Monday, 12 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: The Little Mermaid (1989)

For anyone who doesn't know, The Little Mermaid is all about Ariel (Jodi Benson), a mermaid daughter of Triton (Kenneth Mars). Ariel may live under the sea, but she spends most of her time scavenging for items that have been lost to the deep waters by the humans above. When she sees, and falls in love with, a handsome man named Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) she wants to be able to go on land and spend some time with him. The tricky Ursula (Pat Carroll) can make that happen. She transforms Ariel's tail into legs in exchange for one thing - her voice. Ariel then has three days to get Eric to kiss her, or she'll be stuck in a very bad situation indeed.

A fantastic outing from Disney, based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid is the studio doing what it does best. The animation is delightful, the characters are pretty great (with a crab named Sebastian - voiced by Samuel E. Wright - stealing a couple of scenes), the songs are all quite enjoyable, and it teaches younger viewers not to . . . . . . give up their own voices for the sake of love, or something like that. I may be joking, or I may not.

The voice cast all do well, with other noteworthy performances coming from Buddy Hackett and Jason Marin as, respectively, a seagull named Scuttle and a little fish named Flounder, and it helps that Ariel is one of the best female Disney leads in decades, although older viewers may be a bit miffed by just how quickly she falls head over heels in love and is willing to do whatever it takes to be with the dashing Eric.

Ron Clements and John Musker are the men who get to take most of the credit, as the directors and main writers of the thing, but this is really a team effort. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman handle the music and lyrics, a veritable smorgasbord of animators handle the visuals, and there's every other department to consider. That is, of course, the case with every movie, but The Little Mermaid gets so much right in every way that it's really worth trying to give everyone equal praise.

Despite my love for the movie, it's not perfect. There's at least one song that I thought fell a bit flat, and the final act is strangely anticlimactic. In fact, it all feels quite rushed and ill-conceived, which is a great shame. Its not enough to drag the movie down too far, but it is enough to stop it from being in the very top tier of Disney movies. It does, however, still come close.


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