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One of Disney's Finest Achievements!
on October 16, 2006
In a wonderful kingdom under the sea lives the beautiful mermaid princess, Ariel, seventh and youngest daughter of King Triton, ruler of Atlantica. Ariel's feisty spirit and gorgeous red hair make her a bit of a favorite among Triton's daughters, and her passion for learning human ways and collecting of their artifacts causes much stress to her family and friends. After spying a handsome, young, human prince aboard a ship one evening and saving his life, Ariel is instantly love-struck, and this is completely unacceptable to her overbearing, human-hating father. In a desperate and rebellious action, Ariel turns to a seductive sea witch for help, who takes possession of Ariel's beautiful voice in exchange for a magical spell. The spell changes Ariel's fish-like tail into a lovely pair of human legs, but there is a condition attached. If Ariel can't get the young prince to fall in love with her in three days and seal it with a kiss, the spell will be broken and Ariel will join the witch Ursula's collection of hideously transformed victims. Luckily, the prince is in love with her already, though he doesn't know it. Prince Eric is obsessed with finding the young lady who saved him from drowning that night and whom he caught a glimpse of as she sang to him just before disappearing. When he takes in the now human Ariel after she appears seemingly washed up from a shipwreck, her inability to speak makes him sure she is not the one. Voiceless and only left with her beauty and exuberant charm, Ariel and her animal friends must try their best to make the prince see that she is the lost love he has been searching for, but the Sea Witch will do all she can to stop them before time runs out! If Ursula holds power over Princess Ariel, the king himself will have to bow down before her!
Like "Cinderella" and "Snow White" before it, "The Little Mermaid," released in 1989, single-handedly saved Walt Disney Animation from total vaporization. Following a bit too modestly performing releases and the underrated but still not up to par flop, "The Black Cauldron," this was a last chance for Disney animators to prove animation could still draw and please the film going public; and, boy, did they ever prove it! With just the right combination of story, music, voice talent, and visuals, "The Little Mermaid" turned out to be one of the Disney Studios' most perfect achievements! The Oscar winning music is particularly noteworthy, as one of the film's most groundbreaking moves was bringing a Broadway style to its musical storytelling. This was thanks to the amazing team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who would return to do more brilliant Disney music during the so-called "Renaissance" kicked-off by "The Little Mermaid." Voice talents that must be mentioned are Disney legend Buddy Hackett as the voice of Scuttle, Ariel's dizzy Seagull friend, Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian, the little Caribbean crab that often steals the show, and, of course, Ariel the little mermaid herself, graced with the heavenly voice of Broadway actress Jodi Benson. Pat Carroll does a phenomenal job as the loathsome Ursula, and Christopher Daniel Barnes manages to be a vast improvement on past, rather bland Disney princes. The film, of course, is based on the famous fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson. The original story is actually a bit of a downer, something Anderson had a flair for, and the one, rare complaint that viewers sometimes make about the movie is how much it strays for its Disneyfied rewrite of the story, particularly with its happy ending. But, this complaint doesn't come up that often, and Disney's take successfully carries on the original theme of a mermaid wanting more than her under-sea life will allow. It also beautifully and convincingly handles the father/daughter relationship and the difficult issue of letting go when the time is right. "The Little Mermaid" continues to be one of Disney's most beloved animated classics, and with good reason. It is no less than a masterpiece.
Now, this is easily one of my favorite Disney animated features. I suppose it is for most Disney fans, but with me there's an added incentive: I am absolutely in love with Ariel! Have been since she first splashed onto the big screen! I mean, she's pretty much perfection, with that voice, that bubbly personality, that hair, those eyes, that nose, those lips (notice, I'm not commenting on those seashells, because I'm not a pig, but they're great too), ... and when she gets legs, whoa! I'm so in love with her that I bought one of those overpriced, framed Jodi Benson autographs at Disney World once, along with one of the collectible reproduction animation cels. And this was when I was a student! I mean, I really had to save up for stuff like that! Anyways, point is, I was naturally very psyched about this new, 2-disc, Platinum Edition release of the film. And, in general, I'm very happy with it. There are a few items I don't know why were left out. However, I thankfully found one of them later as one of the two Easter Eggs on disc Two. But, without further ado, here are some details on the DVDs:
Disc One contains the flick itself (in anamorphic widescreen), beautifully restored (though some have complained that it has been overly restored and isn't EXACTLY how the film was meant to look, but it still looks great) but with some slight editing. Yes, editing. It appears that the old Urban Legend about the minister in the wedding scene being aroused has been addressed, and that knee of his that some people imagined to be a different body part has been redrawn. Moving on, Disc One also has a wonderfully informative and at times touching commentary with writer/directors Ron Clements and John Musker, and composer Alan Menken. The late Howard Ashman, lyricist, is included too at times via audio recordings. One music video is included, and this is where I voice one of my complaints of something else that should have been included too. The last VHS release of "The Little Mermaid" included a Jodi Benson video where she sings "Part of Your World" on a beach. This video is NOT the one included. What we get is a cute, Disney Channel star promoting video of Ashley Tisdale singing "Kiss the Girl," and it's fine. I like it. I just think it's pretty bad that the Jodi Benson video wasn't included as well! Another Disc One extra is the Sing Along option for key musical moments in the film, though not all are included. We also are given a sneak peek of the extras on Disc Two, and the more interesting sneak peek at the upcoming sequel, "The Little Mermaid 3." It's a clip of a scene that seems to vaguely remind me of an episode of the animated series where Ariel discovers Sebastian moonlighting as a performer at an undersea nightclub. Speaking of, let's hope the success of this Platinum DVD inspires the DVD release of the wonderful animated series as well.
