The Little Mermaid - Diamond Edition
It’s a bit strange to think that the recent surge in digital animation owes its legacy to one wide-eyed mermaid from 1989. But there it is: Ariel, the first heroine in the Disney Animation Renaissance of the late ’80s, breathed new life into the genre and sparked a generation’s imagination. And it’s a joy to return under the sea on Blu-ray to rediscover how well this film still enchants viewers almost 25 years later.
I’ll date myself: I was in college when "The Little Mermaid" came to cinemas, and despite being wholly outside the target audience, I saw the film twice. Why? Because the world had forgotten the magic inherent within it, and this delightful tale helped us all rediscover joy in the aftermath of the Cold War. When the Blu-ray arrived at EDGE for review (and I usually take on the Disney classics, thinking ahead to when my 18-month-old will enjoy the collection), I briefly entertained the notion of simply talking about the film from memory - there were special features galore, after all.
I’m glad I didn’t. In fact, my daughter and I cuddled up on our couch and both sat there, transfixed despite the relatively crude animation. Forget the digitally restored picture and sound - although I have to say they have a definitive impact. There’s something completely alluring about the girl who wants nothing more than to be part of her prince’s world, and there’s so much heart behind the well-plotted, crisply directed picture. It’s eminently watchable again and again.
That’s not to say that the special features aren’t quite nice. Aside from those you could have found earlier on the DVD series (one in particular is fascinating to experience years later: the Little Mermaid ride preview, of an attraction that was never built... until just last year), a host of new features provide some valuable retrospect to the creation process of the film. In particular, I enjoyed the "Art of Live-Action" documentary, wherein the film’s directors recall the need to bring in live actors to help artists make animated people look realistic after multiple pictures focusing on animals exclusively. Jodi Benson’s adventure to New Fantasyland is cute, and the deleted character is feckless but lightly amusing. Disney’s penchant to include "Intermission" when you pause the film is more irritating than helpful (we pause the movie so that we can get the kid off the couch, people, and having characters run around singing doesn’t do the trick). But the subtly presented "Howard’s Lecture" is the gem of the bunch: An exploration, via a videotaped lecture Howard Ashman gave to the Disney team over lunch in the ’80s, of the lyricist’s affection for, and impact on, the film. Given Ashman’s legacy both in Disney and on Broadway, it’s a surprisingly wonderful vignette.
Nonetheless, the film is the star. And there couldn’t be a better time for it: In this day, we once again have lost our way, and need to remember that the best thing we can want in life is that for which Ariel so elegantly yearned: To be, well, human.
The Little Mermaid