“The Little Mermaid,” a middling, live-action fantasy film inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale (also the basis of Disney’s 1989 animated megahit), involves skeptical 1930s-era newspaperman Cam Harrison (William Moseley), who travels to Mississippi with his ailing young niece, Elle (Loreto Peralta), to report on a supposed mermaid and her magical cure-all water.
Once there, Cam discovers that the healing elixir may be fake but that the enchanting mermaid, Elizabeth (Poppy Drayton), is real and under the cruel thumb of a sinister traveling circus magician, Locke (producer Armando Gutierrez), to whom she sold her soul in return for human legs.
Meantime, Elle befriends Elizabeth and becomes intrigued by Locke’s powers, Cam and the mermaid dance with romance, and when Elizabeth’s life is imperiled, good must triumph over evil to save her soul. It’s all told in flashback as a present-day grandma (Shirley MacLaine) recounts the tale to her little granddaughters.
Although it’s a serviceable enough story, the script by Blake Harris, who co-directed with Chris Bouchard, is often too earnest and forced to prove sufficiently fun or wondrous.
There’s also a hemmed-in feel to much of the action, which relies on lighting, an urgent score and modest visual effects to sell this tightly budgeted film’s greater ambitions.
Still, there are likely enough sweet, effective moments to engage kids and their parents looking for a safe escape.
‘The Little Mermaid’
Rating: PG, for action
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: Starts Aug. 17 in general release