It’s the big one. My wife’s favourite film. A review that not only determines if I’ve liked this film, but going forward, possibly how much my wife will like me…
When I first started reviewing all the Disney Animation Studios films, I knew that my reviews would be coming from a vantage point that was somewhat different than that of most other people online. There are plenty of professional reviews. There are plenty of reviews from Disney fans. But reviews from Disney-cynics who are only doing so because they’re the glorified lab rat of a Disney-obsessed wife carrying out a madcap experiment on Disney-conversion? Not so much…
But I have also realised during the course of nearly thirty films dating from 1937 to near the turn of the 1990’s, I am in a rare and privileged position that nearly all the Disney fans that still draw breath have never got to experience. And that is to experience the Disney collection as a near blank slate in chronological order. It may not seem a big deal, but it’s fascinating to experience a much-beloved company’s ups and downs, as well as see their progression and development film-by-film, without prejudice (well, except for the small prejudice of having already decided I don’t like Disney, but you get my point). It’s not something that would be much concern to many fans, as they would watch films in a sporadic order, rave about the ones they liked and treat the ones they don’t like as if they don’t exist, and conclude that Disney is a mostly amazing film company…
But when you’ve watched every moment of every scene (with exception of those that were deemed too racist by ‘Disney +’, or those that I deemed too shit to bother concentrating on), you realise that Disney, for all its moments where you can appreciate how it could create such fanaticism among its fanbase, is ultimately as flawed at times, as most other things in life. And without a doubt, this is the case in certain decades far more so than others. As I may have mentioned once or a hundred times in previous posts, the 1940’s were largely less about plot than propaganda as well as annoying birds, creepy ventriloquist dummies and finally, ducks whose behaviour would almost certainly mean that it is on some sort of register that bans it from being in the vicinity of a high school (have you ever seen Donald Duck in a van or on a flying carpet near a high school? Exactly). And despite having plenty of films I personally didn’t enjoy throughout the subsequent decades, Disney appeared to drive off another proverbial creative cliff in most people’s eyes near the end of the 1970’s.
However, the other benefit of watching these films for the first time in chronological order, is that I can start to sense trends in the mindset of the higher-ups at Chez Disney, as well as the creative direction and some of the lessons that they are learning en-route. Even if I didn’t know the next film was Kerry’s favourite film of all time, I can feel that something is changing in a positive direction, and that lessons on how to make an entertaining film for Generation X (and even Y) are being learnt. Considering what’s at stake with the upcoming movie on a personal level, I hope my prediction is correct… The reason that I’m auspicious, is that there have been three things I didn’t like about older Disney films. Ok, there’s been hundreds, but three MAIN issues in particular.
- Lots of frolicking animals but at times painfully little character depth.
- Pretentiousness. “Look how clever our animation is! Aren’t we iconic! We haven’t made a successful film in a decade, but you must love our snooty highbrow approach to cartoons!”
- A lack of humour beyond the frolicking animals that at times borders on sheer misery.
As I mentioned in the previous post, whilst the last two films (The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company) were by no means classics, these bothersome qualities were finally showing some signs of being eradicated. I was pretty sure modern Disney and Pixar films would not have gotten away with accommodating these things as much in the eyes of the audiences of today, so the big question is, will this be the film to bring about the change I so crave?!
Regardless of that, this is still a Disney movie, so the film starts with frolicking animals. Not just animals, seagulls. I live on the coast. Seagulls are either trying to steal your food, wake you up at sunrise or attempting to crap on your shoulder. Disney, you like killing animals, where are the shotguns now?! We then get frolicking dolphins. Oh, by the way, you know when you want to catch a good shot of a fine sailing vessel but an attention seeking bastard of a dolphin fucks it up by photobombing it?
