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The Little Mermaid (1989)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/1/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie:
Video: 1/2
Audio:
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/2/2013

This story has been told before, and I'm about to tell it again. After being in business for 50 years and dominating the medium, in the late 1980s, it looked as if the Walt Disney Studios animated feature film division was all but dead. The release of the lackluster Oliver & Company all but spelled doom for the company. Then, in 1989, something magical happened. Disney released The Little Mermaid and suddenly they were the toast of the town again. The movie was a box-office hit, it won two Oscars, and, more importantly, it began what came to be known as the "Disney Animation Renaissance". Now, nearly 25 years later, we can look back on The Little Mermaid and see if it deserves its place in history.

Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) is a mermaid who lives with the other merpeople in an undersea kingdom which is ruled by her father, King Triton (voiced by Kenneth Mars). While Ariel is supposed to be obedient and learn music (?!), she'd rather explore shipwrecks with her friend, Flounder (voiced by Jason Marin), and find artifacts left behind by humans. One day, she is following a ship which carries Prince Eric (voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes). When an accident occurs, she saves Eric and takes him to shore. After that, she can't stop thinking about him -- so much so that Triton assigns Sebastian the Crab (voiced by Samuel E. Wright) to watch her. However, the evil Ursula (Pat Carroll), an octopus-like creature who used to lived in the kingdom, uses a spell on Ariel which will give her legs and allow her to move about on land. But, there's a catch, the spell robs Ariel of her voice and she must make Eric fall in love with her in three days, or her soul will belong to Ursula.

I didn't seen The Little Mermaid upon its initial release, as I was in a place in my life where I wasn't watching a lot of mermaid movies. When I finally did see it a few years later, I was struck by two things -- 1) I wasn't impressed with it, and 2) The ending was stolen directly from Jaws the Revenge. For the purposes of this review, we'll stick with that first point. Again, after a series of disappointing films, The Little Mermaid renewed people's faith in Disney animation. And, as previously mentioned, it kicked off a new era for the company -- although many forget that The Rescuers Down Under came out next. This movement was really kicked into high gear with the release of Beauty and the Beast in 1991. I saw The Little Mermaid after that, and was quite surprised that the two films were mentioned in the same breath. I hadn't seen The Little Mermaid in its entirety in nearly 20 years, so I was interested in re-visiting it for this release...and I'm still not impressed by it. And knowing that Aladdin and The Lion King came out not longer afterwards, the movie really comes across as disappointing.

The first thing which jumps out is the animation. It lacks in detail and simply doesn't look very polished. Some of the characters look as if little work went into them and the character's motions are limited. Again, given the richly animated films which followed The Little Mermaid this problem really stands out. Sometimes Ariel's face is very complex, but other times, it looks like something from a run-of-the-mill Saturday-morning cartoon. The characters aren't very interesting. I know that little girls love Ariel because she's a mermaid, but other than that, she's pretty one-dimensional. Flounder is a bore, and Sebastian is two stereotypical. The movie desperately needs a funny sidekick, something which is a key piece in the better Disney films. Ursula may be a visually interesting character, but she comes across as a standard jealous villain. The story should be suspenseful, but the twisty part comes to an abrupt halt, ending any tension. As noted above, the film won two Oscars out of three nominations, all for the film's music. This isn't the first movie to pick a certain style of music and stick to it, and I find the Calypso inspired numbers to be a bit dull. "Under the Sea" is catchy, but it gets redundant and "Kiss the Girl" does nothing for me.

I'm a huge fan of Disney animation from the early 90s. Put on Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin and I'll watch the whole thing. In my mind, the Disney renaissance began with Beauty and the Beast. The Little Mermaid may be better than some of the films which immediately proceeded it, but its legend has been blown way out of proportion and it remains a mediocre movie at best. Seen today, the dull animation really stands out and the story leaves much to be desired. And did I mention that it stole from Jaws the Revenge? That should be your first clue that something isn't right.

The Little Mermaid shows that it wasn't as forward thinking as many believe by brining in Buddy Hackett on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The box promises a "state-of-the-art digital restoration", which must mean something other than what I think, as the picture here is not great. The transfer here is presumably the best that it can be, but it show some issues. The image is fairly sharp and clear, but there is some grain present. The colors are not vibrant at all, and the picture looks washed out in some scenes. The image is very flat, showing no depth and no real "life" if you will. This is not what we expect from a Disney Blu-ray. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done, most notably those which alert us to sounds off-screen. The surround sound effects come to life in the action and crowd scenes, and we are often treated to individual sounds coming from the rear speakers. The fire sequence and the finale provide booming subwoofer action.

The Little Mermaid Blu-ray Disc contains a treasure chest of extras. The first batch of special features are new to this edition. We get a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Part of Your World" by Carly Rae Jepsen. "@DisneyAnimation" (11 minutes) has members of the Disney animation team talking about how The Little Mermaid inspired them to work in animation. "Deleted Character - Harold the Merman" (2 minutes) has Co-Directors Clements and Musker talking about and showing test sketches of a character who never made it to the animation process. "Under the Scene: The Art of Live-Action Reference" (13 minutes) has the Directors explaining the process in which the movements of real actors are used to help create animated characters. This includes video of how this was done for The Little Mermaid. "Howard's Lecture" (16 minutes) profiles Producer/Lyricist Howard Ashman, and offers video of a talk he had with the animation staff of the film. "Part of Her World: Jodi Benson's Voyage to New Fantasyland" (5 minutes) show the voice of Ariel visit the Art of Animation resort (I think in Orlando). "Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along" delivers video and lyrics for five songs.

The remainder of the extras are carried over from the previous DVD release. This includes seven DELETED SCENES, a nine-part look at the making of the film and its marketing, a MUSIC VIDEO for "Kiss the Girl" by Ashley Tisdale, an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Clement, Musker, and Composer Alan Menken, a nature short, and a look at the abandoned idea of a Little Mermaid theme-park ride.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.