Caitlin Carmichael stars as Ryan, a young girl who moves to a coastal town and before long happens upon a young mermaid and begins to realise that she may have mermaid powers herself. Such is the premise of A Mermaid’s Tale, a children’s film that whilst well-meaning is so troublingly semi-realised, they even missed the obvious pun in the title that has become the go-to response when it comes to “tales/tails”.
I mention that A Mermaid’s Tale is well-intentioned because it is for all intents and purposes a harmless film. The messages the film conveys (no matter how outlandishly) are perfectly acceptable and, oddly enough, it’s actually one of the better depictions I’ve seen of young people in films made for kids where the screenplay written from the perspective and vocabulary of someone well into adulthood takes on a noticeable and unintentional precociousness. To speak well of A Mermaid’s Tale plainly is that at the very least, it’s not patronising and has at least some sense of trying to actually engage with its audience on their level rather than talk down to them or being unrelatable.
However, a good film in theory of course does not make a good film in practice. As an experience, A Mermaid’s Tale is a somewhat flawed affair. Not a major production, the film’s lack of production values sticks out like a sore thumb. Granted, that obviously means special effects akin to WETA is obviously going to be too much to ask but good sense should really say that imperfection should be convincingly hidden. Swimming sequences of Ryan and her mermaid friend Coral are fine with the obvious green-screen, sometimes making it clear that certain “underwater” shots are clearly not beneath the waves. The fact that is so often shown (and even more so once we reach the home of the mermaids, which shows one such imperfection after another with little justification) really lets the film down.
There’s really no way of getting around it that A Mermaid’s Tale is inept but it’s also very leisurely. Although threatening elements do surface especially towards the end of the film the entire production could be described as low-key in a number of ways. Much of the time in the film is spent with characters interacting in fairly day-to-day situations in a cozy coastal town. Easy-going would be a good way to describe it even to somehow irritating levels (true I mentioned that this seems to be on accurate terms with adolescent girls….but combine that with a shopping trip…and stereotypical hijinks ensue). Easy-going is not exactly a bad thing and in a film as limited as this is in resources, it may very well be a boon but it is at the expense of some major storytelling elements with a lot of the mythology surrounding the mermaids excised (and yes, these mermaids are not entirely traditional) and result in a great number of plot holes.
A Mermaid’s Tale is not a particularly good film. Oftentimes it’s clumsy and flawed to comical levels. But thankfully it’s also not appalling. As a result, it strikes the middle ground of being just about mediocre. It’s a forgettable bit of fluff aimed pretty much squarely at young girls and for the ones without discerning or critical eyes it might be just enough to scrape by but given its demographic is also at an age when such an audience can be rather dismissive of entertainment, it’s a risky game to play. Don’t necessarily avoid this film for the young ‘uns, but treat it as something to turn to when other good options have been exhausted.
A Mermaid’s Tale is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download from Monday, August 14th; rated U. Check out the trailer below.