On the ship we meet Prince Eric. He’s a fine-looking chap. And within thirty seconds he has shown more personality and had more dialogue than the Princes were afforded in the whole of ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella’ combined. Meanwhile, under the sea (pun intended), we meet some merfolk. King Triton is having a concert held in his honour. The song is performed by Triton’s six daughters. There’s no sign of a mother, but this is Disney so not sure if that fact even has to be commented on anymore… Considering there’s six daughters, the mother probably succumbed to exhaustion. How do merfolk give birth? Do they lay eggs? How do they reproduce? How many people have asked this question already?! Millions no doubt. But the performance is ruined however, when it turns out that the Kings youngest daughter is missing….
It turns out that the youngest daughter, Ariel, has sneaked off with a fishy friend named Flounder to search the ruins of a ship. Within less than a minute it becomes clear that Ariel is sassy and full of personality. She’s nice, but nothing like passive, characterless homemaker Princesses that preceded her. And my god does she ooze sex appeal. This is slightly concerning as she’s only sixteen and I’m not sure if the fact she’s animated makes it ok, or a hundred times worse… Based on how many people in film and TV have commented on how hot she is, I going to assume it’s fair game. Sexy burlesque mice from ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ move over, you have nothing on this piece of… fin.
It turns out that Ariel has a slightly less than healthy obsession with humans and their artifacts, and she’s looking for things to add to her not-at-all-strange collection. Their scavenging is interrupted however by a shark, because sharks tend to roam in the waters of the Pacific Ocean and a small pocket of the North Sea coast near Copenhagen. Apparently. Happily, they don’t get eaten and escape alive and well, meaning at that point we don’t have to roll the ending credits to the world’s most pointless and depressing seven-minute film. Just imagine if that was the whole film. Would certainly get people talking…
Anyway, they swim to the surface where they meet a….ugh…. seagull. The seagull is called Scuttle. Ariel shows him the treasures she has found. He tells her that a fork is a dinglehopper used for styling hair, and that a smoking pipe is a snarfblat, an item used for making music. So not only do Seagulls steal your dinner, act as an unwanted alarm clock and use your shoulder as a commode, they’re also compulsive liars too. Dicks. It’s all really funny though.
We’ve had over ten minutes of a Disney film without an antagonist cackling insanely so I think it’s time that’s put right. We say hello to Ursula who is… I think a drag artist octopus? With issues. Definitely many issue going on there. She has two eels named Flotsam and Jetsam. Triton banished Ursula from his court some years ago, so she wants revenge. And unsurprisingly, she will get to him through Ariel.
We return to Ariel who’s getting a bollocking from Triton about not being at the concert and going up to the surface where those bastard humans hang out. She then goes to her not-at-all-creepy, museum of human artifacts. Triton’s crab, Sebastian, is keeping an eye on her. We are treated to yet another song in which Ariel sings about wanting to be human. A few days after watching ‘The Little Mermaid’, I realised what a disproportionately high number of Disney films I’ve watched of late when I watched the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ and how it’s infiltrated my psyche. Early in the film when the female lead feels sad, empty and wants to expand her world much like a Disney princess, she steps outside to cinematic and emotional music… and doesn’t spontaneously burst into song. It bamboozled me. Isn’t that what happens in films?! We even improvised the song she would have sung, had she been in a Disney film. The whole thing was made even more disconcerting by the lack of birds, squirrels, fish and/or crabs pissing about around her as she goes about her business. Speaking of which, Flounder and Sebastian have quite the frolic during Ariels performance.
Back to the story and she’s gone to the surface to look at some fireworks, which turn out to be from a party on Eric’s boat. She pervs on him for a bit, whilst he talks about wanting to find ‘the right girl’. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that Ariel will be that girl. If I’m correct, you’ll all be so impressed….
