If you had asked me at the beginning of 2023 what would be one of my biggest fears of the year, realistic CGI fish would’ve been one of the last things on my mind. Yet here I am, haunted by the latest live-action Disney movie, The Little Mermaid, and its aquatic mascot, Flounder.
Yep, you read right, Flounder in the new family movie gave me nightmares, and I’m not the only Disney fan who has been unsettled by the fish either. Ever since the character posters for The Little Mermaid were released in April 2023, fans and critics alike have had tons to say about the scaly character. You just need to head to Twitter to see the negative reactions, with some fans mocking the realistic glazed-over fisheyes and others pointing out Flounder’s strange little smile that no real reef dweller would have.
But as a massive Disney fan, I’m not satisfied with simply joining in with the fish mockery online. Instead, I’ve sat down with my Flounder fear and have realized why this fish strikes more terror into me than any Steven Spielberg shark could.
So, if you are looking for the reason behind your latest Disney-based nightmares, you aren’t alone, and I’m here for you. Below I unpack Disney’s continued CGI animal problem, and why Flounder is the biggest live-action mistake that the House of Mouse has made yet.
For those of you who may not have seen the original animated movie The Little Mermaid, Flounder was a cute mascot with an expressive face and blue and yellow coloring.
Like most cartoon animals, he had human-based features such as a mouth that could easily form words and eyes (complete with eyelids) that could form clear expressions without needing expositional dialogue to convey when he was scared, worried, or happy.
In comparison, Flounder in the new live-action Disney movie is a hyper-realistic angelfish. But despite being true to the actual sea creature, Disney still tried to anthropomorphize the character. And as I was watching the Disney live-action remake, it was this fact that made me recoil whenever Flounder turned to face the camera or flopped his way onto the big screen.
Listen, I love Disney as much as the next person, but seeing a fish’s tiny mouth moving weirdly while singing, or watching gooey marble eyes darting around during conversations is horrific and proves two things: real fish can’t emote, and when they try, I die a little inside.
Jacob Tremblay, who voices Flounder in the new movie, does as well as he can. But when we have to rely on actors’ words alone to engage fans and ease the weirdness that is Flounder, we have to face facts — Disney’s current approach to CGI animals doesn’t work.
You can’t have a realistic creature and then anthropomorphize it too. Trying to force faces to move in ways they shouldn’t or impose expressions onto animals who are famously expressionless ends with nightmare fuel.
You’ve picked a lane, and when you mess with said lane, the results end with a cursed sea creature like Flounder. But before you take my criticism as a complete bashing of all Disney live-action movies, let me clarify that I’m not advocating a stop to remakes altogether.
Yes, Flounder is currently my greatest enemy, and (I’m not going to lie) my fight or flight response makes me want to irrationally punch the CGI fish, but The Little Mermaid was one of the best Disney movies released in recent years.
Scary creatures shouldn’t stop modern adaptations. Instead of a live-action ban, I want Disney to give up on hyper-realism and just give us live-action cartoon animals.
In my mind, this is the easiest fix to one of the biggest live-action issues, which has been a popular topic of debate since The Lion King remake. And, luckily for Disney, cartoon-based live-action characters have already been proven to work on the big screen.
Think of the video game movie Sonic the Hedgehog, which was released in 2020. Remember how SEGA’s famous blue hedgehog was redesigned to make him reflect the original animated character? And remember how that film went on to be wildly successful at the box office and amongst fans? Sonic proved that there is nothing wrong with big eyes and fantastical animals being animated for live-action movies.
And let’s be honest; when I’m watching a Disney movie about a mermaid who makes a deal with a sea witch, realism is the last thing on my mind anyway. So come on, Disney, it’s in everyone’s best interest if Flounder is the final scary nail in the realistic animal coffin.
Think of the excitement from fans if they saw the cartoon versions of their favorite Disney animals instead of the realistic imitations struggling to emote. Also, imagine all your merchandising opportunities. You can’t sell a realistic fish plushie, but a classic Flounder figurine would cause a spending frenzy.
While The Little Mermaid remake was definitely worth a watch, it’s time for a change, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready for another CGI fish-based jump scare anytime soon.
The Little Mermaid is out in cinemas now. For more on one of the most anticipated new movies of 2023, you can read our Little Mermaid review, and check out our guide to everyone in the Little Mermaid live-action cast.
Or for more magical content, here is our list of the best movies of all time and all the Disney princesses ranked from worst to best.