A young mermaid named Ariel (voice of Jodi Benson) makes a deal with a sea witch (voice of Pat Carroll) to get legs, which will allow her to pursue the prince of her dreams. Based on the book by Hans Christian Andersen. Voices by Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Buddy Hackett, and Samuel E. Wright.
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
After more than twenty years, what more can be said about The Little Mermaid? It’s obviously a modern Disney classic, and I personally rank it ahead of Beauty and the Beast and on par with The Lion King. It may not be as deep or emotional as those films, but its light tone and fantastic music cannot be denied. Not only is the story beautifully told, it has nice little touches throughout that make it something special.
Ariel is perhaps the most perfectly developed Disney personality ever, showing a wide range of emotion and human-like peculiarities that few other animated characters ever embody. Jodi Benson’s voice performance is, of course, a big part of that; it is superb and fully realized, and the Disney animators made every emotion shine through.
The animation and effects may not have been perfected like they were in the Disney films that followed, but the story and music are the real draw here. The songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken managed to mix several genres into a perfect blend that is now unforgettable. It’s amazing to think (according to the special features) that “Part of Your World” was nearly cut from the film, but thankfully, producers fought to keep it in. It wouldn’t be the same movie without it.
Even after all these years, the film never falters or feels dated upon repeat viewings. It is as perfect as an animated film could ever be.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Much has been made of recent Blu-ray releases of Disney animated classics, particularly in their digital restoration. Many of the films were subjected to Digital Noise Reduction, which many felt removed too much film grain and detail in order to produce a “smooth” image. Many were also given a color correction that seemed out of line with the original film’s intent.
I feared The Little Mermaid might suffer the same fate, as promotional materials mentioned a new digital restoration. Thankfully, it appears the restoration did not negatively affect the image. While the video is noticeably cleaner and sharper, there seems to be no loss in detail and the colors seem true to the original. Flounder, for example, is still a pale yellow, and hasn’t been artificially brightened to a Nemo-like yellow. Imperfections are still visible in the print, as is some film grain, so it appears the restoration process was faithful and not too overly aggressive. Still, some might feel the Blu-ray looks a bit soft or subdued, expecting a razor-sharp image and a palette of primary colors. This film is over 20 years old, so the original material will not be perfect, and Disney should be commended for not trying to “fix” the little quirks in the image.
The 3D Blu-ray presentation isn’t mind-blowing, as the source material doesn’t exactly lend itself to the kind of depth 3D provides. Some scenes do better than others, reminding me a bit of the “in-your-face” View Master reels from back in the day. For most, the 3D will be mostly a novelty, worth watching as long you don’t expect too much.
The new 7.1 DTS soundtrack is impressive, but doesn’t try to do anything more than it should. There’s no gimmicky sound mixes or multi-channel effects, just a solid audio presentation with nice channel separation that makes the vocals stand out. I can’t imagine this movie ever sounding better.
When it comes to special features, Disney did something I wish all studios did: include all previously released extras on re-releases. For The Little Mermaid Blu-ray, Disney has packed the extras from the past DVD release (which were extensive) with new features, to create the most extensive home video archive of “making of” extras for any Disney animated film.
First, the new extras. A featurette called “@DisneyAnimation” is a fascinating look inside the animation building, as we hear from animators who worked on the film and a new generation of artists who grew up on The Little Mermaid and are now working for Disney.
Directors Clements and Musker introduce a featurette called “Deleted Character: Harold the Merman,” which shows storyboards and original audio about a merman who was cut due to time constraints. “Under the Scene: The Art of Live Action Reference” is a fantastic look at how Little Mermaid animators resurrected the practice of having actors perform the film live, so their movements could be used for reference. Since it hadn’t been done in over 20 years, Disney brought back Kathryn Beaumont (Alice from Alice in Wonderland) to tell them how it was done. Actors Sherri Lynn Stoner and Joshua Finkel, who were the references for Ariel and Prince Eric, are shown in vintage reference footage and new interviews.
“Howard’s Lecture” is a featurette that pays tribute to Howard Ashman (songwriter and scriptwriter), who died shortly after the film was released. Included in the featurette is a lecture Ashman gave Little Mermaid animators during the production in which he explains how the music fits into the story, so everyone was on the same page. It’s a great watch, and you see what a genius Ashman (who also wrote music for Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin before his death) really was.
“Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to the new FantasyLand” is a bit of a promotional piece for the new Little Mermaid attraction at Disney World, as well as the other rides at the newly-designed section of the Magic Kingdom. “Crab-E-Oke” is essentially a series of five “lyric videos” of the film’s signature songs. It’s fun for a quick sing-along for the kids. It also plays as an intermission when you hit “pause” during the movie.
