The Little Mermaid (1989)

Next weekend sees the release of Disney’s live action version of The Little Mermaid. Since I have not watched the original animated classic in, literally, decades, I thought it would be a good idea to pull the original up on Disney + and watch it before seeing the new version on Thursday.

Ariel (Jodi Benson) is a mermaid with a beautiful singing voice who is the daughter of King Triton (Kenneth Mars), and she is obsessed with the human world, collecting objects that are found tossed into the water. When she rescues human Prince Eric (Christopher Daniels Barnes) from drowning, Ariel falls in love with him and wishes for a way to join him in his world.

Of course, Ariel is half-fish and does not have any legs, which is a drawback. When Triton finds out about Ariel’s desires, he flips out and destroys all of her things. This drives Ariel to seek help from the sea witch Ursula (Pat Carroll), who uses her magic to turn Ariel into a human… but at a cost.

First, Ursula takes away Ariel’s voice as payment. Secondly, she insists that Ariel get Eric to fall in love with her and kiss her before the sun sets on the third day above sea or else Ariel would be doomed to be under Ursula’s control forever.

Ariel goes to the human world, with help from her friend fish Flounder (Jason Marin) and the crab who had been assigned to keep tabs on her by her father, Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright), and tries to get Eric to fall in love with her.

Let’s start with the parts of this movie that are great. The music. King the Girl, Under the Sea, Part of Your World are some of the greatest Disney songs of all time. The score to the film contained some very recognizable beats that really worked as well. The sounds of this movie were one of the most classic elements of The Little Mermaid.

The character design of these characters were epic. In particular, the villainous Ursula was brilliantly designed. She was totally frightening and surely scared her share of little kids in the theater.

The conclusion of the film was suspenseful and brutal. I did not remember how Ursula met her demise and it was not the typical Disney ‘villain falls into the pit’ ending that we have seen so many times. SPOILERS:Ursula is impaled by a ship. That was unexpected and very effective.

However, I do have some issues with the film. One, I am not sure I love the message of the film. Ariel has to completely change who she is for her man. In order to be with Eric, she has to give up her fins and become human, casting away her entire childhood. Could that be considered romantic? Maybe. It just feels as if that was a lot to ask.

Maybe that sticks out to me more because I just never bought the relationship between Ariel and Eric. I mean, she rescues him, sings to him, and they fall in love immediately. So much so that she is willing to change herself for him. There was not enough of building their relationship for it to make sense to me. It was a very quick movie and I feel like if the film had added another fifteen minutes or so of their relationship, I might not have felt as uncertain about the end. It did not help that Eric was a bit wishy-washy during the time they were together as he dumped her immediately when Ursula, in disguise, comes to Eric with Ariel’s voice and steals him away. I know the film implied that Eric was being controlled by the magic sea witch, but it still did not seem to be a good look for Prince Eric.

And I mentioned that this was a scary film. There was the scene of the chef chopping fish heads off as Sebastian watched on in terror. I was amazed how brutal this scene was. Mind you, I liked it, but it had to be frightening for any young children watching it.

The Little Mermaid new version is considerably longer than this animated version which may take care of some of the issues that I have with the animated film. There is no doubt that this is a classic film, but it would be down the list for me among the Disney renaissance from the 80s/90s (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King).

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