An animated blockbuster that revitalized the studio, "The Little Mermaid" hit theaters in 1989 and was followed by Disney's "Beauty and the Beast", "Aladdin" and "Lion King". Based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, the picture focuses on Ariel (voice of Jodi Benson), the mermaid daughter of the legendary Triton, King of the Sea (Kenneth Mars). Against her father's wishes, Ariel continues to dream about what it's like on the world above the water's surface, keeping some of the items that she has collected from the ocean floor.
While making an unauthorized trip to the surface, she falls for a handsome prince named Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes), who she saves from drowning. Her father is absolutely furious, but Ariel still has feelings for the prince and remains determined to explore what mysteries the surface holds. Her rebellion against her father brings her into contact with sea witch Ursula (Pat Caroll), who grants her the wish of legs, but with a price: if she doesn't get a kiss from the prince within 3 days, she will lose her beautiful voice to the creature.
The film's lovely animation still stands out nicely years later, and makes one nostalgic for the days of great-looking traditional animation. The film also has a terrific heroine in Ariel, a headstrong heroine who makes a mistake, but never turns into the damsel-in-distress. While the film also includes the "cute sidekicks" (who must have sold countless toys) in Scuttle (Buddy Hackett), Sebastian (Samuel Wright) and Flounder (Jason Marin), the performances and dialogue turn these three into memorable creations.
The film's other strong point is the music, which highlights the characters and the mood of the scene (whether comedy or drama) perfectly. The timeless tunes (including "Under the Sea", "Kiss the Girl", "Part of Your World" and others) scored the film's composers an Oscar. Although "Little Mermaid" isn't one of my favorite Disney animated features, it remains a lively, memorable, moving and entertaining feature that stands up very well today.
VIDEO: "Little Mermaid" is presented by Disney in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, an improvement from the prior edition, which was non-anamorphic widescreen. The picture has been restored for this new Special Edition release and looks quite dazzling. Sharpness and detail are marvelous, as the animation appeared consistently well-defined and crisp throughout the show.
Aside from a few slight instances of grain, the presentation looked crystal clear and free of any wear and tear. No edge enhancement was seen, nor were any instances of artifacting. Colors looked spectacular, appearing fresh and bold, with great saturation and no smearing or other concerns. Overall, this is a beautiful new edition of the film that improves over the prior release.
SOUND: The film's new Dolby Digital 5.1 Enhanced For Home Theater presentation is also stellar. While often still front-heavy, the film's audio opens up quite nicely for some of the film's more intense moments, as well as during the songs. These scenes put the surrounds to very nice use for effects and reinforcement of the music. Audio quality is terrific, as the songs sounded rich and bassy, while dialogue and effects sounded crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: The first disc offers one main extra: a commentary from co-writers/directors John Musker and Ron Clements and composer Alan Menken. The commentary track is an informative and enjoyable track, as the three chat about the development of the film, deleted/altered characters/story points, songs, the challenges of the animation (as "Mermaid" came before some major advances in animation) and more. The three keep the track going quite nicely and offer a fun and enthusiastic discussion of how the film came together. Also included is a new music video performed by Ashley Tisdale, a preview for "Little Mermaid III" and sneak previews for other titles from the studio.
The second disc starts off with "Treasures Untold", a 45-minute documentary that brings together animators and executives who worked or worked on "Mermaid". The documentary starts off providing a discussion of the tough times that Disney animation was going through during the time, as some thought that Disney animation should be shut down and many thought that animation was no longer big business. The documentary then starts into how the different talents behind "Mermaid" were brought together, casting and how the production started to finally get off the ground.
From there, the piece launches into production, following recording sessions, showing early animation and talking about early reactions to the film from both exec Jeffrey Katzenberg and a young audience recruited to watch the film. Finally, we get information about the film's release. "Storm Warning" is a shorter piece that visits with the film's effects department, who mainly discuss the shipwreck scene. "The Story Behind the Story" takes a look at the Hans Christian Andersen tale that inspired the film. "The Little Match Girl" is an animated short directed by Roger Allers, based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen.
A set of six deleted scenes w/introductions ("Fathoms Below - alt", "Backstage With Sebastian", "Poor Unfortunate Souls - alt", "Sebastian Lost in the Castle", "Advice From Sebastian" and "Fight With Ursula/Alt. Ending", mainly consist of alternate versions. These are nothing particularly substantial, but are fun to take a look at.
Finally, we get stills galleries, a short early presentation reel, the original theatrical trailer and interactive games.
Final Thoughts: "Little Mermaid" remains a lively, memorable, moving and entertaining feature that stands up very well today. This new DVD edition is wonderful, as it provides a superb new presentation of the film along with a solid array of supplemental features. Highly recommended.
The Film A-