Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, Rene Auberjonois, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Paddi Edwards, Buddy Hackett, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars, Edie McClurg, Will Ryan, Ben Wright
Written by: Roger Allers, Howard Ashman, Ron Clements, John Musker, based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 83
Date: 11/15/1989

The Little Mermaid (1989)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Win-Fin Situation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Disney's The Little Mermaid, based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen story and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, probably doesn't look like much today. Up to then, Disney releases like The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Black Cauldron (1985), The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and Oliver & Company (1988) failed to excite many patrons or critics. The Little Mermaid ended Disney's long slump, became a blockbuster and started the company back up the ladder to power. A dynamic, Caribbean-flavored score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors) and an adorable heroine -- with a bell-clear singing voice -- helped pump some energy into the project.

The tale introduces us to Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson), the rebellious daughter of King Triton, fascinated by all things from the surface world. She makes a pact with evil Ursula (voiced by Pat Carroll), swapping her fins for legs, but losing her voice in the process, so that she can meet her dream boy. The film comes with the usual band of cute supporting characters, but none so delightful as the crab Sebastian (voiced Samuel E. Wright) who sings "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl." Legendary comic Buddy Hackett also provides some humor as Scuttle, a seagull who "translates" the surface world for Ariel.

The film even graced several year-end top ten lists, including Richard Corliss' and Gene Siskel's. (There was also a critical call for a Best Picture nomination, which did not happen.) The animation has not aged particularly well, and the once-stunning artwork now seems a bit crude in the face of today's computer-assisted stuff, but this is still a great entertainment and a welcome addition to any Disney library.

Disney's limited-edition, 2-disc DVD set comes with lots of extras including the usual games for kids, plus previews, deleted scenes and other featurettes. One interesting one tells about the abandoned Disneyland ride, and provides a very cool 3D computer representation of what the ride would have been like. Best of all is a beautiful, wordless new 7-minute animated short, The Little Matchgirl (also based on an Andersen tale) from director Roger Allers (The Lion King, Open Season). On the downside, teen pop singer Ashley Tisdale performs a homogenized version of "Kiss the Girl" in a video for her fans.

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