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    THE LITTLE MERMAID
Platinum Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Kenneth Mars, Buddy Hackett
Directors:  Ron Clements, John Musker
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 Enhanced Home Theatre Mix
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  83 Minutes
Release Date:  October 3, 2006

"I don't know when, I don't know how,
But I know something's starting right now,
Watch and you'll see...someday I'll be...
PART OF YOUR WORLD."

Film ****

In my opinion, The Little Mermaid is the second most important animated feature to come from the Disney studios (the first being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, naturally).  When considered from historical perspective, as much as the one film brought the art of animation to splendid life, so did the other film revive the art form, at a time when the world was most ready for it.

Walt Disney was an impeccable force in his studio's creative process.  His constant striving for perfection was legendary, particularly amongst those animators who found themselves begrudgingly heading back to the drawing board time and time again to satisfy his demands.  But no matter how painstaking the process, none could argue with the final results as they appeared on screen.  The history of animation and the history of Disney are almost, in fact, one and the same.

After his death, his team of artists tried to preserve his legacy, but one need only look at the films that came out during the near-twenty year period afterward.  Not that the films were bad per se, but for a long period of time, it seemed that special magic was just gone.  Films like Robin Hood, The Sword and the Stone, The Great Mouse Detective, and The Fox and the Hound didn't even come close to the beauty, wonder and splendor of Disney's golden years and features like Bambi, Cinderella, Pinocchio or Sleeping Beauty.  Gone from most of these later films are the true emotion, the almost whimsical sense of make-believe, and the painstakingly created worlds of the earlier movies. 

New processes like Xeroxing and layering were speeding up the animation process, but were also being used without regard as to the flatness of the images they were creating.  To simplify these processes, edges and lines became harder, so that none of the newer characters had that classic Disney softness to them.  The kittens in The Aristocats are so hard looking, it appears as though it would hurt to pet them.

Gone also were the terrific, memorable songs.  This latter period for Disney was the period in which I grew up, but I still always sang the old tunes:  “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”, “Whistle While You Work”, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, and so on.  Sure, the later films had their tunes, but come on—how many can hum a few bars from “The Marvelous Mad Madam Mim” from Sword in the Stone, or “Elimination” from The Fox and the Hound.  Who can remember even one line from “Ratagan” from The Great Mouse Detective?

Sadly, there comes a time in the life of any great artist, or studio, where it has to be said that their best work is behind, rather than ahead of them, and Disney seemed squarely settled in that category.  That is, until a little picture came along called The Little Mermaid.

After much urging from friends and critics, I went to see the film.  It was a revelation.  All of the magic Disney ever had was back, and more.  This was a picture with style, imagination, great attention to detail, wonderful characters, and a sense of renewed love and enthusiasm for the art form of animation.  Sequence after sequence made me laugh, smile, and gape in wonder.  It was one of the best movie going experiences of my life.  I was so enthralled that I would go back to the theatre eight more times to experience it again and again!

Little touches were not passed over…they were celebrated.  For example, in the finale of the “Part of Your World” reprise, the animation simulates a long camera pull-back, as Ariel's hair blows in the wind while she sings.  In more recent years, her hair might have been a singularly red wavy shape.  Here, every strand seems separate, dancing as it will in the wind…in other words, it looked like real hair.  It added to the beauty of the scene, and the splendor of the song she sang.

Oh, and those songs!  In one fell swoop, and with the talents of two incredible writers, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, Disney returned to full musical glory.  Songs like “Part of Your World”, “Kiss The Girl” and “Under the Sea” would all be nominated for Oscars, the latter winning, as would Menken's beautiful score. 

These touches all complimented a terrific story, in which the title character, Ariel, risked everything for the chance to become human and be with the prince she loves.  In addition to these appealing characters, there's also one of Disney's best femme fatales in Ursula, the sea witch.  And of course, Sebastian the crab may be the most likeable and memorable sidekick since Jiminy Cricket.

All the ingredients were in place.  This film was magnificent storytelling with a wonderful visual flair, accompanied by terrifically rendered musical numbers, comedy, drama, and fun.  When it was all over, I stood and applauded with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face.  I knew with great certainty that Walt Disney, wherever he might be, was pleased.

Video ***

This new anamorphic transfer is an improvement over the initial DVD, but still a little lacking.  Though the bleeding has gone, there's still an overall muted sense to the coloring.  It just doesn't seem as bright as it once did.  Definition is clearer and the overall print is nice, just not quite up to usual Disney standards.

Audio ***

The Enhanced Home Theatre 5.1 mix is nice...more dynamic range and crossover signals than before.  The music sounds especially good, and the effects come across nicely, but occasionally passages with only spoken words seem a tad thin.

Features ****

Where to begin....Disc One has a commentary track from co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker with multiple Oscar winning composer Alan Menken.  There is also a feature to go directly to your favorite song, with optional lyrics on the screen.  You can peruse a musical look at The Little Mermaid III (a lively Belafonte number), or watch a new music video for "Kiss the Girl" by Ashley Tisdale.

Disc Two features "Backstage Disney" and all you need to know about the film.  A new retrospective featurette chronicles the film that brought about the renaissance.  There's a look at the special effects unit, an exclusive short "The Little Match Girl", an original production reel and trailer.

You can also peruse 7 deleted scenes including an audio-only musical number, or look at the DisneyPedia to learn about real life under the sea.  There's also a rather cool extra: a virtual reality look at a theme park ride for The Little Mermaid.  You can watch it while listening to the Disney Imagineers or learn about the development of the ride that unfortunately never came to be.

Rounding out are some very cool animated menus.

Summary:

The Little Mermaid was the perfect film to bring about a much needed revival in Disney animation, and the attention to detail, sense of freedom and wonder, and obvious enthusiastic spirit by the animation team, composers, voice artists, and more, have made this movie more than just a great cartoon.  It is cinematic magic at its very best and most imaginative.  It created terrific, memorable characters, and gave them a sumptuous, wonderful world to exist in, and it's a magical place that you'll want to make part of your world time and time again.

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