Credited with revitalizing Disney’s animation unit, when it was released in 1989 The Little Mermaid garnered largely positive reviews, earning $84 million at the box office during its initial release and $211 million in total lifetime gross. Based on the fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, the film focuses on Ariel (voice of Jodi Benson) the teenage, mermaid daughter of Triton, King of the Sea (Kenneth Mars). Despite her father’s warnings, Ariel dreams about what life above the surface is like, holding on to some of the treasures she’s collected from the ocean floor and longing for a glimpse at a real human being.
With the help of her friend Flounder (Jason Marin) and despite the constant complaints of Sebastian the Crab (Samuel E. Wright), her father’s advisor, Ariel makes her way to the surface. She finds a ship setting off fireworks in the night. On the ship she spots the handsome Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes), and quickly falls in love. When a hurricane forces Eric’s ship into the rocks and set it on fire Ariel saves him from drowning.
Waking up from near death, Eric is unable to see Ariel clearly, but is immediately enthralled by her beautiful voice. A lifelong bachelor, Eric believes he’s found the woman of his dreams, but his friends aren’t sure she’s even real. Meanwhile, upon learning that his daughter is in love with a human, King Triton is furious! He confines Ariel to her room, from which she quickly escapes. Her rebellion against her father brings Ariel in contact with the evil sea-witch Ursula (Pat Carroll) who offers her legs and a chance to be with Prince Eric.
Now sporting legs, Ariel travels to the surface, determined to make Eric fall in love with her. If he doesn’t fall for her by sunset on the third day, Ariel will become Ursula’s property, one of the many nameless wormlike creatures that cover her entrance. Even worse, Ariel will lose her enchanting voice—the very thing that would have Eric instantly identify her. Things seem to be going in the right direction for Ariel and Eric, until it becomes clear that Ursula will do whatever it takes to win. Will love prevail in the end?
Co-writers and co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker keep the action moving at a good enough clip to avoid boring children or adults. It’s a simple but sweet story, that’s hard not to appreciate. Even though the animation is a little bit dated as we sit here in 2013, it’s still beautiful to look at. The detailed style and vivid backgrounds are really breathtaking, even after all these years.
The songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are still great; pure Disney style, the kind of descriptive, catchy songs the Sherman Brothers were so well known for during the 1960’s. “Fathoms Below,” describes the undersea world of the mer people. Next, in “Part of Your World,” Ariel shares her longing to experience the human world. The highlight, “Under the Sea,” has Sebastian trying to convince Ariel that there are plenty of reasons to stay below the surface. In “La Poisson,” Chef Louis (René Auberjonois) sings about the joys of cooking fish as a horrified Sebastian looks on. With the sweet “Kiss the Girl,” Sebastian encourages the relationship between Ariel and Eric.
The Little Mermaid boasts a particularly strong vocal cast. Jodi Benson gives Ariel a clear, beautiful voice and a memorable voice; Pat Carroll brings Ursula to life with a real sinister feel; and Samuel E. Wright creates a crab with a penchant for reggae. Christopher Daniel Barnes does a fine job with the somewhat bland role of Eric, as do Jason Marin as Flounder, René Auberjonois as Chef Louis and Ben Wright as Grimsby, Eric’s faithful manservant. Buddy Hackett also lends his unique voice to a seagull named Scuttle.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Disney’s 1080p transfer looks fabulous. There are no signs of damage or dirt or any encoding flaws. The animation and computer effects look as good on the Blu-ray as they did in theater back in 1989. Colors are bold when appropriate and subdued when needed. Fans should be very pleased with this Blu-ray. The restoration has been done well, with no excessive tinkering.
In my opinion, Disney has done a fine job of offering a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track while still managing to remain true to the tenor of the original sound design. Voices are clean throughout, effects are full and music is enveloping. The LFE channel asserts itself nicely, without ever becoming overbearing. All of this creates an undersea environment that truly draws the viewer in. The Little Mermaid sounds better than I’ve ever heard it.
English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
The Little Mermaid: Classic DVD Bonus Features:
- Audio Commentary: Directors/writers Ron Clements and John Musker, joined by composer Alan Menken deliver an informative commentary, covering production, technical, voice casting issues, the genesis of the story and more.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 26:29) Seven unfinished deleted scenes are available, with introductions by Musker and Clements: “Fathom’s Below” (Alternate Version), “Backstage with Sebastian,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls” (Alternate Version), “Sebastian Lost in the Castle,” “Advice from Sebastian,” “Fight with Ursula” (Alternate Ending) and “Silence is Golden” (Song Demo).
- Backstage Disney
- The Little Match Girl (HD, 7:10) A cute animated short with director’s introduction.
- The Making of The Little Mermaid (SD, 45:25) A six-part making of documentary featuring various members of the cast and crew.
- The Story Behind the Story (SD, 11:40) A look at Hans Christian Anderson and his original tale.
- Storm Warning: Special Effects Unit (SD, 8:40) A look at the film’s storm at sea.
- Under the Sea Early Presentation Reel (SD, 2:45) Concept art set to music.
- Artwork Gallery (SD) Viewer guided.
- Original Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:15)
- John & Ron Make Caricatures of Each Other (SD, 1:05)
- Animators Comment on their Characters (HD, 1:42) Short interviews.
- The Little Mermaid Handshake (SD, 0:32) John Musker and Ron Clements show the official Little Mermaid secret handshake.
- Music & More (HD/SD, 14;12) Navigate to “Music & More” to access four songs with on-screen lyrics (HD) — “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” “Les Poissons” and “Kiss the Girl” — as well as a “Kiss the Girl” (SD) music video with Ashley Tisdale.
- Disneypedia: Life Under the Sea (HD, 8:25) Four of the primary sea creatures that appear in the film are given brief, kid friendly explanations.
- Behind the Ride that Almost Was (HD, 5:54) A look at abandoned plans for a Little Mermaid ride.
- Under the Sea Adventure (SD, 4:15) A virtual ride inspired by the film.
The Little Mermaid: New HD Bonus Features:
- @DisneyAnimation (HD, 10:45) A look behind-the-scenes at the animators who work at Disney Animation. It begins with the people who worked on The Little Mermaid and moves to the new generation they inspired.
- Under the Scene (HD, 13:13) The live action reference material shot for the animators to refer to is shown in behind-the-scenes views of Sheri Stoner and Joel Finkel who were the live action models for Ariel and Eric.
- Howard’s Lecture (HD, SD, 16:27) Excerpts from the late lyricist Howard Ashman’s noontime lecture to the animators about the art of making a musical are shown, introduced by directors John Musker and Ron Clements.
- Deleted Character: Harold the Merman (HD, 2:05) Co-writers/directors Ron Clements and John Musker introduce a character / scene they removed from their original script.
- Part of Her World (HD, 4:45) “Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland” follows the Ariel voice actress to Disney’s Animation Resort, where she attends festivities and takes her children to Walt Disney World and Ariel’s Grotto in New Fantasyland.
- Crab-E-Oke Sing Along (HD, 15:35) Songs include “Part of Your World”, “Under the Sea”, “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, “Les Poissons”, and “Kiss the Girl.”
- Music Video (HD, 3:39) Carly Rae Jepson performs “Part of Your World.”
- DVD/Digital Copy