Disney’s Original ‘The Little Mermaid’ Director John Musker Criticises Live-Action Remake

John Musker, the renowned director behind some of Disney’s greatest animated classics, including the original 1989 version of The Little Mermaid, recently expressed his dissatisfaction with the 2023 live-action remake of the film. Speaking to Variety at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, Musker critiqued the film for what he perceives as significant deviations from the core elements that defined the original.

The Little Mermaid John Musker

Musker, whose directorial credits also include hits like Aladdin and Moana, pointed out that the remake failed to capture the essential narrative and emotional depth that characterised the animated version of The Little Mermaid. He was particularly critical of the CGI representations of characters like Sebastian and Flounder, noting that their overly realistic appearance lacked the expressive quality essential to animation.

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“The crab — you could look at live animals in a zoo and they have more expression, like with The Lion King,” Musker stated, referring to another Disney remake that faced similar criticism. He emphasised that the charm and appeal of Disney animations stem from their ability to convey emotions through artful exaggeration, something that gets lost in the translation to hyper-realistic CGI.

“That’s one of the basic things about Disney, is the appeal. That’s what animation does best.”

Musker also discussed the broader trend of live-action remakes in the film industry, observing a cautious approach driven by studios’ desire to minimise risk. He criticised this trend for lacking originality, often opting to rehash familiar stories with added visual flair but diminished storytelling quality, one example being the father-daughter storyline in 2023’s The Little Mermaid remake. “That was the heart of the movie, in a way,” he lamented.

The Little Mermaid John Musker

“The classic Disney films didn’t start out trying to have a message. They wanted you to get involved in the characters and the story and the world, and I think that’s still the heart of it,” Musker explained, advocating for a balance where engaging narratives and well-developed characters take precedence over overt messages. He stressed that while incorporating progressive themes is important, they should not overshadow the foundational elements of storytelling.

Despite his critiques, Musker’s love for animation and storytelling remains evident, and his comments highlight a desire to see future adaptations stay true to the spirit of their animated originals. His insights call for a return to the storytelling prowess that has historically defined Disney, urging a reevaluation of how these beloved tales are adapted for new generations. John Musker’s commentary not only reflects a deep love for the medium of animation but also serves as a call to action for Disney to honour its legacy through genuine storytelling rather than mere visual spectacle.