Walt Disney Studios can stake their claim on a myriad of things, one of which is having some of the very best Blu-Ray transfers out there. Adding to their growing list of re-released classics getting the HD treatment is The Little Mermaid. This adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen‘s iconic and timeless story is one of the studio’s gems and nearly defines what it means to be Disney – it’s colorful, creative, engaging, emotional, funny, fanciful and perfect for fans of just about any age.
Many times, Disney pics are near Herculean productions that necessitate the skill of not one but a duo of directors at the helm. Enter Ron Clements and John Musker who take this story to new heights, and, well new depths. They contributed to the studio’s continual progression of moving away from borderline minimalist forms of animation in previous features. The result is the breathtaking animation, specifically the backgrounds (which never really were a weak point in any Disney feature) stand among some of the studio’s best and most striking. A strong running theme in most Disney animated features The Little Mermaid follows Ariel, a princess who is more or less unhappy with her home life and surroundings. Yet for all the glamour and fanfare that comes with being the daughter of a king she still strives for something more. A near predecessor to Jasmine and even Simba the story shows us nothing can quench her thirst for curiosity.
It’s not wrong to want, but the mistake a lot of these characters make is they don’t realize what they have in front of them (and it takes them the whole film to figure it out). Ariel’s two closest friends, well chaperons really (the aquatic equivalent of C-3PO and R2-D2), are unsuccessful in keeping her focus at home and like Faust, Ariel makes a shady deal with the devilish Ursula. It’s only through perseverance, help from her friends and a catchy song or two that Ariel eventually sets sail for her Happily Ever After…but you should all know that by now. This adaptation (as is the case with Disney films in general) is changed a fair amount from the source material and it also gets a tad bit dark proving to be one of the more perilous adventures that befalls a Disney heroine. It’s only downplayed because it’s set against the backdrop of wonderful visuals, memorable characters, and the myriad of underwater treasures and about a million animated bubbles.
Thinking back on show or films from childhood, everything seemed a lot longer than it actually was didn’t it? However even after 24 years The Little Mermaid still feels just as fresh and exciting as it was on VHS. Compared to something like Lady and the Tramp (with a runtime of 76 minutes), Peter Pan (at 77 minutes) and other titles that just seem to drag, The Little Mermaid is expertly paced (at 83 minutes no less) and like The Lion King which would follow, this story feels so much bigger than the runtime allows never feeling too swift or too sluggish.
This re-release, of the studio’s 28th animated feature, offers a younger generation to experience some of the finest and most memorable music and songs of any of the Disney catalog. “Under the Sea” and “Part of Your World”, transcendent music written by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, are among the all-time favorites in the studio’s history. Additionally the voice talents, mostly unknowns (something that has now become more about the name instead of the right fit for the character) are charming and appropriate. The Little Mermaid has a fine cast of voice talent who, aside from a big league cameo here and there, is allowed to shine symbiotic to acting that gels with the character, not one that stands proud of it.
What is perhaps more satisfying than the glossy HD picture are the Disney supplements including an insightful commentary and a lot of little bits to keep kids entertained. Now the supplemental material can usually go one of two ways. The best case offers lots of weighty making-of pieces (that can sometimes aimed at super fans) while the worst yields a collection of glorified advertisements. The Diamond Edition has both but there’s plenty of good stuff even if it is a combination of new and reused material from the previous DVD edition. Delight in deleted scenes (some very wisely omitted from the final cut), the excellent 6-part production documentary, and a live-action reference feature called “Under the Scene”, and lecture with Howard Ashman.
As much as it is beloved, The Little Mermaid is, in a way, the most unrealistic story in the Disney catalog or at least one of the most misleading if you boil it down to simple plot points – Girl not content with family rules. Girl thinks the grass is greener. Girl makes bad decision. Girl falls in love. Girl is tested, triumphs and ultimately forgiven because she’s in love. That might be a little cynical but it doesn’t detract from the fact that this film is a classic and the layers of visual splendor, masterful animation and skillful storytelling contribute to helping directors John Musker and Ron Clements make this underwater yarn such an endearing adventure.