Classic Intel: The Little Mermaid - Blu-ray Review

'Jodi Benson brings Ariel to life brilliantly as both recalcitrant teen and enigmatic songstress.'

The Little Mermaid is the film that would start the “Disney Renaissance”, the period during the 1990s where the studio not only got over its slump triggered by Walt Disney’s death, but produced some of the most critically and commercially acclaimed animated feature films in its history. Preceded by the ill-judged Oliver & Company, this was a breath of fresh air from the once-great animation giant. But with the heights of Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King following it, in hindsight The Little Mermaid at times feels like Disney, rather ironically, finding its feet.

Considering the star-studded line-ups of later Disney Renaissance pictures, the voice cast here made up largely of unrecognisable names is one of The Little Mermaid’s strongest assets. Jodi Benson brings Ariel to life brilliantly as both recalcitrant teen and enigmatic songstress. Kenneth Mars in support as King Triton balances all-powerful sea-god and troubled single parent expertly, whilst Pat Carroll’s sea-witch Ursula is at once one of Disney’s most charming and terrifying antagonists. Arguably most memorable of all is Samuel E. Wright’s Caribbean crab Sebastian, getting a lot of the best lines as well as the film’s two best songs: lilting reggae ballad Kiss The Girl, and Under The Sea - still as irresistibly infectious as it was back in 1989.

That’s not to say the rest of the film is musically redundant. On the contrary, this is Disney stepping back into the realm of traditional musical cinema in a big way. The whole film rings with some of the studio’s most satisfying numbers, without a single dud amongst them. There aren’t many Disney films before or since you can say that about

Attempting to match its musical strength, Disney here take their first steps into more elaborate, artistic animation. Scenes of the fire on Prince Eric’s (Christopher Daniel Barnes) ship and the final battle against Ursula are truly remarkable; elsewhere however, the animation feels less robust, especially when compared to the likes of Beauty And The Beast released only two years later, in which neither an ink mark nor a brushstroke is put wrong.

The narrative here sees Disney attempt more grandiose storytelling, something which permeates much of their Renaissance films. There are beats here which you’ll see replicated in several of the studio’s more recent works which is testament to The Little Mermaid’s lasting influence on Disney’s own output at least. The first act is finely balanced, getting started with little delay and building enjoyably to Ariel’s bargain with Ursula. The second act continues things well, providing many of the film’s most memorable and humorous moments. It’s a shame then that the final act feels decidedly rushed, hurriedly skipping over several plot points to get to the film’s climax, which also feels over a bit too quickly.

A smattering of weaknesses aside, The Little Mermaid stands up well as one of Disney’s most entertaining and endearing works. Its importance within the studio’s animated canon also cannot be overlooked; if The Little Mermaid hadn’t been the success it was, the way may never have been paved for some of Disney’s most exquisite and celebrated films to appear as the 20th Century drew to a close.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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