Among the extras from the previous DVD release (included under a section called “Classic DVD Special Features”) are the following:
Seven deleted/alternate scenes (An alternate version of “Fathoms Below,” Backstage with Sebastian, an alternate version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” Sebastian Lost in the Castle, Advice from Sebastian, an alternate ending featuring the fight with Ursula, and a “Silence is Golden” song demo) are included, each introduced by co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements. They are presented in a mix of rough animation and storyboard.
“Treasures Untold: The Making of The Little Mermaid” is an extensive, 45 minute documentary that tells the story of the film’s making from concept to screen. It is a fantastic, no-holds-barred look behind the scenes. It’s a great watch, and includes all the principals (including Roy Disney) talking about how the film’s success essentially saved Disney feature animation. “Storm Warning: The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit” explains many of the film’s optical effects, including the use of rain in the shipwreck scene.
“The Little Mermaid: The Story Behind the Story,” (12:00 runtime) is a brief history of Hans Christian Andersen and his book. It includes archival material on a version that Walt Disney undertook in the 1940s and later abandoned. Ejnar Stig Askgaard, curator of the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Denmark, is among those interviewed.
“The Little Match Girl” is a Disney short based on another Hans Christian Andersen tale. Roger Allers directs, and you might want to keep the Kleenex handy for the kiddos. A “sizzle reel” for The Little Mermaid using the “Under the Sea” song is also included, which uses storyboards and concept art. The original theatrical trailer is included as well.
“John and Ron Make Caricatures of Each Other” is a quick little clip of co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements following an old Disney tradition of capturing co-workers in caricature. “The Animators Comment on their Characters” includes interviews with animators, including supervising animators Ruben Acquino (Ursula’s supervising animator) and Glen Keane (Ariel’s co-supervising animator) discussing how they give their characters the spark of life. “Clements and Musker demonstrate the Little Mermaid handshake” is a short clip with an inside joke the animators shared.
“The Disney Song Selection” allows the viewer to watch four songs in the film (separately or altogether) with the lyrics on the screen. “Disneypedia: Life Under the Sea” is an educational short about sealife. “Behind the Ride that Almost Was” and “The Under the Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride” is a look at a proposed ride that never exited the concept stage in the early 1990s. Of course, since these featurettes date back a few years, we know now that a Little Mermaid ride similar to what is shown has finally been built in the new Fantasyland.
An audio commentary by Ron Clements, John Musker, and composer Alan Menken is included as well, and it is excellent, with some interesting tidbits and discussions throughout.
There are two totally unnecessary music videos, one from the classic DVD extras, and a new one made for the Blu-ray. The older one is a pop version of “Kiss the Girl” by Ashley Tisdale. The other features Carly Rae Jepsen doing a new take on “Part of your World.” She basically mopes around Los Angeles and shops in various stores. I have no idea what the point is, as the cover sounds exactly the same as the original. There’s nothing new here, and since I find Jepsen annoying, I find this video pointless.
The 3D Blu-ray set also includes a digital copy of the film and ten downloadable music tracks, seven actually in the film and three inspired by the film.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR NETFLIX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Overall score: 9.5
The Little Mermaid is an absolute classic, and Disney has given us perhaps THE must-own Blu-ray release of the year for fans of the film, packed with special features and sporting an exceptional technical presentation. It’s as good as good gets.
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Running time: 83 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, French, Spanish, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1.
Subtitles: English for the Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Special features: Carly Rae Jepsen music video, “@DisneyAnimation” featurette, “Deleted Character: Harold the Merman” featurette, “Under the Sea: The Art of Live Action Reference” featurette, “Howard’s Lecture” featurette, “Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to the New Fantasyland” featurette, Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along, Seven deleted/alternate scenes, “Treasures Untold: The Making of The Little Mermaid” documentary, “Storm Warning: The Little Mermaid Effects Unit” featurette, “The Little Mermaid: The Story Behind the Story” featurette, “The Little Match Girl” short, “Under the Sea” Presentation Reel, Original Theatrical Trailer, “John and Ron Make Caricatures of Each Other” featurette, “Animators Comment on Their Characters” featurette, “Clements and Musker Demonstrating the Little Mermaid Handshake” featurette, Disney Song Selection, Ashley Tisdale music video, “Disneypedia: Life Under the Sea” featurette, “Behind the Ride that Almost Was” featurette, “Under the Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride inspired by Disney Imagineers” featurette, Digital copy.
Audio commentary: By directors/writers Ron Clements and John Musker, and composer Alan Menken
Label: Walt Disney Home Video