Director: John Musker and Ron Clements
|Co-Director: John Musker and Ron Clements
|Screenplay: John Musker and Ron Clements (based on the story by Hans Christian Anderson)
|Voices: Jodi Benson (Ariel), Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian), Christopher Daniel Barnes (Prince Eric), Pat Carroll (Ursula),
Buddy Hackett (Scuttle), Kenneth Mars (Triton), Ben Wright (Grimsby), Jason Marin (Flounder), RenZ Auberjonois (Louis),
Paddi Edwards (Flotsam & Jetsam), Edie McClurg (Carlotta)
|MPAA Rating: G
|Year of Release: 1989
It may be hard to believe in an age when Disney animated films are considered failures when they only gross $100 million, but
there was a time not too long ago when the Disney animated studio was in trouble. After turning out numerous classics during
the '30s, '40s, and '50s, the animation division had begun to sink into mediocrity, and the '70s and '80s produced interesting
but flat films like "The Rescuers" (1977), "The Black Cauldron" (1985), and "Oliver & Co." (1988). These weren't bad
movies--they just lacked that magic touch that made Disney's earlier animated efforts such undeniable classics.
"The Little Mermaid," for better or worse (depending on your view of Disney animation), will always be notable as the movie
that restored the studio's almost-lost grandeur. Under the guidance of the screenwriting/directing team of John Musker and
Ron Clements, and the songwriting duo of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, "The Little Mermaid" revitalized the notion of
what can be achieved with pen and ink, and once again put Disney in an unreachable top spot as the undisputed king of
"The Little Mermaid" is a modern reworking of Hans Christian Anderson's 1836 fairy tale about a young mermaid named
Aerial who yearns to be human so she can be with her true love, a prince named Eric. If you've ever read the original fairy
tale, you know that it has an unconventional, un-Disney ending, which, of course, had to be changed for the movie so Aerial
ends up with her prince at the end. Virtue and persistence are rewarded, while evildoing is punished.
Aerial (beautifully voiced by Jodi Benson) is updated into a modern-day teenager with all the spunk, naivete, and casual
recklessness of any urban, mall-shopping adolescent, albeit with a fishtail and seashell bikini top. The youngest and most
strong-willed of numerous sisters, she constantly runs headfirst into her stern, but loving father, King Triton (Kenneth Mars),
who distrusts humans and doesn't like the idea of Aerial going to surface where she might be "snared by some fisheater's
hook." To keep an eye on her, Triton assigns Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright), a Jamaican crab to watch over her. But, as
anyone who has ever tried to keep an eye on a teenager knows, there is little to be done once Aerial has her mind made up.
Desperate to meet her Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes), Aerial goes to Ursula, the Sea Witch (Pat Carroll), who
promises to make her human S for a price. The deal is, Ursula will give Aerial three days to make Eric fall in love with her. If
she does, Aerial will stay human forever. If she doesn't, she will belong to Ursula forever. And, if that isn't enough, Ursula
demands as payment Aerial's beautiful voice, which Eric had earlier heard and fallen in love with.
The storyline is lifted almost exactly from the original fairy tale, but it is energized and reimagined as a grandiose romantic
fantasy complete with a host of memorable characters. Among the best are a scatter-brained seagull with good intentions
named Scuttle (voiced with comic glee by Buddy Hackett) and a pair of evil eels aptly named Flotsam and Jetsam (both voiced
with snaky viciousness by Paddi Edwards).
"The Little Mermaid" is especially notable for featuring some of the best musical numbers ever put in a Disney film. The
standouts include Sebastian's spontaneous calypso riff "Under the Sea," in which he tries to convince Aerial how much better
life is in the water than on land ("Up on the shore they work all day, out in the sun they slave away, while we're devoting
good time to floating under the sea"). The flashy and diabolical Ursula, who reminds one of an overweight Cruella Deville crossed with an octopus, also has a memorable Broadway-style song called "Poor Unfortunate Souls" in which she
convinces Aerial to seal the deal. "Les Poissons," a side-splittingly hilarious French number by a chef named Louis (RenZ
Auberjonois), which is, from a fish's point of view (and remember, the majority of characters in this film are fish in one way
or another), about the most gory and sadistic thing imaginable ("First I cut off their heads, then I rip out their
If "The Little Mermaid" is not quite up to the standards of Disney's greatest animated films, it is still one of the best in recent
years. The musical score by Alan Menken won a deserved Oscar, as did "Under the Sea." The animation in this film still bears
some of the rougher, hand-drawn characteristics of early Disney films (it was, in fact, the last Disney animated film to be
painted entirely by hand), but it has elements of the slick, digital gloss that has come to characterize animation in the 1990s.
The animation is free and fluid, and co-directors Clements and Musker make great use of the camera, flying through the air
with seagulls and diving to the greatest depths of the ocean.
Although it has come under the same kind of criticism as many Disney films for reinforcing conservative rhetoric about the
relationships between men and women and their respective roles in society, "The Little Mermaid" can also be applauded for
being a thinly disguised morality play about the oppressiveness of dividing groups according to physical characteristics. The
end of the movie, which features not only a traditional wedding, but also a coming together of two groups (humans and
merpeople) that had previously viewed each other with either skepticism or outright hostility, conveys a striking message
about peace and harmony that is sorely lacking in the real world.
16x9 Enhanced: No
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Surround
Languages: English, French, and Spanish
Technically, the disc is great. The picture is flawless, with great color saturation and no bleeding. I didn't see a single speck or grain of film, nor did I see any artifacting. "The Little Mermaid" is one of Disney's most colorful movies (it uses more than 1,000 colors), especially in the underwater scenes, and this would be a great disc to show off the DVD format's ability to render brilliant color schemes.
The soundtrack is also nicely shown off. The Dolby 5.1 digital really gives this movie's wonderful songs a workout,
especially the calypso-inspired "Under the Sea." The subwoofer also gets a bit of a workout, especially during the fireworks
sequence and the scene immediately following that depicts a hurricane sinking Prince Eric's ship. The sound is nicely broken
up across the five main speakers, and the low frequency effects give the thunder and firework explosions a good rumble
without being distracting.
In terms of extras, this DVD is especially disappointing because, with the exception of French and Spanish audio tracks, there
are none. Nothing. Not even a theatrical trailer. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record here, but Disney has really
missed an opportunity to put together a great disc with extras that would truly illuminate the process by which these fantastic
animated films are put together.
Overall Rating: (3.5)