Javier Bardem’s portrayal of King Triton is just one of the many changes in the live-action update. For starters, he wears a coat of armor instead of showing off a fit and muscular body. He also treats his daughters more as equals; Ariel and her sisters represent each of the seven seas, rather than just beautiful ornaments who put on musical performances for his kingdom.
Bardem’s take on the character is less belligerent, making King Triton’s fierce protectiveness over Ariel more focused; he’s not just an adult male authority figure having a temper tantrum. His performance reminded me a lot of Pocahontas’ father in the animated Disney film: someone who finds strength in his quiet wisdom, a stern but compassionate leader who deeply cares about shielding his loved ones from those he believes are savages.
The pivotal scene in Ariel’s grotto is no longer a shouting match. Bardem relies on his quiet intensity and regal stature to get across Triton’s frustration. The act of destroying her things is one of desperation, a desperate measure to safeguard his daughter. His anger comes across as fear — especially since the live-action version makes it clear that Ariel’s mother died at the hands of humans.
The resolution of Ariel and Trition’s conflict is not solely based on his acceptance of Prince Eric but his understanding that she has other expectations for her life. “Thank you for hearing me,” Ariel tells him at the end of “The Little Mermaid,” emphasizing the importance of mutual respect and understanding in a parent-child relationship. While Bardem’s composed approach (or “stoned”-looking, as /Film writer Vanessa Armstrong says) may seem too dialed down, it’s refreshing to see King Triton as something other than a raging tyrant.