All goes wrong though, when a ferocious storm erupts with near implausible speed. After lightning sets the ship alight, Eric winds up unconscious in the sea. Ariel saves him though and pulls him ashore. She does what anyone would do in this perilous situation. She sings in his face. Even though she runs and hides before he wakes, he falls in love with the mystery girl based on her voice alone. At least this should make it easy to find her again, as it would take a pretty ridiculous scenario for a girl’s voice to completely vanish into thin air after all…
Unfortunately, Ursula is watching all these events unfold on her weird bubble television thingy, and concocts a most devilish scheme…
In trying to convince Ariel that life is better under said sea and away from humans, Sebastian sings her a song. Having not completely existed under a Disney free rock, I did know the song ‘Under the Sea’ was from the Little Mermaid. I actually rather liked the song even before watching the film, but when put in context of the story, it’s definitely my favourite Disney musical number to date. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get through to a hormonally addled sixteen-year-old girl, even with aid of a song and dance routine… So, Sebastian is left with the task of reporting back to Triton that his youngest Daughter wants to indulge in sexy-time with a human. Triton loses his shit about this and proceeds to give Ariel another almighty bollocking before destroying a load of items in Ariels creepy museum of human artifacts. Ariel responds by being every teenage girl who’s ever lived, shrieking “BUT DADDY I LOVE HIM!” before bursting into tears.
Flotsam and Jetsam take this opportunity to offer her some assistance with her problem. Ariel agrees to go with them. I mean, who wouldn’t look at these two and conclude that they can be trusted?
For fucks sake Ariel! Come on, even completely blinded by love for a dude you’ve just met, who in god’s name doesn’t have a few more reservations about these two? Look at them!!!
They lead her to Ursula who offers her a contract that would allow her to become human for three days. If she can get the Prince to make out with her, she stays human. If she fails, she’ll be turned into a…. a….. um….
… one of those things. Oh, and she has to give her voice as payment to Ursula (😮). Fortunately for Ursula, she has come prepared with a song complete with choreography to make her case for why Ariel should sign. Who could resist an argument made in song after all? Certainly not Ariel, who puts pen to paper….
Ariel finds herself ashore with legs. And a lack of clothes. So, her mission to lure a young prince is off to an auspicious start. It should be noted that throughout all this, and the rest of the film for that matter, Sebastian, Flounder and Scuttle are never far away, because Disney must have cute animals nearby at all times. They are helpful though, for example in this case, they make a rudimentary dress to cover Ariel’s lady garden. Obviously, out of all the people in the world, Eric is the human who finds Ariel first. Erics mind is still on finding the girl with the sexy voice, but he clearly fancies Ariel even though she can’t talk. He brings her back to the castle. No, not like that. I think he’s concerned for her health and that she has lost her voice from the shock of being out at sea.
There’s a lovely moment at dinner time where she takes the fork, believing it to be a dinglehopper, and starts combing her hair with it. Whilst this is happening, Sebastian almost gets boiled alive by a psychotic French chef. How do I know he’s French? Because he is very, very French. You have to hand it to Disney; they go ALL IN on their national stereotyping. He also sings a fun little ditty about the joys of slaughtering sea creatures. Sing along kids.
Meanwhile, Triton realises that he has royally fucked everything up. He sends out search parties who can’t find Ariel anywhere.
The next day, Ariel and Eric do lots of fun stuff together. They’re clearly getting closer, despite Ariels inability to talk. That evening, they are on a small rowing boat when Sebastian senses the opportunity to create a romantic setting by singing a song. It’s rather familiar. That’s probably because ‘Kiss the Girl’ is Kerry’s favourite Disney song of all time and therefore I’ve heard her singing it quite a few times, to say the least. At this point, I need to talk about the songs in this film generally. While a lot of them aren’t exactly my cup of tea, I’m really impressed by how well they’re written, the lyrics, the vocal performances and how great the choreographing is that accompanies them. I understand that this film introduces a new song writing team (Howard Ashman and Alan Menken) and the difference cannot be overstated. For me, this is the biggest game changer that separates ‘The Little Mermaid’ with all that has come before.
