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Monday, June 4, 2012

Disneyear: The Little Mermaid (1989)

After The Black Cauldron's infamous failure, something happened at Disney. There seemed to have been a change in attitude over there because not only did they make better films over the years but they made them fast. They went from releasing a new movie from every few years to one a year! The films would also go back to the classic Disney musical format with fairy tales and include smoother animation. So which film kick started this renaissance? The one that started it all... again, was today's film, The Little Mermaid. We've all seen it. We all know it. We all know these songs and characters. We constantly rank it among Disney's best films. And I'm going to talk about it today!

The story is about a teenage mermaid named Ariel (played by Jodi Benson) that longs for a life above the water's surface. Her father, King Triton (Kenneth Mars) forbids it due to an extreme prejudice towards humans. So she secretly collects things from the surface world and gets her "knowledge" about their world through a seagull named Scuttle (Buddy Hacket) with her fish friend Flounder. She finds a ship one night and falls in love with a human man. A prince, even! She saves his life and knows for sure she wants to live with him. So she turns to a sea witch, Ursula (Pat Carroll) to make a Faustian deal with her: she gets legs in exchange for her voice. With the help of Flounder, Scuttle, and a Jamaican crab named Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright), she finds her prince but has to work at her relationship with him from scratch: all this without talking. Everything seems to go well until Ursula wrecks things by hypnotizing Eric into marrying her because she wants to take over the sea by using Ariel as bait to bring King Triton to size. She's foiled by Ariel after she regains her voice and fins with Eric. Triton realizes Eric's efforts to save him and Ariel and so gives back her legs. She and Eric marry and live happily ever after.

Where do I even begin? I probably should first mention the animation. It's wonderful. It's a comeback for smoother animation, colored lines, it really looks like something from Disney's golden age. Some of these backgrounds are great too. And some of these angles and effects are just awesome. Just look at the first five minutes of this film and tell me you aren't at all captivated by the animation quality!

The characters: all of them are great. You have Ariel, a curious rebel and romantic, the over protective crab Sebastian, the loyal fraidy cat Flounder, Buddy Hacket as a rather confused seagull, that crazy-ass chef voiced by Odu, Eric, they're all great, memorable characters. Even the father, a character usually tossed to the side, is really well developed. 
Inspector Kemp makes a good daddy.
The songs are great too! It's the classic Alan Menkin tunes that we all know and love. They're catchy, memorable, hits the tone of the movie just right, they're just great. My favorite is probably either Part of Your World or Poor Unfortunate Souls. Both these songs are friggin' awesome!

The villain is one of the best. Ursula reminds me of Ratigan in that she just loves what she does and just has a blast doing it. The difference being with Ursula, it's more of a revenge plot on King Triton for banishing her. She suckers in folks into thinking she's a saint and helps people in need. She does, but turns them into withering husks if they can't pay. Her design is pretty cool too: this sort of half mermaid half octopus thing is really cool. Back that up with the talented Pat Carroll doing her voice and you have one of the most enjoyable baddies out there.

Feedback for this movie is fascinating to me: not from men but women! I find out every day that women either really love or really hate this film and it all centers around the main character, Ariel. Before, I never did see anything wrong with her. I mean yeah, she can be whiny at times, but she's still a nice character overall. She's adventurous, she's curious, she's a hopeless romantic, she's determined, she's... nice, a bit of a rebel, she's always been a good lead in my eyes. She's also the first lead that wants something deeper than herself which is very heavy stuff for a family flick. The scenes that best show my point are when she can't talk. Make any sexist joke you want, but her character really shines through the most when she has to pantomime everything.
This scene makes me roll on the floor with laughter every time!
Speaking of that, I'll admit that she and Eric have one of the more believable Disney chemistries. I mean yeah, they fall in love at first sight, but then they meet again and actually have to work at their relationship. And since one can't talk, it's more of a challenge. However, I saw Lindsey Ellis' (Nostalgia Chick) review of the film and she brought up an interesting point at the end about Ariel never really learning her lesson in the end. She gets what she wants anyway and goes off to live her fairy tale life... yyyeeeahhh, that's a really good point.... but you could make the slim argument that she at least learned that she did something wrong and apologizes for it, but it's very brief and only lasts a few seconds.

I guess arguably this is probably one of the more morally damning Disney flicks, but all the good stuff in this film is just way too damn good to pass up. The characters: great. The animation: spectacular. The songs: catchy. The side characters: memorable. The villain: awesome. It's a great movie all around. I always have a spot for this film in my top ten. And it's only the first monster hit that brought Disney back on a roar for years to come!

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