"The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea" - The Littler Mermaid
I have to admit, I’m a little confused by Disney’s thinking in regards to its The Little Mermaid DVD releases. Just last summer, they released a new prequel movie, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, and now they’re releasing a special edition of the first sequel, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, eight years after it got its first direct-to-video. Why eight years? The original Little Mermaid movie will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2009, so wouldn’t that have been a better time to release any special edition DVDs? The Little Mermaid itself received the platinum edition treatment back in 2006.
And hey, if Disney’s so eager to release Little Mermaid DVDs, seemingly without any rhyme or reason, how about a box set of the animated series?
For those of you whose memory can’t (or won’t) go back to 2000, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea came out at the height of Disney’s “cheapquel period”. Set about twelve years after the first movie, it’s the story of Ariel’s awkward daughter Melody and her discovery of a world beneath the waves. The movie begins with Ariel and Eric introducing baby Melody to Triton and his kingdom. If watching this opening scene comes across as The Lion King with fish to anyone, get used to that feeling of déjà vu, because you’re in for a hell of a 75 minutes.
The plot of this movie is basically The Little Mermaid in reverse. Ursula’s sister Morgana attempts to steal baby Melody, but when she’s driven off, she swears revenge. Fearing for Melody’s safety, Ariel walls up her kingdom on land and prevents Melody from ever knowing of her mermaid heritage. What follows is Melody’s discovery of the existence of Atlantica and the merpeople, complete with a magical transformation into another creature through a Faustian deal.
Although it may be a bit tiring to see a plot that so closely resembles the original movie, it’s actually interesting to watch for the more subtle parallels. Melody speculates that the world she doesn’t know is “wonderful”, much like her mother did in the first movie. Also, some of the shots of Melody swimming as a mermaid mirror Ariel’s. Interestingly enough, Ariel herself is cast in Triton’s original role, as she becomes the concerned parent with rules her child doesn’t understand. Although this is Melody’s movie, Ariel does struggle with the problem of keeping Melody happy and safe.
One of the biggest downsides to having such a similar story is having a recycled villain. When Morgana arrives on the scene, she is immediately identified as “Ursula’s crazy sister”. She resembles Ursula physically and also seeks to rule the ocean through possession of Triton’s magical trident. Morgana isn’t as powerful (or interesting) as Ursula, and has an inferiority complex about the fact that she isn’t half as respected or feared as her sister was. I can’t blame Morgana for feeling like a second-rate Ursula: they didn’t even think enough of her character to give her a new voice actress, and instead just got Ursala’s Pat Carroll to return. Her only real redeeming quality comes in the way that she manages to bond somewhat with Melody over having mother issues.
Speaking of Melody, she’s the real highlight of the movie. In a quickly made direct-to-video film with a barely original plot, Melody is similar to Ariel but still manages to be her own character. While Ariel’s wanderlust is prompted by a brush with love at first sight and a collection of human thingamabobs, Melody dreams of living in another world because she doesn’t fit in with the one she has. Despite the fact that she’s a princess, she’s shy, awkward, and clumsy. It’s firmly established that Melody is twelve-years-old, which is a few years younger than Ariel was in the first movie. I’m sure this is to appeal to the tween market, but at least Melody as a character is better off for it.
Return to the Sea also brings back most of the characters from the first movie. Sebastian has a large role as he is assigned the task of looking after Melody and keep her from discovering Atlantica. (Although if Ariel didn’t want her daughter knowing about an undersea kingdom, why does she have her make friends with a talking crab?) Though both Flounder and Scuttle also have parts to play, Sebastian still remains the best supporting character. His recollection to Melody of his experience going through puberty is a funny moment. Some new characters are added to the cast, but it’s not completely successful. Morgana hides in an aquatic ice cavern, which allows Melody to meet aquatic characters from an arctic environment, including a penguin named Tip and a walrus named Dash, two would-be heroes but are either too cowardly or incompetent to do anything heroic. It’s fun to see Melody bond with them, but it comes across as less important than Ariel’s reunion with Flounder. Maybe it’s because they’re introduced halfway through the movie or maybe it’s because they’re just too goofy (even goofier than Scuttle, even), but I didn’t find them all that appealing.
The movie has a few musical numbers in it. My personal favorite is “For A Moment”, a touching duet sung by Melody (Tara Strong back when she was still credited as Tara Charendoff) and Ariel (Jodi Benson). It’s a shame that for all the voice acting Tara Strong does she doesn’t sing more often, as she’s got a great voice for it. The songs that open and close the movie are pretty good as well, but other than that, there’s not much to note. At some points throughout the film, the music to “Part of That World” can be heard in the background, and a new version of it is sung by Chely Wright over the end credits. It’s good to see them acknowledging a classic.
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea is a somewhat amusing outing provided you don’t get your expectations too high and just sit back and enjoy the fun. Oh, right, this is a special edition, so I should probably mention the extra features eight years in the making. There’s Morgana’s deleted song and a storybook version of the movie that can be read aloud. The special features also include some interactive and trivia games and a Walt Disney short from 1938 called “Merbabies”. It’s a cute instrumental musical bit about cherub-like merpeople that put on a parade and circus with undersea creatures substituting for normal circus animals. Having another Little Mermaid DVD release is a little on the excessive side, but those feeling bogged down by repetitive material will be happy to see a sneak peak of the upcoming The Princess and the Frog included in this DVD.