Review: “The Little Mermaid” Diamond Edition – Everything You May or May Not Have Loved, Now in High-Def.
So, Disney has re-released The Little Mermaid, this time on Blu-Ray. It looks gorgeous, from a technical standpoint at least. However, this is the part that will probably get me a lot of angry letters: it’s a great presentation of a very average movie. *braces for the torches and pitchforks*
Everyone had their shot? *ducks* Ok, back on point. The Little Mermaid is certainly not a bad movie, or even mediocre. Given the historical context of the film, it’s easy to see why it’s so beloved, since it was the first Disney musical film in ages. It’s just not a great film. Outside of Ariel herself there are no real characters here, just sketches of personality notes. Triton, Ursula, Eric, Flounder, Eric’s hand servant — they never feel like real people, and the film suffers greatly for it. It’s even more disappointing when you take a look at the extras included with this set a see just how much of the characters’ raison d’être was left on the cutting room floor in the name of shortening the film.
Given that the final film is all of 83 minutes, it’s somewhat maddening that they didn’t think to add an extra 2 or 3 minutes of run time to let us know some very important things like, say, Ursula isn’t just a random exile from King Triton’s palace, but is actually Triton’s sister. Kinda changes nearly everything about the character, doesn’t it? She’s no longer “Evil because…….evil!” She actually has some basis for what she does. There also some other scenes that never made it in that would have fleshed out the narrative a bit more, like one showing how seriously irresponsible Ariel can be when it comes to her duties as a princess. This doesn’t even address other questions like how does an aquatic crab survive on land? Just asking…. And we haven’t even touched on some of the racial caricatures floating through the feature, but that could be an article in and of itself.
This may get me even more hate: the animation is just average. Yes yes yes, I fully well know that Disney was coming out of a very dark period in their history when the animation department was almost shut down, but that’s still no excuse for putting out a feature film product with average animation. For all the memories of how vibrant things looked back when the film came out, the animation just doesn’t hold up very well. Considering that one of Disney’s closest sister companies, Studio Ghibli, put out the Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service in roughly the same time frame, you can’t just say, “Well, it was 1989, what do you expect?” The animation’s not bad, and it may be that seeing it on Blu-ray highlights more of the flaws and shortcomings, but in the end it’s just not as great as the memories make it seem.
Now that I’ve finished picking the film apart, let’s reconvene on the really good parts. Ariel herself is a wonderful character. She’s fully fleshed out and really feels like a lovelorn 16 year old girl. Hopefully her would-be paramour, Eric, isn’t as old as the narrative makes him seem (mid-20’s), as that would be really really creepy. Sebastian also gets a nice turn of his own as a character. And of course the music is still great. “Les Poissons,” the very silly song by the chef in the palace, is quite enjoyable in its own way, even if it makes no bloody sense. Yes, I know it’s a musical so characters will sing a lot, but that doesn’t make the song any less silly. “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World” in particular really stand out from both an animation and story standpoint, as well as just plain being great songs.
The extras with the set are quite extensive, though all the new stuff made for the Blu-ray release is pretty superfluous. The primary new extra over the DVD set is a tour through the current Disney Animation studios and some new interviews with the cast and crew of The Little Mermaid. Honestly, they feel more like a promo for Disney’s amusement parks and upcoming attractions than anything relating to The Little Mermaid itself. There’s also direct promos for the new Fantasy Land at The Magic Kingdom. All of the bonus features from the original DVD release are included as well, including the audio commentary track, the 40-minute behind the scenes look at the film’s production, a featurette on the special effects process, and all of the deleted scenes.
Now that all of this has been said, the film will obviously have its fans, and more power to them. If it’s your favorite film, go nuts. If you already have the DVD though, the upgrade may not be worth it.