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Featured Blu-ray Review: The Little Mermaid

October 1st, 2013

The Little Mermaid - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack or 3D Combo Pack

The Little Mermaid is the film that revitalized Disney animation. At the time it came out, Disney hadn't had a major animated hit since The Jungle Book. (Granted, I liked many of the films that came out between 1967 and 1989, like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but none of them were major hits.) However, the film came out 25 years ago when Disney, and animation in general, was at a low point. Has it aged well when compared to older classics that have already come out on Blu-ray? How does it compare to animated films of today? And how does it look on Blu-ray?

The Movie

The film begins at sea with Prince Eric sailing about his ship. He's having a great time, even if his advisor is seriously seasick. Below the waves, we meet King Triton and Sebastian, the royal composer, being lead into an undersea auditorium. Sebastian is about to present his newest composition, with Triton's daughters singing, including Ariel, who is to make her debut with this song. However, when it comes for her to shine, she's not there.

Ariel's off with Flounder exploring a shipwreck. Ariel likes to collect human artifacts, because she's obsessed with the human world. They find a fork and a pipe, and a hungry shark. After escaping said shark, they head to Scuttle, a seagull. Scuttle knows almost nothing about humans, but he's able to lie convincingly to Ariel. When he explains to Ariel that the pipe was used to make music, it reminds Ariel of the concert and she and Flounder race back down to Atlantis.

However, she's being watched by Ursula and her two henchmen, Flotsam and Jetsam. Ursula used to live in the palace, but no more. She's does have a plan to get back there, and it involves Ariel.

King Triton and Sebastian take turns yelling at Ariel for missing the concert, but when Triton learns Ariel has been to the surface, again, he's really mad. He's convinced the humans are barbarians and forbids Ariel to have anything to do with them. In order to make sure she doesn't, he orders Sebastian to keep an eye on Ariel. He's not very good at his job.

Almost immediately after Sebastian confronts Ariel, Ariel gets distracted by a ship at the surface. It's Prince Eric's ship and it is firing off fireworks. When Ariel sees Prince Eric for the first time, it is love at first sight. The men are celebrating Prince Eric's birthday, but the celebration is cut short when a hurricane hits the ship. The ship crashes and the men get to liferafts, but Prince Eric returns to the ship to rescue his dog, but gets caught in an explosion. Ariel rescues him and sings to him to wake him up. However, she has to escape before he can see her.

The change in Ariel is obvious and Ariel's sisters explain to their father, King Triton, that Ariel is in love. At first the King is ecstatic, because he thinks that now that Ariel is in love, she will forget about the humans. He doesn't realize she's in love with a human, that is until Sebastian let's it slip. Sebastian also lets it slip that Ariel has a collection of human artifacts. When King Triton confronts Ariel, he loses it and destroys Ariel's collection of human artifacts.

Flotsam and Jetsam see this happen and they tell Ariel to visit Ursula. At first she balks at the idea of talking to the Sea Witch, but she then decides to go, as it might be the only way to be with Prince Eric. Ursula will turn Ariel into a human for three days. Ariel will have three days to make Prince Eric fall in love with her, or she will become a mermaid again and will belong to Ursula. There's one more catch, to pay for this magic, Ariel has to give up her voice.

Like I said above, Disney was in its worst slump ever right before The Little Mermaid came out. There was even talk of shutting down their animation department. Then The Little Mermaid came out and suddenly Disney animation was back on top and this film was said to have saved the animation studio. Personally, I don't think The Little Mermaid deserves that reputation. Granted, it is better than Oliver & Company was in nearly every regard. It has more engaging characters. It has much better music. It has a much more intimidating and charismatic villain. Ursula is certainly the best part of the movie, as Ariel and especially Prince Eric are a little flat, a little lifeless. This is why I don't think the movie is as good as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. In those movies, I felt more drawn to the protagonists, because they felt more complete.

That said, while I don't think The Little Mermaid is a classic, saying it is not as good as The Lion King, for instance, is hardly damning praise. It is absolutely an excellent movie and worth owning. It is just not my first choice when I want to watch an animated Disney classic.

The Extras

There are a lot of extras from the old DVD, but there are also some extras that are new. These start with a music video for "Part of Your World" by Carly Rae Jepsen. @DisneyAnimation is an eleven-minute featurette that looks at some of the animators that have been working at the Disney Animation studio for decades, as well as those have been working there for a much shorter time, those who were inspired by The Little Mermaid. There is a two-minute featurette on a deleted character, Harold the Merman. Under The Scene: The Art of Live-Action Reference is a 13-minute look at at the live action footage shot for reference material for The Little Mermaid. Howard's Lecture is a 16-minute featurette on Howard Ashman, who wrote the lyrics for the songs for this movie. It includes clips from a lunchtime lecture he gave the animators. Up next is Part of Her World, a five-minute look at Jodi Benson and her family going to New Fantasyland. The final new extras is the Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along, which plays when you pause the movie. It has several songs you can sing along to.

The technical presentation for this Blu-ray is great. The film is closing in on 25 years old, so it doesn't look as great as first-run releases today look. That said, there are still plenty of details and the colors are amazing. There are no signs of print damage, which might have been a minor issue given the age of the film. Likewise, the 7.1 surround sound track is great, but perhaps not quite as enveloping as first run releases are nowadays. Overall it is a great looking and sounding Blu-ray, but not reference level material.

I didn't get the 3D version, so I can't tell you if the 3D effects were well done. I did read some reviews online and most critics liked it.

The Blu-ray costs $27, which is good for a catalog title with plenty of extras. The 3D costs $35, which is 30% more than the Blu-ray. That's not bad, but not great either.

The Verdict

The Little Mermaid is the film that revitalized Disney Animation Studio, and while I like a few of the films that followed it better, there's not doubting it is a great movie and should be in your collection. The Blu-ray Combo Pack is a good price, considering the improvement in technical presentation and the new extras, while the 3D Combo Pack isn't overpriced, but I can't say for sure if the 3D is worth the extra money.

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Filed under: The Little Mermaid, Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Buddy Hackett, Kenneth Mars, Samuel E. Wright, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Jason Marin, Paddi Edwards