Movie Review Sites Shield ‘The Little Mermaid’ From Negative Criticism, Revealing a Double-Standard in the Process

Townhall Media

Rotten Tomatoes and others look to remove review bombs from ‘The Little Mermaid,’ but what about the false praise??

There has been long-simmering interest surrounding the release of Disney’s latest live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” The decision to make a radical ethnic shift with the lead character has generated passionate responses, but what few in the industry and the media want to admit loudly is that it has not all been resistance to the woke casting. Those on the left have been just as vested in seeing the film do well, to bolster their woke credentials.

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As I covered on Tuesday, the holiday weekend returns for the film were good, but not great. The press seems intent on only focusing on the positives, an example being this gushing piece from Screen Rant that highlights how, on RottenTomatoes, the film sports the best audience score seen among all of Disney’s live remakes. (There is a quibble regarding “Cruella” being slightly higher, but seen as a live spinoff.) What is interesting about this tout is that there is a companion news item concerning the reviews on the critical aggregation sites.

There has become a recurring dose of drama when studios put out content with a dedicated fanbase for intellectual property that contains a dose of controversy. Usually seen with certain superhero titles, or those from the “Star Wars” universe, on occasion we see impassioned responses and some will flood onto the review sites to hammer the picture’s prospects. Whether it is RT, IMDB, Metacritic, or others, the sites become a flashpoint with “review-bombing” – when people intentionally downgrade a film to hurt its promotional push.

It can be a difficult prospect to deal with as the measuring of the reviews can itself be a subjective process. But many of the sites strive to weed out these waves of less-than-legitimate critiques, and we are seeing this with “Mermaid.” There has been resistance in some circles to the casting of Halle Bailey in the lead role, as a core group of fans believes Ariel should remain a white, red-haired denizen of the sea. In response, some sites are taking action.

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At IMDB, the operators have judged that there is an anomaly with one-star user reviews, and as such posted a disclaimer that they have applied a weighted formula to adjust for this imbalance. The site was contacted by Deadline Hollywood to get a better explanation of this tactic, but there was not much in the way of an explanation given.

Although we accept and consider all votes received by users, not all votes have the same impact (or ‘weight’) on the final rating. When unusual voting activity is detected, an alternate weighting calculation may be applied in order to preserve the reliability of our system.

While initially, you can understand the need for these aggregation sites to maintain a level of integrity, there also appears to be a bit of a one-sided approach being taken. Whenever the issue of possibly fraudulent reviews comes up it is almost entirely based on negative reviews. The issue here is that these movies or shows that have a social relevance attached see people taking stands on both sides of the debate. Do these sites take the same harsh analysis towards the possibility that critics and reviewers with an enthusiastic approach to a release could post false rave reviews? 

In a practice that is the polar opposite but just as fraudulent, you can have instances of those who “review flare” a release, granting it extremely high grades based on the desire to support the messaging. Going back to that report from Screen Rant, the remarkably high audience rating on RT – 95 percent – seems overly effusive. That high mark follows 5,000 reviews, a remarkably uniform amount of praise.

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Many times, I have witnessed critics and journalists writing glowingly over a release that is not objective but sounds as if it were a rave due to the message, not the quality. There was a case of this seen early this year but with a truly horrible product. On HBO Max, they debuted a new animated series based on the Scoobie-Doo franchise, “Velma.” This was a pure Hollywood social activism product, with everything from gay characters, multicultural casting, digs at sexism, and even going so far as to notably have crime investigators refraining from calling the police. It could have redubbed the crime-fighting team “Woke Incorporated,” and it would have been appropriate.

Ahead of its debut, the critics loved the show. The Rotten Tomatoes score with critics was “fresh,” with raves like this one coming from “The Mary Sue”: The best jokes are laugh-out-loud funny. The show also has some good digs at sexism and patriarchy.

Then the show was released, and the revulsion was immediate.

The contemporary woke elements were a complete departure from the source material, the humor was non-existent, and it quickly was regarded as an unwatchable enterprise by those on both sides of the political spectrum. The final product was so bad that a theory emerged that the program was actually intended to be a parody of Hollywood’s woke culture to appeal to conservatives because there was that much mockable content to be seen.

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The audience rating for this show sits at a dire seven percent favorability, and those early raves from critics have since eroded, as its official RT score is now a “rotten” 40 percent. But this shows how initially, “Velma” was on the receiving end of review-flaring, with a hoped-for success from those critics. Will we see this type of activity addressed by review sites? It is doubtful.

There is a common characteristic in Hollywood that negative criticism is a problem and needs to be met head-on. There have been multiple times in my past covering movies where a studio or members of a production would take exception with a harsh review. I would sometimes be met with rebukes such as, “What does he know, he has never made a film!” Yet were I to give a rave review, my inexperienced amateurish opinion was just as likely to be printed on the DVD box.

The action taken towards review-bombing trends in a similar fashion. Fake negative reviews are something that needs to be addressed and weeded out, but review flares and fake raves are not seen as a problem; heck, they might not even be noticed at all.

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