Published: 22nd May 2023

What you need to know about The Little Mermaid

If you’re heading to the cinema to watch Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, here’s a handy toolkit explaining our rating and what you can expect to see in the film.

Almost 30 years after their 1989 animated musical classic, Walt Disney Pictures are taking us back ‘under the sea’ for the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. The story follows Ariel (Halle Bailey), the youngest of King Triton’s daughters, whose inquisitive and adventurous nature leads her to trouble. Making a deal with evil sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), Ariel gets to experience life on land but must pay a terrible price.

What does our research say?

The decisions that we make are informed by our published Classification Guidelines, which are based on widespread consultations with thousands of people from across the UK, rigorous research, and more than 100 years of experience. Our Guidelines undergo review every four or five years so that we remain in step with changing societal standards and norms. We also work closely with experts in particular fields, including child psychologists, education professionals, charities, and other organisations to inform our approach.

Our most recent guidelines consultation in 2019 spotlighted how parents recognised the potential of fantasy in mitigating the impact of threat and tone at the junior categories. Crucially, parents and caregivers told us that threat is acceptable if only occurring occasionally and if not the defining feel of the film.

Another key finding of our research called for more detail when describing threat in our content advice. For example, people told us that specifics in relation to the frequency and type of threat identified in a film would give them a greater understanding about its overall tone.

Our content advice for The Little Mermaid, as with all other theatrical features we classify, highlights threat as a key classification issue - while also distinguishing the live-action adaptation from the Disney animated classic. Our extended content advice elaborates on the scarier moments so that parents - who ultimately know their child(ren) best - can make an informed decision about whether this, or any other PG film, is right for them.

The Little Mermaid

Rated PG for mild threat

This live action adaptation of the Disney musical is a little scarier in places than the animated original but it is generally a light and colourful watch, with only a few darker moments that may unsettle some children.


There is a brief scuffle between two women when one tries to grab a necklace from another's neck.

Threat and horror

A sea witch transforms into a large figure that attacks a mermaid and a man with her large tentacles. The scene is a little scary and intense, but it's not too long and ends reassuringly. A shark attacks a mermaid. Other scenes of threat include those in which sailors are threatened at sea and also a very brief 'jump scare' when a mermaid enters a sea witch's lair.


There are references to kissing and romance.

Injury detail

A man is seen with a small cut on his forehead after surviving a storm at sea. There is a very brief glimpse of blood when a mermaid's tail is pierced with a trident.

Alcohol and tobacco

Sailors are seen drinking while partying on their ship.


Why is the The Little Mermaid classified PG?

(This section may include spoilers!)

There are many elements of The Little Mermaid that remain similar to its predecessor: timeless musical numbers; familiar characters; heartwarming sentiments of good versus evil, which are positive messages in a film that is aimed at younger audiences. Ariel’s world has certainly been given a glow up, with this big-screen iteration; bursting with colourful worldbuilding and fun underwater sequences. In this live-action form, however, the lighter elements are also met with occasionally darker moments.

At U our Guidelines state: ‘Scary or potentially unsettling sequences should be mild, brief and unlikely to cause undue anxiety to young children. The outcome should be reassuring.’ Scenes of threat in The Little Mermaid are largely instigated by the film’s antagonist Ursula, whose tentacled form and cackling laughter are the source of jumpy, sometimes intense meetings with Ariel in her underwater lair. Human skulls and a potions cabinet made from bones also feature in some of these scenes. While sequences involving threat towards the central characters are brief, these are scarier in tone than Disney’s animated original.

Indeed, Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of the evil sea witch packs a punch, with the CGI effects injecting more realism into Ursula’s character, which some younger children may find unsettling. For example, in the final act of the film, Ursula transforms into a towering figure who looms large over Ariel and her friends - her massive tentacles engulfing them and causing violent, crashing waves. In other scenes of threat, Ariel and Flounder are chased by a shark, and stormy seas threaten sailors on a ship, before it catches fire and threatens to capsize.

The film exceeded our Guidelines at U, but is suitable for PG audiences. This means that the film shouldn’t unsettle children aged eight or older, but parents and caregivers are advised to consider the particular sensitivities of their children.

At PG our Guidelines on threat state: ‘Frightening sequences or situations where characters are in danger should not be prolonged or intense. Fantasy settings and comedy may be mitigating factors.’ While this live-action underwater adventure certainly feels like a step-up from the 1989 predecessor, the brief jumps in intensity are met with positive outcomes and the film as a whole offers a light and colourful watch that Disney films are renowned for; family-friendly and suitable for a PG audience.

This isn’t the first live-action Disney remake to receive a different BBFC age rating to its animated original.

The Lion King

Rated PG for mild threat, violence

A young lion is cast out of his pride after the death of his father. The realistic computer animation means this remake is a more intense experience than the original 1994 animation.

The Jungle Book

Rated PG for mild threat

A young boy who was raised by wolves in India embarks on a series of adventures with his animal friends. This adaptation of the story is darker and slightly more intense than the musical version from the 1960s.