are saying below:

Peter Dubrege, Variety:

Halle Bailey is all the reason that any audience should need to justify Disney revisiting this classic. Director Rob Marshall found his Ariel, and together, they’ve made a keeper. Just wait till you hear her sing “Part of Your World,” delivered with all the conviction of Jennifer Hudson’s career-making rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” A star is born, and as if to punctuate our discovery, Marshall poses Bailey there on a rocky outcropping and smashes a giant wave against her back.

Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter:

Thankfully, Bailey doesn’t disappoint as Ariel. Her performance adds edge to what is ultimately a serviceable film. Whether she’s belting out a newly arranged “Part of Your World” or silently observing her less than charming prince (Jonah Hauer King) navigate his own social constrictions, her charisma radiates off the screen. The Beyoncé prodigy and the other half of the Grammy-winning duo Chloe x Halle gracefully presents her own Ariel: The character is still sweet and sharp-tongued, but there’s a touch more bite to her defiance. Her voice, the narrative’s raison d’être, sounds ethereal, too. Reconciling the strength of Bailey’s portrayal with the rest of the film, however, takes some work.

Coleman Spilde, The Daily Beast:

The film is far from a mere remake; it expands the universe of the original movie, with a sprawl that jumps off the screen and directly into its viewers’ hearts. The charm of the original doesn’t just remain intact, it’s augmented tenfold. Some new songs and shaky visual effects may not feel so seamless when jammed into an already bloated runtime. But even when its pacing stumbles, The Little Mermaid remains magical, thanks largely to the brilliance of Bailey, who is destined to bring this iconic role to a new generation.

Pete Hammond, Deadline:

Marshall has made a movie with all the magic required to pull it off and, if not replace the original in our hearts, at least has made a movie that can stand next to that one to also become a memorable part of our cinematic world. With a David Magee script that sticks to the story, the catchy Alan Menken and Howard Ashman songs like “Part Of Your World”, “Kiss The Girl”, and Oscar winner “Under The Sea” now joined effortlessly by three new tunes from Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a perfectly chosen cast, this Mermaid has all the right stuff. Disney will probably print money with this one, but it will be justified.

Leigh Monson, The A.V. Club:

Halle Bailey is an immediate standout as Ariel, evoking the wide-eyed innocence of a naïve, lovestruck teenager while belting out musical numbers with the gusto of a Broadway star in the making. Similarly, Hauer-King’s Prince Eric is given more dimension than in the 1989 version as a wanderlusting dreamer, so he serves as a solid romantic counterpart to Bailey. However, the rest of the cast is a mixed bag.

Maureen Lee Lenker, Entertainment Weekly:

This iteration of The Little Mermaid is the studio’s freshest catch since it kicked off this live-action trend with 2015’s Cinderella, featuring refreshing storytelling that captures the magic of the original. Director Rob Marshall at last has found material that fits him as well as 2002’s Chicago, his splashy theatrical style merging with the tropes of musical comedy and something darker around the edges.

Lex Briscuso, The Wrap:

In this new live-action adaptation things are not as bubblegum sweet and bright as the last time we visited Ariel’s story. The sea is rougher, less forgiving. There is, as Ariel sings in the famed “Part of Your World,” something starting inside the heart of a tender, curious, and desperate mermaid the same way it did in 1989, but Marshall’s vision finds the raw humanity within the story, grounding a once-completely fantastical tale with a strong sense of realism that works to its advantage.

Kate Erbland, IndieWire:

But it’s star Halle Bailey, appearing in her first leading role, who makes the best case for why this classic Disney tale needed to be made into a live-action affair. Just look at her face, so expressive and so open, so deeply and wonderfully human and alive. There are some things even the most lovingly rendered pieces of hand-drawn animation just can’t match, and Bailey’s emotive skill is one of them. (And her stunning singing? Further icing on the “this young woman is a movie star” cake.)

The Little Mermaid swims into theaters on May 26.