The Little Mermaid (1989) (G)
















The not-so-grim movie based on the too-grim-Grimm fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid" is a superbly animated and completely airy piece of work that demands little. It's a fun movie, but it does nothing to boost the spirits or let us know what real love looks like.
I feel like I keep extolling "To the Wonder" as a poet's version of what love really is—"The Little Mermaid" is certainly not trying to make a philosophical comment about love; but you have to compare how different movies handle the subject matter...it lets itself down, I'm afraid.
The movie begins under the sea where the mer-folk live in human-less harmony. Above the waves, a ship is traveling and on it is Prince Eric, the good-looking and nice boy with a heart of gold. Below him is Ariel, the gorgeous 16-year-old princess who'd rather trade her fins in for some...what are they called?....legs!
King Triton is a father who seems to love Ariel more than his other daughters. The mother (typical of Disney, wanting a fractured home) is not present...leading us to ask the question where mermen kill their mates.
Anyways, the movie's opening sees a gala where a small crab named Sebastian has made a musical number to showcase Ariel's broadway debut...seriously I'm not sure why this was such a big deal. So as the number starts, Ariel misses her cue and we cut to the young princess swimming out in the deep blue sea and having a grand adventure. She is accompanied by a young fish named Flounder (who, incidentally, is not a flounder). They traverse to a shipwreck where Ariel scans the damaged vessel for knickknacks that she takes back to her private collection. In order to better understand the human world, Ariel goes up to the surface to meet the seagull named Scuttle. This bird is just plain dumb and annoying.
Everything seems to be going okay before Ariel remembers that she has neglected her musical appearance. She returns to her father who becomes irate when he learns that Ariel has been on the surface...mer-people and humans aren't supposed to get along.
But Ariel is determined to see more of the surface world, so she follows a ship and peers inside—voila love at first sight. She sees Prince Eric and gets the hots for him, but his ships catches fire after it is struck by lightning in a storm and the vessel explodes. She brings Eric back to shore and waits there while he recovers, slipping away before he can see that she's a mermaid.
All this time she is being watched by the evil sea-witch Ursula, an octo-woman who is hell-bent on revenge against King Triton.
When Triton learns that Ariel has fallen in love with a human, he does what every sensible father who doesn't want his daughter to run away would do—he wrecks her room.
Ariel hears stories of Ursula and goes there to make a deal with the witch. Ursula offers her a bargain and she takes it; but the result of this deal will be harsher than Ariel could have ever expected.
"The Little Mermaid" has a likable protagonist who doesn't need saving, a love interest who isn't a complete air-head, and a villain who is completely believable and wonderfully creepy.
The songs are catch, the best numbers include "Poor Unfortunate Souls", "Kiss the Girl", and "Under the Sea".
The voice acting is pretty perfect here and the cast includes Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll (as Ursula...amazing), Paddi Edwards, Kenneth Mars, Buddy Hackett, and Samuel E. Wright.
My biggest problem with the movie—besides the fact that its portrayal of love is staggeringly poor (then again, it's mermaids in love with humans...so they're not going for reality here)—is the sidekicks of the movie. Disney movies are fond of having comedic sidekicks and the fish, crab, and seagull that make up this one are not that great. Sebastian is fun...the other two got on my nerves.
Still, the father-daughter relationship is exaggerated but true and the film looks great. It's not my favorite, but it is entertaining and lovable.







Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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