There’s no question that Walt Disney Animated Studios has given us some memorable and impactful films for nearly 80 years. There are iconic films that have definitely stood against the passage of time. One of those films is the picture that sparked the Disney Renaissance of the late ’80s/1990s, The Little Mermaid (Ron Clements and John Musker, 1989). It gross over $212 million in the box office upon its release, and people are still talking about it 15 years after its cinematic premier. But how good is it? What’s good and bad about the film? That’s what this review is going to answer!
Since this is my first Disney review, let me tell you the 5 categories I will judge these movies on: the animation, the songs and music, the romance, the characters, and the story. With that being said, let’s start the review!
ANIMATION: The animation of this film is one of the best things about the movie. It looks absolutely beautiful! Whether you like the movie or dislike it, you can look at the animation and tell why this sparked the Disney Renaissance. The lighting, the colors, the fluent movement of the characters, the lining – it is just amazing. In some cases, it does look a bit dated, though. I think that might depend on what you’re watching the film on. If you’re watching a video release, of course it’ll look old. If you have a newly remastered DVD or Blu-Ray version, the movie might not look like it was made in the ’80s. I don’t know, there’s something about the way it was drawn and some of the shots that reads “1989” to me. Even then, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It still looks fantastic! If you can’t admire anything else in this movie, you should definitely admire the animation!
SONGS/MUSIC: As with most Disney movies, the songs are some of the most memorable things about this movie. This is the first Disney film that has Broadway/showtune-type songs, and, apparently, it worked really well. It’s important to note that the songs were brought to us by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. These two had great success on Broadway and in Hollywood with some great hits, including the ever so popular musical, Little Shop of Horrors! Needless to say, I think they know what makes a good musical, and they definitely bring it all to this movie! Let’s talk about the songs one at a time:
1) Daughters of Triton: Oh yeah, that was a thing…Man, that song is forgettable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhAPACQRr_w
2) Part of Your World/(Reprise): Ah, yes, one of the famous Disney “I Want” songs. Well, I must say, this is not a bad song. It does one of the things a song in a musical should do; it tells us how a character is feeling and what he/she wants. We clearly learn what Ariel is feeling and she obviously tells us what she wants…Though am I the only one who is tired of hearing characters use the phrase “I want more?” Could you clarify a bit what you mean by that? But I digress. She actually does tell us what she wants. The music is memorable. The tune is enjoyably catchy, and the orchestrations are great as well. I don’t enjoy the lyrics as much, but that’s not Howard Ashman’s fault. We’ll talk about that later. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BZp2dxpwF8
3) Under the Sea: I wonder what the reasoning of putting this song in the movie was. It doesn’t do anything for the story or characters. We don’t learn about anyone, it doesn’t reveal anything, and we already know we’re in the sea; thus the song isn’t really needed. However, it is a lot of fun. The lyrics, the music, the tune, the singers – it’s all way too enjoyable. This is the movie’s Number One song for a reason. Everyone knows this song, most people love this song. While it’s not my favorite song, I have to admit I like this song as well…And it won the movie an Oscar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC_mV1IpjWA
4) Poor Unfortunate Souls: YEAH MAN! This song kicks butt! It’s just an incredible, awesome villain song – an incredible, awesome song period! THIS is my favorite song in the movie! It’s sung by a great character (who we’ll get to later), the lyrics are creative, and the music is wonderful! Not only that, but it does what songs in musicals are supposed to do: it progresses the story. We see Ursula convincing Ariel to go along with this obviously evil plan. Because of the lyrics and the pacing, we see Ursula’s menacing spirit, so one could argue it gives us character development as well. I love this song! It’s awesome! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyFVG4VfPmg
5) Les Poissons: Like “Under the Sea,” I have to ask why was this song put in the movie? This song REALLY has nothing to do with anything. The character who sings this song is only shown twice in the movie, during this scene and again at the end. Not only that, but I really don’t remember it or enjoy it that much. It’s not bad, it’s just unnecessary. However, many people do enjoy this song, so maybe there is something there. As a stand alone song, I guess it’s alright. As a song in a musical, though, it’s definitely filler and could have been taken out.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iq-UaXQ1c1M
6) Kiss the Girl: There’s not a whole lot I can say about this song. Unlike the last song, this is kind of necessary. It’s also beautiful to watch and listen to. It sounds nice, we see a romance happening, and it was even nominated for an Oscar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXmLRHnoSAs
ROMANCE: I don’t really know how to judge the romance in this movie. On one hand, Ariel fell in love with Eric at first sight. This, as we know, is a cliché that has been forsaken long ago, but that’s how Ariel falls in love. And, yes, I know Ariel spends time with Eric later; but did her feelings change at all? Did she love Eric more when she spent time with him? Not really. The same feelings she had for Eric at the beginning of the movie are the exact same feelings she holds onto for him throughout the entire film. So…yeah, it seems pretty stupid in that regards. On the other hand, however, they do have a nice connection when they are together. It is rather nice just watching these two spend time together. As a matter of fact, it’s peculiar how Eric falls for Ariel since she can’t talk. It’s so strange, yet somehow charming. I give the romance a 6 out of 10.
