DirectorJohn Musker/Ron Clements
Release Date(s)1989 (October 1, 2013)
Studio(s)Buena Vista Home Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
Subjectivity plays an important part in your pick for your favorite Disney animated film, I suppose. I think a lot of it has to do with which film you saw as a child and responded the most to, as well as what you later shared with your kids. I’m sure for many The Little Mermaid rides high on their lists, although I think most people nowadays say that The Lion King is at the top for them. Again, it depends on who you ask.
But The Little Mermaid is certainly no slouch. After all, it began the era of what became known as the Disney Renaissance. It was a time when there were new people running the company and the animation department was on the verge of being shut down forever. Their output of work at the time wasn’t drawing in the kind of box office success that they were hoping for, and their creative efforts seemed to be on a downward slope. But in 1989, The Little Mermaid changed all of that and put Disney back on top again, at least for a while.
It’s interesting to note that before this team of people came along and made this film, Walt Disney himself was actually interested in making The Little Mermaid into a vignette as a part of a film showcasing some of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories. Concept art was even drawn up for it, which still survives today. The project never got off the ground though and was later shelved. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s when writers/directors Ron Clements and John Musker, after making The Great Mouse Detective, became interested in making the story into a film, although they didn’t know at the time that Walt Disney had already considered it before they did.
The Little Mermaid also brought composer and songwriter Howard Ashman into the fold. He had been a mildly successful songwriter but it was The Little Mermaid that really put his name on the map (and later Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin). With great classic numbers like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” the film was one of the great animated musicals of its time. It was also nominated for three Oscars, winning two for Best Song and Best Score, a first for a Disney animated film. It was also the last time that traditional hand-painted cels were used by Disney to create the animation, which was an art form unto itself (and sad to see abandoned).
In the long run, a touching story about a lovesick mermaid named Ariel who wanted nothing more than to be a part of the human world crossed likeability boundaries between both sexes and people of all ages and backgrounds. Even the parents of the children who went to see it enjoyed it just as much as they did. The songs didn’t slow the narrative, the characters were fun and entertaining and the animation was fantastic, and is still regarded as some of the best of all time. Today, it’s considered an all time classic animated film, and rightly so.
For the Blu-ray presentation of The Little Mermaid, I’m going to be covering the 2D version (I don’t have access to 3D projection at the moment). With prior Blu-ray releases, Disney has been very hands-on with their restorations, some say too much. While I’m in slight disagreement, I WILL say that this restoration is likely the most faithful to its source (albeit with some changes, which I’ll get to in a minute). There is an extremely light layer of grain throughout the presentation with a very strong color palette, very deep blacks, and very acceptable contrast and brightness levels. I didn’t notice any major anomalies like macroblocking, edge enhancement, or even inherent film flaws. It’s a very clean and fine presentation. The major problem (or minor, depending on how much you care about it) is the slight changes that have been made in the animation. These include moments of shots being extended or switched around, as well as credits falling into different places than they originally did. Although they wouldn’t be noticeable to most viewers, these things upset a lot of purists when this disc was originally released. Disney quickly rectified the problem with a Disc Exchange program, but sadly only for the 2D disc and not the 3D. So if you buy or have bought this set and wish to exchange discs, check the Additional Notes below on how to get your replacement. And now, back to the review.
The film’s soundtrack comes in four options: English 7.1 DTS-HD and French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital. The DTS track is very good, but I would have preferred the original 5.1 soundtrack as an option. Thankfully, the 7.1 track, as a replacement of sorts, isn’t a messy soundtrack. It’s simply the original soundtrack with a larger scope, so the mix of it hasn’t really changed. It can be front-heavy but the music and score really pump out of the speakers quite well. Dialogue is also very clear and clean and some dynamic range is there to be had. There aren’t a whole lot of LFE to be had, but what’s there is effective. So overall, it’s a worthy soundtrack, but it left me wanting to hear the original. Subtitles are included in English SDH, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese for those who might need them. The DVD that’s been included features the soundtrack in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital with subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese, as well.
As for the extras selection, it’s actually pretty great, with one exception. Starting things off is a Disney Intermission Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along option; a “Part of Your World” music video with Carly Rae Jepsen; a @Disneyanimation featurette; a Deleted Character - Harold the Merman segment; the Under the Scene: The Art of Live-Action Reference featurette; the Howard’s Lecture featurette; the Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland featurette; a Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along (which goes along with the songs in the film); and an Info segment on Disney Blu-ray. Under the Classic DVD Features section, you’ll find deleted scenes; the Backstage Disney portion (which includes the Treasures Untold: The Making of The Little Mermaid documentary, the Storm Warming: The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit documentary, The Little Mermaid: The Story Behind the Story documentary, The Little Match Girl short, an Under the Sea Early Presentation Reel, the film’s original theatrical trailer [in poor quality, I might add], the John & Ron Make Caricatures of Each Other segment, the Animators Comment on Their Characters featurette and the Clements and Musker Demonstrating “The Little Mermaid Handshake” segment); the Music & More portion (which includes the Disney Song Selection and a music video for “Kiss the Girl” by Ashley Tisdale); an audio commentary by Clements and Musker and composer Alan Menken; the Disneypedia: Life Under the Sea featurette; the Behind the Ride That Almost Was featurette; the Under the Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride Inspired by Disney Imagineers: Ride the Attraction segment; and finally, a paper insert with a Digital Copy code and Disney Movie Rewards code. On the DVD that’s been included, you’ll find the Disney Fast Play option (standard for their DVDs), the Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland featurette and two deleted scenes (the same extras as on the Blu-ray).
What you won’t find included from the Platinum Special Edition DVD release is The Little Mermaid III Musical Sneak Peek and The Little Mermaid Art Galleries (Visual Development, Kay Nielsen Artwork , Character Design, Storyboard Art, Backgrounds, Productions Photos). Nothing is missing from the Limited Issue DVD as that was a bare bones release. Again, like my review for The Jungle Book, the art galleries not being included is a bone of contention for me. I think they’re vitally important in seeing how the film was created and the work that went into creating it. Not including this work is just shameful. Even if it was included in standard definition on the additional DVD that was CREATED SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS RELEASE instead of the same extras also found on the Blu-ray is just silly. But this isn’t just a problem that Disney is having. This includes ALL studios who seem to be unwilling to dig this extra material up while they’re putting the package together. It may not seem as important as video-based content, but it very much is. So please, take note distributors.
The Little Mermaid being re-released in theaters and garnering a very large and profitable response just goes to show you that there’s still life left in theatrical outings of these classics. I personally don’t think that 3D has anything to do with it, but oh well. At least a new generation can SOMETIMES see these films on the big screen as they were intended. Now let’s hope they work just as hard on their home video releases. Disney’s Blu-ray presentation of this film mostly triumphs, albeit with a bit of stumbling along the way, but it’s still a terrific package and well worth your time.
- Tim Salmons