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Little Mermaid, The (2-Disc Platimum Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 October 2006

The Little Mermaid (2-Disc Special Edition)

MPAA rating: G
starring (voices): Rene Auberjonois, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Paddi Edwards, Buddy Hackett, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars, Edie McClurg, Will Ryan, Ben Wright, Samuel E. Wright
director: John Musker
film release year: 1989
DVD release year: 2006
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

Adults enjoy today’s animated films for a few primary reasons. One is star quality. You may not see Eddie Murphy or Mike Meyers on screen—in the case of the “Shrek” franchise—but you immediately recognize their distinctive voices. A second attraction is related to the first one. Newer animated films are funnier than the older ones, largely because the most hilarious people in Hollywood are sometimes attached to them. Rarer by far, however, is the animated film with high quality drama instead of humor. “The Little Mermaid” is one such exception.
“The Little Mermaid” is built on a solid story, derived from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. It is about Ariel (Jodi Benson), King Triton’s youngest daughter, who is obsessed with above-water life. Early on, she is seen exploring a sunken ship. Most humans would search such a ship for a treasure chest, but Ariel treasures trivial human implements, such as table forks and other trinkets, instead.

Everybody understands the “grass is always greener” concept, and “The Little Mermaid” animates this age old belief. When Ariel spies a ship on the water and the prince onboard, the sight puts flesh to her dreams; she simply must meet this Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) and marry him. The source of Ariel’s wish for complete humanity is never fully explained. Unlike Pinocchio, whose stifling woodenness is an obvious handicap, Ariel doesn’t have a hard life. Her father (Kenneth Mars) loves her, and her beautifully natural singing voice makes her the talk of the sea bottom. But what begins as curiosity about land life builds into a romantic obsession.

Mythical tales about making deals with the devil are not uncommon. Musician Robert Johnson met Satan at the crossroads, we’re told, and exchanged his soul for superior guitar skills. Similarly, if Ariel wants to trade fins for legs, she must first surrender her beautiful singing voice to the evil sea witch Ursula (Pat Carroll). The scheming witch grants Ariel three days to win Prince Eric’s love; a love that must be sealed with a sincere kiss. Ariel’s dilemma raises big questions, such as how much true love is worth. Also, what is destiny and can we know it? These are adult questions, indeed, yet they still find their way into a children’s film. But this no ordinary children’s film.

The Disney studio assumes that a kid’s delicate emotional digestive system cannot handle straight drama; a spoonful of sugar helps that medicine go down. Thus, “The Little Mermaid” also incorporates comic relief. Humor comes in the forms of Flotsam & Jetsam (both Paddi Edwards), Ursula’s bumbling lackeys, and Flounder (Jason Mann), Ariel’s timid fish friend. Sebastian the crab (Samuel E. Wright) is Ariel’s undersea choir director, but when she begins to stray up to the surface and away from the fold, King Triton puts Sebastian in charge of watching out for his daughter. Poor Sebastian must also lookout for himself because when he follows Ariel onto Prince Eric’s ship, its French chef (Rene Auberjonois) tries to make crab salad out of him. Buddy Hackett’s seagull character, Scuttle, also steals a few scenes. He continually tries to pass himself off as an expert on human behavior. Flounder and Ariel may fall for his made-up explanations of human artifacts, but viewers at home cannot help but laugh at how much he misses the mark.

Disney films and music also go hand-in-hand, they always have. “The Little Mermaid” won two music-related Oscars. The first was for original score, the second for the original song “Under The Sea,” a tropical ditty performed by Sebastian. Another song from the film, “Kiss the Girl,” was also nominated. Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) are no strangers to film music success, and did a wonderful job creating these songs. A 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Surround Sound mix presents this film’s memorable melodies and words in an aurally appealing manner.

I am no expert on hand-drawn animation, which is the old school method used for “The Little Mermaid,” but this film sure looks beautiful. The mermaids and mermen, in particular, are rounded and lifelike, unlike the boxy and robotic characters seen in many modern cartoons. This movie’s underwater scenes, especially when various sea creatures crisscross the screen, are also particularly breathtaking.

This two-disc special edition includes one full DVD of extra features. Naturally, there is the expected “making of” segment, as well as deleted scenes and an Ashley Tisdale video for “Kiss The Girl.” There is also an informative featurette on writer Hans Christian Anderson, and the short “The Little Match Girl.” And just to mix in a little education with its entertainment, there is “DisneyPedia: Life Under the Sea,” which introduces young ones to real life sea creatures that inspired these animated figures.

“The Little Mermaid” was originally released in 1989, but it has aged well. Any story with a swooning young lady and an eligible prince has built-in staying power. I watched it a few times with my daughter and niece, and although they’d each seen this film many times before—and even memorized key sections—it hadn’t lost one ounce of appeal.

One problem with most fairy tales is that they are morally black and white, with no grey areas in between. Such steadfastly good vs. evil stories are just right for the under ten crowd; yet hardly ring true for adults. “The Little Mermaid” suggests that if you are beautiful, talented and determined, all your dreams will come true—even if your true love happens to be a different species. Ursula, the sea witch, has the same dreams as Ariel. She wasn’t born with a pitch perfect singing voice, but she also wants to marry the prince. But why doesn’t her dream come true? If you are born evil, must you always remain evil? What about evolution? What about redemption? I guess it just sucks to be Ursula.

This film portrays a simplistic undersea world that does not exist. Such escapism is fine for children, but—sadly—unrealistic for adults. “The Little Mermaid” has adult appeal, albeit limited adult appeal. But a little adult friendliness is still better than none at all.

more details
sound format: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, French Dolby Digital 2.0
aspect ratio: 1.78:1
special features: Commentary by co-writers/directors John Musker and Ron Clements and composer Alan Menken Song selection; Little Mermaid III musical sneak peek; Deleted scenes and alternate ending with filmmaker introduction; New "Kiss the Girl" music video performed by Ashley Tisdale; Treasures Untold: The Making of The Little Mermaid; Storm Warning: The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit; The Story Behind the Story: featurette on author Hans Christian Anderson; Exclusive short: The Little Match Girl; Art galleries; Early presentation reel; "Silent is Golden" song demo; Under The Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride (based on an actual Disney Imagineering concept); Ride With Disney Imagineers; Behind the Ride that Almost Was; DisneyPedia: Life Under the Sea
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reference system
DVD player: Panasonic DVD-XP50
receiver: Denon AVR-3802
front speakers: Venturi V820
center speaker: Polk CS 400i
rear speakers: Tannoy PBM 6.5
monitor: 43” Sony KP-43HT20

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