Disc Two is where the majority of extra features can be found, and while I'm not blown away by the sheer amount of stuff (as I have been in some past Platinum releases), there's still lots of really neat stuff here. The main attraction here should be "Treasures Untold: The Making of the Little Mermaid," which can be found in the Backstage Disney section, and it's certainly a great behind the scenes featurette on the making off the film, full of great interviews and insight into those difficult days at Disney Animation. However, one also wishes the old Disney Channel "Making Of" program was included too, hosted by Alyssa Milano (one of several supposed inspirations for Ariel), which would have had that wonderful "real-time" feeling that you don't get from "after-the-fact" interviews. Yes, that definitely should have been included in the "Platinum Edition." Anyway, as I said, the main attraction here SHOULD be the behind the scenes featurette, but there's something else very special on Disc Two of "The Little Mermaid." Two somethings, in fact. One is an unrelated Disney animated short film, "The Little Match Girl." It's a beautifully done piece with a true to the story ending (believe it or not) that was originally intended for the canceled "Fantasia 2006." No Disney fan should miss owning this amazing piece of Disney filmmaking! The other fantastically special something on Disc Two is filed under, believe it or not, Games and Activities. Yes, something GOOD under Games and Activities! It's an actual virtual ride on a Disney theme park attraction that was never created: an actual Little Mermaid ride! You can "ride" the ride by yourself, or with audio commentary, and there is even a featurette about the ride that "Never Was." Disc Two also features some great deleted scenes selections, an improved DisneyPedia that plays all in one chunk, the original theatrical trailer, the very cool early presentation reel, a retrospective featurette on the effects unit, a charming featurette that looks at Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid in comparison with Disney's take, and, of course, the art galleries. I always enjoy seeing the character development galleries, particularly of Disney's loveliest females. These galleries could be more thorough though, as I love to see promotional/advertising art and merchandising images too. Speaking of, there are two Easter Eggs on the Treasures Untold Menu, as I think I mentioned earlier. Why the McDonald's ornament commercial was not included as a third, I have no idea. I mean, they got permission to show it and yet only showed a couple of seconds of it during the making of featurette. This commercial, with it's wonderful, exclusive animation of Ariel and her fish friend, Flounder, would have been a perfect Easter Egg. Anyway, what we do get is one Easter Egg of the writer/directors drawing caricatures of each other, which is cute, but I'd rather have the commercial, and another Easter Egg about the live-action referencing. Now, this second one is the Easter Egg I was so happy to find! As I mentioned, I was soooo in love with Ariel from the moment the film came out, and this extended to a love for her voice (Jodi Benson) and her live action reference model, Sherri Stoner, who was basically a brunette Ariel. I adored Sherri in that behind the scenes special from when the film first came out and was so disappointed that footage of her performing as Ariel for the animators was not included in "Treasures Untold." It wasn't even mentioned. She wasn't even mentioned! Well, while I do not feel it should have been relegated to an Easter Egg, I was so happy to find it after thinking none of it was included. It's not enough footage, we should have been given more, but it was still nice to see again along with the brief, recent interview moments with Sherri! And while I'm still sad that Jodi's video wasn't included as a Bonus Feature, that particular Easter Egg, plus "The Little Matchgirl," plus the virtual theme park ride, and most importantly, the film itself, one of the best things ever to come from the Disney Studios, make this Platinum Edition DVD a MUST OWN!