The song appears to do the trick and they’re about to kiss. Unfortunately, Ursula is concerned about how well Ariel is doing and decides to tip the scales somewhat. Or at least gets Flotsam and Jetsam to tip the boat. The moment has been successfully (and literally) dampened.
I’ve mentioned in the past about how Disney seems to get carried away with endless scenes of frolicking animals, only to suddenly realise that they have most of the story to tell with about eight minutes runtime remaining. Snow White still remains the ultimate example of this. With a little over ten minutes to go, ‘The Little Mermaid’ does a fine job continuing this tradition… This is how the rest of the film feels:
Ursula entrances Eric and, for good measure, turns herself into a hottie and gives herself Ariel’s voice that’s contained in the necklace she’s wearing so he will marry her instead. Then they are suddenly about to get married on his ship until Scuttle and his bird friends attack Ursula, causing the necklace to break, meaning Ariel gets her voice back so she can tell Eric that that voice belongs to her, but before they kiss the spell breaks and Ariel becomes a mermaid and Ursula snatches her and takes her underwater causing Triton to give himself up to save his daughter which gets him turned into one of those…
…Ok pause, just what are those things?! I’m going to need to consult the Disney fandom site here, as these things are just plain odd. Ok, apparently they are called Polyp’s. That is absolutely no help at all. They appear to hold people’s souls. But my god are they weird looking…
…Anyway, Ursula gets Triton’s magic trident (try saying that three times fast) but when attacked by Ariel, Eric and their animal buddies, she accidently blows Flotsam and Jetsam into smithereens before becoming a giant, who ends up being killed by Eric, causing all the merfolk, including Triton, to turn back from those weird polyp things into merfolk again, leading to a scene where Triton sees how sad Ariel is and decides the kindest thing to do is fulfilling Ariels dream of becoming human, which results in her and Eric getting married. Roll credits.
So that was quite an action packed final ten minutes… While for me it did feel slightly rushed, it was lovely having a Disney film that I didn’t once find myself clock watching at any point, so I’ll take this ending instead every time. And to be honest, a rushed ending is a very minor quibble in a film where there were very few criticisms to be found. I mentioned earlier about how I was sensing an upward trend and was expecting this film to be a step up. I have to say I was surprised at just what a giant leap forward this film was. Everything about it from the story, to the characters, to the humour and the songs were consistently on point. It’s the first film that didn’t feel in some way dated, and it’s also the first film where I feel Disney truly conveyed that a sense of fun for the viewer was more important than the stroking of their own artistic egos. I would absolutely recommend ‘The Little Mermaid’ as must watch for non-Disney fans. Ultimately, this did feel like the film that completed the transition to a more modern style of presentation and possibly for the first time, I look forward to what’s coming next (I’ve just remembered the next film is another ‘Rescuers’ film, so scrub that previous comment…).
The most important thing for me however, is that when my wife says in a few years’ time “would you like to watch The Little Mermaid?”, I can look her in the eyes and honestly say “yeah, I’d like that!”.
Yes! He loved it! It’s almost made the months and months of him moaning about my beloved Disney, worth it. Of course it’s worth it. I had a hunch he would change his tune after seeing this one. In case I haven’t mentioned it, IT’S MY FAVOURITE FILM OF ALL TIME! I’m not sure I’d be such a good singer if I hadn’t sang ‘Part Of Your World’ over and over, from age of seven onwards.
A few things I would like to add, in response to Ben’s review.
- “When Will My Life Begin” from Tangled would’ve made aa perfect addition to the beginning of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
- When we worked together in an office, one of my best friends and I would sing ‘Les Poissons’ from start to finish, in the office. We are a delight.
- I wish that ‘The Rescuers Down Under’ had never been made because, A) The first film was shit, so why make a sequel, and B) Our next film would be Beauty And The Beast, which is amazing! See you on the other side, brother
In relation to The Little Mermaid, needless to say…