“If only I could make him understand. I just don’t see things the way he does. I just don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad.” -Ariel
Ok, now I KNOW I saw this movie in theaters. In fact, it’s literally one of the first memories I have. Although, it may not have gone how I remember it, so my father will have to correct me if I’m wrong. I just remember being so scared by the end of the movie and so mad at my parents for taking me to see such a scary movie that I refused to talk to them on the way to the car. My mom, in an attempt to get me to talk, kept asking me who my favorite character was. To get her to stop talking to me, I said “the dog.” That’s it. That’s my first memory of this movie.
My disclaimer is that I was only 4. But this memory always reminds me how little kids view things differently than adults. What isn’t scary at all now was silence inducing/parent hating terror when I was 4. Obviously I feel different about the movie now, and did the next time I was to see it, but at the time, I was mad.
Alright. So The Little Mermaid, in Disney’s eyes, is the beginning of their so called “Renaissance” that would last for the next 10 years. In that span, all their animated canon movies were considered financial hits. All their movies were “popular.” In fact, all but one is “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes (hmmm, which one is rotten? Maybe the one that screwed with US History…), and only one other is under 80%. That’s pretty good.
In some ways, it makes sense that this movie is the start of the Renaissance. 1) it’s the first fairy tale Disney had done since Sleeping Beauty (I don’t count Robin Hood, King Arthur, or Jungle Book as “fairy tales.”). That’s a LONG time. And this really IS what Disney was all about in the beginning. And 2) We have a lot of good catchy songs. Disney without songs for me is weird, and I count that as part of their renaissance/comeback.
I know some people will argue with me about Disney needing songs to be good. I didn’t say that in particular. I love a lot of Disney movies that have few or even no songs. Here’s the point I’m trying to make: I swear we’re all products of the Disney that was around when we were kids. I was in my formative years during the Renaissance, so I believe Disney to be an awesome powerhouse of a studio that puts out awesome movies based on old stories with songs. Seriously, think about it. Only two (The Rescuers Down Under & The Lion King) during this time period were original stories. To me, adaptation is what Disney will always be best at. When they lose their way (aka, the 70s/80s and the 00’s, although there’s some amazing movies hidden in that time period…) I always will believe they can rise again.
With that in mind, I’m not afraid to admit that Disney does take a few liberties with the story (aka: Ariel doesn’t turn into foam and die of a broken heart at the end. You want a true adaptation, go see “Once on this Island,” the Bahaman musical), but we still have the general idea. Ariel is a 16 year old Mermaid who is obsessed with the surface, humans, and everything that comes with them. Upon going to the surface and seeing a prince, she falls in love. Later during a storm, she rescues him and takes him to shore, where he awakens, struck by the beauty of her voice. Ariel’s father, King Triton, finds out what happened and that Ariel is in love with a human, and destroys her cavern full of human-related things in his temper. Upset at him, Ariel travels to the sea-witch, Ursula, and signs a contract, trading her voice for legs so that she can be with the one she loves. She has three days to get the prince to fall in love with her or she turns back into a mermaid and she belongs to Ursula.
Upon getting to the surface, Prince Eric finds he, but doesn’t believe it’s the same girl who saved him because she can’t speak. Over the next few days Ariel and her friends try anything to get the prince to kiss her. They get close to the point Ursula gets worried and she takes Ariel’s voice to the surface and makes Eric fall in love with her. At the wedding between her and Eric, Ariel and all the sea creatures attempt anything to make it fail and get Ariel’s voice back. They succeed, but it’s too late. The sun sets, Ursula turns back into an octopus creature, and drags her to the depths only to run into King Triton. He takes his daughter’s place in the contract, she turns him to a weird plant creature thing, and Ariel and Eric fight to destroy Ursula as she attempts to take over the oceans.
The thing about this movie is that it has everything. The songs are great. The characters are great. The story is good. The comedy is timeless and subtle enough to not be in your face. The animation is beautiful. I know exactly why this movie is heralded by many. It’s worth all the praise it gets.
When I was young I kinda hated Princess movies. I’d watch them, but I’d like everything BUT the princess aspect. This movie was not one I watched a lot. If I did, it was because of my sisters, or because I wanted to hang out with Scuttle and Sebastian and Flounder. That being said, now as an adult, I don’t have a hatred of princesses or anything girly. I’ve made my peace. And here’s what I have to say:
Ariel as a character is plucky, determined, and almost a quintessential teenage girl. A lot of Disney’s Princesses have been teenagers, but they’ve all acted way more adult than they should. Ariel, finally, is a teenager. She has angst. She falls in love at the drop of a hat. She has obsessions. She hates her father and doesn’t listen to him, but at the same time loves him more than anything. Once on land, she looks at everything with the innocence of a child. It’s refreshing and that in itself is a reason for Eric to fall in love with her. And he does. It’s to her credit she can get him to love her without a voice.
Behind Ariel, we have a string of supporting characters. Flounder is her fish friend that is a huge worrier. He looks nothing like a real flounder, and I remember being a kid wondering if there existed a fish that looked like him in the ocean (there’s not.). He’s funny for kids, and not in an annoying way. He’s enjoyable, even to parents.
