The Little Mermaid, the timeless animated classic cherished by millions, didn’t need a live-action remake, and everyone knew it. Now, it seems the box office is reflecting just that.
Despite having a colossal budget of $250 million, the film is floundering (no pun intended) at overseas box offices. It opened on May 26 to a respectable domestic gross of $117 million, something many had predicted as it had a favorable release slot on the long weekend. But, internationally, the film flopped with only $68.3 million, a shockingly low figure for a Disney movie.
OMB Reviews, a popular movie critic on Youtube, pleaded with Disney to “please stop” in his review of the film, which laid bare the dire international situation the movie was in.
“[The movie] had a simultaneous release in all of the major markets overseas with the one exception being Japan. However, if we are looking at the other markets in the East right now, it’s not looking good at all for the prospects of this movie’s international numbers. And the domestic really aren’t that much better to be able to say it’ll make up for any of its losses there.”
OMB continues: “So what am I saying? I think there’s a good chance that we’ll see The Little Mermaid end up being a box office flop. And let’s just say it couldn’t happen to a nicer company.”
And he wasn’t wrong.
In China, the live-action Little Mermaid was amongst the poorest performing movies over its opening weekend. There was no audience score for the movie on Maoyan, the nation’s equivalent to IMDB, for days following the film’s release. The box office through Sunday was a dismal RMB 17.7 million ($2.5 million) after collecting just $13,000 in pre-sales.
For comparison, Aladdin’s 2019 live-action remake grossed $1 billion worldwide, and around $250 million of that came from China, Japan, and Korea alone.
Why the bomb? Many have made their thoughts clear in lengthy reviews plastered across the internet. While progressives became attached to the idea that the film’s lackluster performance was due to “racism,” the theme amongst most reviews is that many felt a remake of the classic wasn’t wanted or needed, and the live-action version was devoid of emotion and color.
On IMDB, an “alternative” rating system was applied for the film rather than the typical user-submitted system after the platform claimed it detected “unusual activity” amongst reviewers.
In other words: The reviews were terrible, and rather than allowing the film to look like it was crashing and burning, IMDB saved it by disregarding a significant portion of the overwhelming amount of 1/10 ratings.
Currently, the film has been assigned a 7/10 by IMDB using the “alternative” system, but raw user reviews would peg it at just 4.7/10.
In one review, which had its rating stripped completely, the user called it “dark and gloomy,” and claimed the children in the theater seemed bored.
“No excitement or joy. Maybe the movie was rushed, but no real story line either. Poorly done, do not recommend. Most of the kids in the theater were bored and playing. Others were on their iPad or phones. Kinda sad,” the reviewer wrote, adding: “I wish it was more for kids. Seemed like a social statement rather than a movie for kids. Disney needs to get back to the children, where is the laughter and joy?”
Another praised Halle Bailey’s performance, but said the remake was not needed.
“My issue is that in most cases I feel these live action remakes are not able to capture the essence of their original counterparts. Little Mermaid is no exception, it was fun and colorful to watch but again I felt like something was missing. By the second half of the film I was counting down the time I’d be able to get to my bed. The film just never connected with me. And I almost feel like I would have been perfectly fine without this remake.”
In a more straight-forward review, a user called the movie a “shipwreck,” handing it a chilly 2/10 stars.
“Even if you go in with low expectations you will still be disappointed by this shipwreck. From the flat acting to some flat singing, they is little to praise in this movie. It makes me dread how next years Snow White will turn out.”
Like IMDB, other international ratings sites had to lock down their review mechanism and implement alternative systems to ensure the film wasn’t scored too poorly.
France’s version of IMDB, AlloCiné put a disclaimer on the film’s page about the extremely negative reviews. The translated warning reads: “We are currently observing an unusual distribution of scores which demands the need for caution. We encourage you to make up your own mind about the film.”
Korea’s NAVER and Germany’s MoviePilot also experienced a massive review-bomb, with the film being rated so low that it ended up becoming a point of news coverage in those countries.
I return to OMB Review’s early discussion of the film, in which he asked Disney to “please stop” with the live-action remakes. I can’t help but cry the same plea.
Not every movie needs to be a statement, nor does every classic have to be “re-imagined” with the fanciest technology for the modern world. I truly do find myself asking if today’s writers are really so devoid of creativity that they can do nothing but dust off old VHS tapes.
And then, if a remake must be done, box office history indicates very clearly that ones which do a service to their fandom and stay as close to the source material as possible tend to do better overall. So why is Disney actively choosing to self-destruct?
But, ever the pessimist, something tells me they won’t be stopping this trend any time soon, and I’m already bracing myself to see Dylan Mulvaney announced as the live-action Pocahontas any day now.