Melissa McCarthy Is the Best Part of ‘The Little Mermaid’

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Disney
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Disney

This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by editor Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.

This week:

Good for You, Melissa McCarthy

After seeing The Little Mermaid, the ambitious new take on the beloved 1989 animated classic, I have come to an irrefutable conclusion: The best live-action Disney reboot is… still Aladdin. (I am right, and I will not apologize for saying it.)

There are definitely elements of The Little Mermaid that surpassed my admittedly low expectations, and there are others that are about as dismal as I expected.

Halle Bailey is as sensational as you’ve heard as Ariel, and Daveed Diggs’ voice work as Sebastian is a comedic tour de force. It’s a shame that Sebastian, as well as Jacob Tremblay’s Flounder and Awkwafina’s Scuttle—all meant to be photorealistic but just not quite real-looking enough—more resemble those traumatizing Chuck E. Cheese animatronics than any sort of CGI triumph. It’s especially bad when they’re talking, with their mouths basically just flapping open and shut. And the scenes of Ariel on land were unexpectedly moving and gorgeously shot, while everything under the sea was a dour drab—not great when the movie is, uh, The Little Mermaid.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Walt Disney Studios</div>
Walt Disney Studios

For all the controversy over casting (so much uproar over a Black Ariel, but not a peep about the blasphemous decision to make Prince Eric British), the movie was admirably diverse, by Hollywood’s poor standards. So what surprised me is that it’s the most obvious and boring casting decision—Melissa McCarthy as Ursula—that most blew me away.

There didn’t seem to be anything inventive in casting McCarthy. In fact, it came off as lazy to choose the industry’s most famous, bankable plus-sized actress over a more creative choice; it elicited a shrugging of course. But she is deliciously good in the film, subverting expectations (at least mine) for what you’d think Melissa McCarthy-as-Ursula would be like.

McCarthy modulates her voice down a register, eschewing over-the-top, villainous histrionics for something more sinister—which, in turn, allows for Ursula’s cheekiness and campier moments to be even more twistedly funny. Her Ursula is a clear and necessary homage to original voice actress Pat Carroll, but it’s also original enough so that it’s not a pale imitation. And, of course, it’s a performance in tribute and respect to Divine, the legendary drag queen who inspired the Ursula character in the first place.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Walt Disney Studios</div>
Walt Disney Studios

McCarthy’s press tour for the film has been flawless and thrilling to me, especially, because of her insistence on speaking about Divine, Varla, and the countless drag queens that made “Poor Unfortunate Souls” a staple of their acts. You can tell that history is personal to McCarthy, which is evident in her performance.

And while Divine’s inspiration for Ursula is well-known to a contingent of Disney fans, and certainly to the LGBT community, that McCarthy has been adamant about publicizing it and making it common knowledge now is unmistakably important. At a time when drag and LGBT pride are at the center of an outrageous and shameful culture war, she’s ensuring that all the families seeing the movie this weekend are aware that they are celebrating the art and community of drag.

The Marvelous Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Finale

After this weekend, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Succession, and Barry will be over for good—and a few days later, depending on what Apple TV+ decides to do, Ted Lasso may be as well. (Season finales for Yellowjackets and Somebody Somewhere are also airing this weekend, with the former, at least, guaranteed to return, and the latter’s renewal hopefully coming—if there is such a thing as a God.) The TV programmers really said, “Have a lovely long weekend, America! Except for you, TV journalists. Don’t even think about making plans.”

In these past few years, a slew of pivotal, era-defining series have ended. It makes for a strange moment—for the industry, but also for me, a person who writes about TV and how it relates to him. I’m not sure yet what this moment means… but it means something!

<div class="inline-image__credit">Prime Studios</div>
Prime Studios

I do think that Mrs. Maisel really stuck the landing. I found its finale episode to be spectacular, with the perfect amount of fan service, while still doing justice to character arcs. (Plus, there was a random scene in which Broadway star Leslie Kritzer cameos as Carol Burnett singing “Shy” from Once Upon a Mattress, which I like to think was added to the episode just for me.) And while I often find quoting the title within a project to be hokey, there is a moment when Midge is called “the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” for the first time, and I did cry.

Moreover, the series ended with a scene of laughter, which I won’t spoil—but know that it just felt right. Tits up!

The Barbie Bonanza Is Just Getting Started

A new Barbie trailer came out this week, this one with actual details of the plot. Gauging by the overwhelming reaction on social media, it previews what will be a cinematic masterpiece unlike the human race has ever experienced before. (Personally, it made me more skeptical of it possibly meeting high expectations. But, like Prince Harry, I can’t afford my own security detail, so I will not be elaborating any further, for fear of the internet mob.)

There are, however, two moments from the trailer that have gone viral, and which I am obsessed with. This line that Barbie blurts in the middle of a group dance routine, is endlessly relatable.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Warner Bros. Pictures</div>
Warner Bros. Pictures

And this isn’t just Ryan Gosling being epically hot as Ken, but it also raises an important question: How tall does this screengrab suggest Ken/Gosling is?!?!

<div class="inline-image__credit">Warner Bros. Pictures</div>
Warner Bros. Pictures

Marry Me?

A TikTok user named @throatgoatnancyreagan attended a recent concert of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour and posted a video montage of himself eating a new hot dog each time Swift transitioned to a new “era” of her career on her setlist.

<div class="inline-image__credit">TikTok</div>

More From The Daily Beast’s Obsessed

This is the best deep-dive I’ve read into why everyone hates Vanderpump Rules star Raquel Leviss, a participant in the infamous #Scandoval, so damn much. Read more.

The new Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom game sets a new high bar for video-game excellence, and apparently has been monopolizing all of my colleague’s time. Read more.

Ahead of the Succession finale this weekend, read this excellent take on the Kendall Roy characters, and why he’s doomed to commit the same sins of his father. Read more.

What to see this week:

The Little Mermaid: If I had to witness the horrors of “Scuttlebutt,” we all must. (Now in theaters)

Platonic: Seth Rogen? Charming and funny. Rose Byrne? Charming and funny. The two of them together? You’ll never believe it: charming and funny! (Now on Apple TV+)

Kandahar: Gerard Butler keeps making the most Gerard Butler-iest of movies. (Now in theaters)

You Hurt My Feelings: This Julia Louis-Dreyfus starrer is one of my favorite movies of the year. (Now in theaters)

What to skip this week:

FUBAR: Believe it or not, Arnold Schwarzenegger deserves better. (Now on Netflix)

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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