CHARACTERS: I do have mixed feelings about the characters as a whole in this film, so let’s talk about them from first to worst:
1) Ursula – I LOVE Ursula! Gosh, if she were real, I’d marry her! If you read my Top 10 Favorite Disney Villains essay, you know this character is my second favorite Disney villain! She has attitude, she’s sassy, she’s direct, she’s an over-the-top drama queen! Not only that, but she’s menacing and conniving and downright evil! I love it! I love her! For more details, go read my Top 10 Favorite Disney Villains essay.
2) Sebastian and Scuttle – I put these two together because I have the same thing to say about the both of them: they’re fine. They’re supportive of our main character and the story, and they can have some funny moments. There are times I find them annoying, but they never become too annoying or unbearable. They’re not the best, but they’re not the worst either. They’re fine.
3) Eric – I always say that Eric is like the earlier Disney princes, except he can talk. I don’t feel like I get a character from him. He’s nice and all, but what is he outside of that? What does he do? What does he enjoy? The later Disney princes (like Naveen and Flynn) definitely have a lot more character and personality to them. Eric? No, I’m still trying to figure out who he is.
4) Flounder – I don’t like Flounder. Why? First of all, he’s too cute. His design, his voice, his gestures and actions, his face – UGH! It’s too much! Secondly, I don’t like how he never says, “Hey, Ariel, maybe we shouldn’t do this! Didn’t your father say not to go to the land?” There’s not one moment in the film he thinks of the rule King Triton made. He just goes along with Ariel’s foolishness, and it’s annoying. Speaking of the king…
5) King Triton – I didn’t see this film until the summer of last year, 2013. Prior to my seeing it, I heard a lot of people say how great King Triton is. I was expecting a sort of pre-Mufasa character: a great and loveable king and father. And…I sort of got that. My only problem with Triton is that the movie never gives us a reason why he doesn’t want Ariel to go to the surface. We as the audience have to relate to why he feels so strongly about this, and we’re never told what his motivation is for keeping Ariel under water. That makes him look really weak, and that’s not what I wanted from him. I like him, but there’s no reason for his actions, at least none the movie offers. And, I’m sorry, that’s really lame.
6) Ariel – Alright, let’s get into it. I dislike Ariel with a passion. She’s selfish! If she had an option to take anything back, I don’t think she would! Why? Because not only did she know what she was doing (deliberately going behind her father’s back and disobeying him), but she got everything she wanted! Yes, despite her rebellion and causing so much trouble for everyone around her, she still got her precious Happily Ever After! What the crud? Her song “Part of Your World,” though it sounds nice, is basically her just whining about her not being content with anything she has; and she won’t be satisfied until she has more! It wouldn’t bother me as much if it weren’t for the fact that Ariel is the main character – the character we’re supposed to learn from and identify with! What does she teach us? “Hey kids! If you do the opposite of what your parents say, you’ll live happily ever after! They’re just parents! Just because they’re older than you doesn’t mean they’re smarter and wiser and more experienced than you!” I’m not asking for her to be perfect, but I don’t think she learned a lesson in this film. When she apologizes to her father towards the end, I think she was saying that because Ursula caught her. If she didn’t mean any of the trouble she caused, she wouldn’t have caused it.
STORY: I must admit, I’ve never read or heard the original Hans Christansen version of this story, so I can’t really compare this movie to its original source material. On paper, the story is fine. It’s good, in fact. It’s interesting, and I want to follow it. I do have one problem with it, however, although this is more so a problem with the movie and not necessarily the story (if that makes any sense). What is the message of the film? I won’t harp on it again, but I don’t like what the movie is saying about teenagers making their own decisions or parenting or love. Between the message and Ariel, I find great and fantastic fault with this movie.
CONCLUSION: Based on my annoyances with Ariel and the message, you’d think I’d hate this movie, right? Well, in all honesty, I don’t…I cannot for the life for me bring myself to say I like this movie, but I don’t dislike it either. I think the reason for that is the good things I mentioned before are too good. The animation is great. The songs as a whole are good. The romance is enjoyable. Ursula is incredible, and worth the price of admission! In fact, I’d like the movie a lot more if Ursula won! I think this movie is a guilty pleasure for me. I do find myself coming back to it often. However, the problems I have with it are some pretty big problems. If you like this film, there’s nothing wrong with that. I just have my own reservations about it. If the same things that bother me also bother you, this is not the movie for you.