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"The Little Mermaid": Plentiful Two-Disc Makes You a Part of Her World

As a kid I watched The Little Mermaid more than I did any other Disney movie in my collection. I honestly couldn’t tell you why I preferred this one over the others, but it seemed that for months I’d watch it once a day and rarely break away from it. Perhaps it was the animation or characters, I really couldn’t tell you—but even watching it now, it’s quite an engrossing movie from the get go. Few movies are able to suck you in from the get go and the visuals in this one undoubtedly have something to do with it.

While watching this on DVD for the first time in nearly a decade, it was a rather surreal experience. In the back of my mind I could remember all the dialogue, but all of the visuals seemed completely new to me. Perhaps that’s the restoration or the fact I’ve never seen this movie in widescreen…but while scenes were familiar, a lot of it felt new. Of course, this could happen with any film you hadn’t seen in awhile, but it was strange to know what music was coming up and yet know none of the animation that would go with it.

For those that haven’t seen the film, The Little Mermaid follows the tale of King Triton’s daughter Ariel who falls in love with a surface dweller. Ariel signs a deal with the sea witch Ursula to become human in an attempt to woo Prince Eric. Character exposition follows and culminates in a rousing finale that could scare the crap (giant Ursula!) out of a small child.

Musical songs abound in this movie and unlike recent Disney movies, I do not cringe one bit while hearing these songs. The music, lyrics and animation that accompany these songs is so enjoyable that even as an adult I find myself occasionally singing along to the songs I once listened to as a kid. This movie truly does contain some of the most memorable Disney songs I’ve ever heard.

Where do I even start when it comes to the animation? This movie features some downright beautiful shots and seeing it for the first time in years (and the first time in widescreen, period) and knowing how much work had gone into this movie, it’s simply breathtaking to look at. The opening scene with the ship and storm grabs your attention right away with the lighting and rain effects and the water reflections under the sea (“nobody beat us, fry us and eat us”…sorry) are awesome to look at. There’s really a lot to take in with this movie and you see even more neat effects on repeat viewings.

After not seeing the movie in years, it still is able to hold my attention and make me laugh, something I wish I could say about other Disney animation I watched as a kid. This is one of Disney’s true classics and I’m going to continue staying away from the sequels it makes. I didn’t see “Little Mermaid II” and I won’t see “Little Mermaid III.” Some movies are OK to sequel, but this one really should have been left alone. The ending wraps up perfectly and the chanting chorus at the end is the perfect send off to Ariel and her story and I’m going to keep it that way.

This film is definitely worth owning, whether you’re a Disney fan or not. It’s a great movie and I will continue to enjoy it for many years to come.

The DVD
Talk about a packed DVD! Not only do we get a new digital restoration of the film, we get a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track, twenty minutes of deleted scenes, forty minutes of behind-the-scenes features and a full length audio commentary.

Starting with the obvious, the disc is presented in a 2-disc amaray clip case with cardboard slip. Standard disc layouts inside with rather bare disc art which seems kind of cheap for a Platinum Edition (whatever “Platinum” really means), but not a major factor; insert for disc information and other papers with contest details and more offers round out the inside of the packaging.

Menus are rather nice to look at, with the first discs main menu featuring a shot of Ariel on a rock that is reminiscent of the films teaser poster. Music and animations abound on the menus and make for a pleasant distraction while you decide what to watch.

The first disc contains the film, audio commentary, “Kiss the Girl” music video (stay away from this) and a trailer for what’s coming up on disc two. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see Ashley Tisdale perform a song I enjoy, so I only watched the intro to this music video before turning it off (coincidentally, it’s videos like this that made me stop watching the Disney Channel). I’m not the audience it’s supposed to entertain, so I’ll ignore it and let the younger girls enjoy this one. The “preview” for disc two is one of the most pointless DVD features I’ve ever seen and is also skippable, unless you just absolutely have to know what’s on the disc you already bought and can’t look at the disc itself to find out.

In terms of quality, the film spares nothing at all in being as beautiful as it can. The restoration is done beautifully as always by Disney and this film looks great. Some shimmering/color shifts and cel dirt is still visible, but overall this is a gorgeous transfer. No interlacing or aliasing, though the red’s (Ariel’s hair at times and a few scenes with Eric’s belt) are occasionally pixilated—a problem with the color red and compression, so nothing you can really fault the transfer itself for…red just doesn’t compress well.

Audio is nice and clear and the songs sound great. Though the film does use the satellite (rear) channels for sound, there’s nothing that really makes you notice the speakers behind you. This isn’t a film that absolutely required a spread out audio track, but there’s something that’s cool about hearing someone talk or ambient noise come from behind…but, alas, none of that pops up with this track.

The commentary, which I didn’t even know was on this DVD until I was looking at the special features (it’s not listed on the box anywhere I could tell), was very informative as well. There’s some fun to be had listening to it, with the directors, producers and composers reminiscing about the film and their experiences with it.

Flipping to disc two, we get over forty minutes of behind-the-scenes information on Little Mermaid. This is a very informative and cool look at the film and is very much worth watching if you’re planning on buying this set. The information divulged in it is all very interesting, especially the information about the move of the Disney animation studio and it gets really interesting when it tackles the issue of “Part of Your World” being cut from the film.

The deleted scenes are presented in typical animation fashion—unfinished, with voices. There’s some interesting stuff to be seen in these scenes, especially the unused Ursula song (which was replaced with “Poor Unfortunate Souls”). You can tell why they were all cut (and the intros by the producer/directors on each one helps to explain why even more), but it doesn’t make them any less worthwhile to watch, especially when they’re from such a great film.

A small featurette with the special effects crew on the film is included as well, which shows them reminiscing about their trials and tribulations on the film and where they drew inspiration from. The send off with them wearing raincoats made no sense to me whatsoever, but the footage we get before that is all great stuff to watch, especially when they go into the Disney vaults to show you where they store all the old animation cels and such for the old Disney films.

For the art gallery we get a robust array of material to view. Pre-production, production and character art is abound in these galleries and is worth a quick flip through for the animation enthusiast and fan of the film.

A featurette on Hans Christian Anderson’s original The Little Mermaid story is also included on the set and talks about the three versions of the story (Anderson’s, Walt Disney’s from the ’40s and the one we finally got in ’89). It’s really neat to see all the original 1940 art that was done up for the film and how it made its way into some of the 1989 version. This is another featurette that’s worth watching and runs just long enough so it doesn’t leave you wanting more.

Another Hans Christian Anderson story is included on this set, “The Little Match Girl.” If you wanted to see this story brought to life in animation then this is just about as perfect as you’re going to get it—beautiful animation and great music make this story both interesting to watch and incredibly sad at the end as well. If you haven’t heard the story or seen the short yet, I won’t “spoil” the ending for you but heed the director’s intro when he mentions tears are dropped by him when he reads the story.

Kids games and trailers round out the discs special features. The games are something everyone can skip (even the kids that are meant to play it) and the trailers are of the usual Disney fodder, but everything else on this second disc is well worth your time watching. If you buy the set for the film and enjoyed it as a kid, then the commentary, retrospective featurette, details on the special effects and information on the variants on the Mermaid tale will definitely keep you enthralled for a few extra hours past your initial viewing of the film in all of it’s digitally restored glory.

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