Disney Marathon: ‘The Little Mermaid’


Today’s film was certainly a big hit when it was released, and a driving force behind Disney’s first big home video push. In more recent years it’s being recognised as the pioneer of the Disney Renaissance and cemented the Disney Princess ‘look’ for years to follow. Does it hold up?

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 30s blogger), my son Josh (stoic 10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 8 year old princess) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: The Little Mermaid

Released: 1989

Director: Ron Clements and John Musker

Cast: Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel barnes, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars, Buddy Hackett

Plot: Ariel is the distractible daughter of King Triton, ruler of the oceans and merpeople. Ariel’s fascination with the human world leads to her making a Faustian bargin with Ursula the Sea Witch in an attempt to pursue her love.

Review: Of all the Disney movies adapted from the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, this is the one that would have him rolling in his grave. Frozen may have strayed pretty far from the source material but it became its own original tale. The Little Mermaid has the same basic characters and plot outline but drastically alters the moral of the tale. Anderson’s story has a darker ending, but it’s one where Ariel has to earn her redemption and a soul through good deeds over centuries. This is after she is rejected by the handsome young man she liked from afar, one she had to torment herself to make happy.

Conversely, Disney’s rewrite sees Ariel gain a happy ending not because she overcame obstacles but in spite of stumbling at every opportunity to do the right thing. Spurning her father’s wishes, Ariel (Benson) longs to join the human world and be with some guy she saw one time. She makes a deal that takes her away from her family and friends and could lead to a very, very short lifespan for a vague chance at hooking up with Prince Eric (Barnes). In her defence, he is very pretty.

There’s certainly some issue with the values and ethics of our title character, and some staggering leaps of contrivance, but legendary Disney Duo Musker and Clements work their magic and produce and immensely enjoyable adventure. Is it enough to ignore the bastardisation of the source material and brainless main character? Yes, it is.

Maybe not the uncomfortable racial stereotyping, though.

Things get off the ground real fast with a subversion of expectations. After being told we’re about to be introduced to Princess Ariel among great fanfare, only for her spot to be empty. Ariel doesn’t have time to sit around waiting for us, she’s already out exploring a sunk ship and avoiding a nasty shark. We see Ariel’s collection of human artefacts, learn about Triton’s (Mars) hatred of the surface world and now we have a conflict. Ursula (Carroll), a bombastic sea witch who offers Ariel a human form in exchange for her enchanting singing voice. Our heroine now has three days to earn a kiss of true love under threat of being turned into some algae thing.

Although a bit simple compared to more recent Disney fares, what it has is a perfectly composed story. There’s nothing that could reasonably be trimmed out, except maybe the French chef scene that only serves the purpose of adding a touch of excitement to the latter stretch of the film. Almost all of the song numbers are stand out hits, whether it’s a intense villain song ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ or the romantically charged ‘Kiss the Girl’.

The animation in the subsequent Beauty and the Beast and Mulan are a touch more refined and fluid, but The Little Mermaid laid the path forward. The underwater kingdom is creative and delightful and the swimming animations carry the right amount of whimsy to bring it all to life. The highpoint of the film comes in the form of Ursula, a half-octopus who is almost hypnotic in her movements and who is so dedicated to being a evil she seems almost giddy about it.

If you haven’t seen this movie, you should make the effort to tick it off.

Best Song: Being an Ursula fan, it has to be the taunting ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’.

Coolest Easter Egg: Never mind the hidden Mickeys, your boy Mickey Mouse is straight up cameoing in this movie alongside Goofy, Donald and Kermit the frog. They’re among the crowd greeting the arrival of King Triton and his daughters.

Weirdest Trivia: We’ve got two for you. Firstly, Ursula is visually based on the look sported by legendary drag queen Divine.

Secondly, head of animation Jeffrey Katzenberg tried to cut the Oscar winning show stopper ‘Part of Your World’ from the film as he felt it slowed the film down. He later fell out with Disney and made Shrek out of spite.

Rating: NINE out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

In spite of my praise for the film above, it gets edged out of my personal top 10 simply because there aren’t any characters I can relate to. It’s a masterpiece of animated cinema, but it wasn’t made with me in mind.

Click those titles if you want to see what we said about the other movies.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Robin Hood
  3. Aladdin
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  5. Wreck-It Ralph
  6. Alice in Wonderland
  7. Beauty and the Beast
  8. Moana
  9. Big Hero 6
  10. The Great Mouse Detective
  11. The Little Mermaid
  12. Frozen
  13. Tangled
  14. The Sword in the Stone
  15. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  16. Mulan
  17. Cinderella
  18. Emperor’s New Groove
  19. Fantasia
  20. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  21. The Three Caballeros
  22. The Princess and the Frog
  23. Hercules
  24. Oliver & Company
  25. The Aristocats
  26. Saludos Amigos
  27. Home on the Range
  28. Bolt
  29. Dinosaur
  30. The Fox and the Hound
  31. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  32. Pocahontas
  33. A Goofy Movie
  34. Treasure Planet
  35. Chicken Little

AMELIA

Amelia has been a long time fan of the entire Little Mermaid series, and as a much younger child would refuse to leave the swimming pool until she’d gone into the middle and sung Ariel’s song to turn back into a human. It was kinda annoying.

  1. Frozen
  2. Moana
  3. Tangled
  4. The Little Mermaid
  5. Emperor’s New Groove
  6. Zootopia
  7. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  8. The Great Mouse Detective
  9. Home on the Range
  10. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  11. Mulan
  12. Hercules
  13. Alice in Wonderland
  14. Cinderella
  15. Wreck-It Ralph
  16. Bolt
  17. Pocahontas
  18. Dinosaur
  19. The Aristocats
  20. The Princess and the Frog
  21. Robin Hood
  22. Beauty and the Beast
  23. The Three Caballeros
  24. The Fox and the Hound
  25. The Sword in the Stone
  26. Saludos Amigos
  27. Oliver & Company
  28. Aladdin
  29. Treasure Planet
  30. Big Hero 6
  31. Fun and Fancy Free
  32. A Goofy Movie
  33. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  34. Chicken Little
  35. Fantasia

JOSHUA

Joshua didn’t especially like it, didn’t especially hate it. It’s just a middle of the road film for him.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Aladdin
  4. Emperor’s New Groove
  5. Treasure Planet
  6. Moana
  7. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  8. The Three Caballeros
  9. Saludos Amigos
  10. Wreck-It Ralph
  11. Frozen
  12. Mulan
  13. The Princess and the Frog
  14. Robin Hood
  15. Bolt
  16. The Sword in the Stone
  17. Beauty and the Beast
  18. Oliver & Company
  19. Tangled
  20. The Great Mouse Detective
  21. Cinderella
  22. The Little Mermaid
  23. Home on the Range
  24. Pocahontas
  25. A Goofy Movie
  26. The Aristocats
  27. Fantasia
  28. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  29. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  30. Fun and Fancy Free
  31. The Fox and the Hound
  32. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  33. Dinosaur
  34. Hercules
  35. Alice in Wonderland
  36. Chicken Little