Ariel’s father King Triton is a typical Disney overbearing father. He is of what I call the “Big & burly” variety of Disney father. What he does have going for him is that he’s smart, and in the end his heart changes and he learns to be accepting of the land folk he so hated before. He’s willing to sacrifice himself for his daughter (as any parent should be!). He can be sweet and super scary at the same time. He wants what’s best for her, and in the end realizes exactly what that is.
At Triton’s side (at least in the beginning) is Sebastian, our little rasta crab. I love me some Sebastian. He’s like the King’s right side crab, and gives advice as well as takes orders to follow Ariel and find out what’s going on with her. Once Ariel meets with Ursula, his allegiance is still to protect Ariel, but he now finds himself trying to get Eric to kiss her so that she doesn’t end up in Ursula’s grasp. He suddenly understands, and deals with life on the surface where he has an eye opening experience (on more than one level) – Oh the french chef! there was never a funnier scene! *on a side note: The one time I cooked live lobster, I found myself singing that song. I couldn’t help myself*
Our last supporting character other than Eric and his dog is Scuttle, a seagull. He’s Ariel’s go to bird for figuring out what human artifacts are, although he really has no idea. That’s part of the humor, and I know it had me reeling as a kid. Ask anyone my age to pass a dinglehopper, and they’ll do exactly that, then use it for what it should be used for, according to Scuttle:
As for Prince Eric, he’s ok. He’s more of an interesting prince than any of the others that’s for sure (he actually has more than 3 lines!) and he seems to have a personality. He doesn’t want to marry just anyone; he wants to fall in love. At the same time, he seems kinda shallow because he is very disappointed when this girl that washes up turns out to not be the girl who rescued him because she doesn’t have a voice. His heart is so set on that girl that it’s ridiculous and Ursula takes it to her advantage.
Ah yes, Ursula. Our scary half-octopus/half drag queen (no, seriously) villain is a joy to watch. The way they animated her is awesome. The way her octopus tentacles move is very cool. Her voice is perfect. Her motivation, like most Disney villains, is to take over the kingdom, but she’s smart and patient about it. She’s been banished by King Triton and has been keeping tabs on him and his family just waiting for the moment to strike. She takes Ariel’s weakness and turns it into her way back in for revenge. For a while, she seems to win, then she gets impaled with a ship. Yeah. Thank you Disney for not including blood.
Her sidekick eels that somehow have magic powers to share an eye and telegraph information to her is the way I learned the vocabulary terms “flotsam” and “jetsam.” Disney taught me a lot of actual useful stuff in my formative years!
Whew that’s a ton of characters. Now I wanna talk about some songs! Songs and Disney are interchangeable to me, probably because of when I grew up. Disney songs have always been good, catchy, etc. The songs in this movie are a return to a time of family friendly jams, most of which in this particular movie I quite like.
We start off with “Mysterious Fathoms below,” a sailor song that introduces us to the land of the mermaid (and was originally supposed to have a verse about Ursula being banished by Triton – that would have been useful). We then move into the short but crazy “Daughters of Triton,” which is catchy and I like the fact he named all his kids with an “A.” Then our next song… wait… can’t hold it back… here it comes….
“Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat? wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete? Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl… the girl who has everything?”
If you were a kid when this movie came out and you are female, I don’t care who you are – you just have to start singing that song at the top of your lungs. “Part of your world” is infectious. I will reiterate this again – I actually didn’t like this movie that much when I was a kid. Ariel annoyed me. I liked the songs, but this one was boring to me (It was actually almost cut from the movie when a kid dropped popcorn during a test screening – SO glad they didn’t!). It is the epitome of the Disney “I want” song. It conveys so much about our main character. We leave understanding why she wants what she does. It’s beautiful, and one of my favorite Disney songs (I think after this is all done I’ll have to do a post on that…)
We also have “Under the Sea” which everyone still to this day knows, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” a good but not super scary villain song, and “Kiss the Girl” which is another favorite. I may or may not have a techno version of that song….
The animation to me doesn’t really stand out any different than other Disney movies, but I do want to mention how good the underwater animation looks. The way Ariel’s hair moves. The bubbles that come off of character for movement shows attention to detail.
Everything that I don’t like about this movie is simply a personal issue. Ariel has gotten better to me as I’ve aged and been able to see her as a angsty teen, but she’s not my favorite protagonist. I hate that the part when she’s on land is rushed. We have a music montage as Eric shows her around, but I would have liked more actual interaction between the two of them. Having Eric have a personality is a step in the right direction, but it’s still not enough for me. I felt this way as a kid. I mean ok… I know that Ariel is a teenager and sometimes teens get crushes and it doesn’t matter if you actually know the guy. I get that. I was a teenage girl once. At the same time, you would still talk to the guy, or at least he would talk to you. Can you imagine the character development and humor we could have gotten with Eric pretty much talking to himself as he tried to have a conversation with her?
At the same time, this movie is pretty flawless. It’s ok as it is. My qualms are just little, and it’s just because I want rounded characters. In all honesty, I’m searching for issues because I know I don’t love all these movies, and they’re not all perfect.
This movie, however, is a great family film. If you have a sensitive kid like I was, maybe don’t show this to them at age 4. But this is a good movie. It’s got good characters, good songs, and a good story. Go enjoy!
I give The Little Mermaid (1989) a 4 out of 5.
Up Next: The Rescuers Down Under (1990)