starring Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs, Melissa McCarthy
screenplay by David Magee
directed by Rob Marshall
by Walter Chaw I have long, disquieting thoughts about Ursula the Sea Witch's anatomy in the live-action version of Disney's The Little Mermaid. As I understand it, with octopi, the centre of their body cavity, ringed by tentacles, is a beak. Ursula is a mermaid whose top half is human and whose bottom half is octopus--but her face doesn't emerge from the centre of her ring of tentacles. Rather, the tentacles function as an expressive, sentient dress--like Dr. Strange's cloak, I suppose, if we're keeping it in the Disney family. This didn't bother me when Ursula was a cartoon of a drag queen, but it's bothering me now because it's Melissa McCarthy, and what the hell is happening down there? Nightmare fuel is what's happening down there. There's a moment during her big number where she, like Bruce Springsteen during his Super Bowl halftime show, teabags the camera--and, friends, I was craning to catch a glimpse. What did I imagine? A chthonic, Lovecraftian horror of luminous tentacles and vagina dentata in a horror film's ink-murk deep of shipwrecks and sharks. The scene where the title heroine, Ariel (Halle Bailey), goes to sell her voice to Ursula even begins with a hall of grasping pink "hands" springing from the walls. It's insinuating like one of the post-rape hallucinations from Roman Polanski's Repulsion. Is The Little Mermaid good? I have no idea how to answer that question.