Lowdown: A princess mermaid falls in love with a human prince she’s forbidden to contact.
Given the amount of films that I watch it may sound surprising that I never watched 1989’s The Little Mermaid Disney animation film till now. In retrospect, now that I did watch it I’m thinking that perhaps I should have kept that status quo for the rest of my life; in my defense I will say we were watching the film for the benefit of the house’s three year old.
The story tells of a princess mermaid living under the sea, Ariel. Unlike the rest of her social group our Ariel is curious about the world she’s living in; she likes exploring it, even if that often gets her into trouble with her father, King Triton. One day she saves a human prince from drowning and falls in love with him, but she can only get him if she becomes human, and in order to become human she needs the favors of the evil witch Ursula…
I found The Little Mermaid to be a surprisingly troubled film. Let’s clear the main criticism aside – the fact that all the good people have to be royalty for the story to work – and deal with the film as a work of cinematic art. As such, it is surprisingly disjointed: the first act is spent on introductions, the second just goes by without any noticeable events, and the third – where everything happens – just passes by so quickly (including the chief crisis which is resolved ever so fast and surprisingly easily) the whole 80 minute affair seems totally redundant. To be frank, it’s also pretty boring, especially when there is nothing special about the film’s numerous musical bursts into singing mode.
The film is farther hampered by the lack of a spark to light it up. Aladdin, made only a few years after Little Mermaid, oozes with spark. Most of that spark comes from Robin Williams; compared to him, Little Mermaid feels, well, very little. It's desperately crying out for a talent of Williams' like.
The comparison to Aladdin is not coincidental at all. There are so many similarities between the two that Little Mermaid feels like a one big dress rehearsal to the main event that followed: the music sounds similar (but not as good), the characters look similar (the Mermaid’s prince is virtually identical to Aladdin, expressions and all), the voices styling is similar, and so is the animation. The conclusion is therefore inevitable: do yourself a favour and watch Aladdin once again before you sit to watch this one.
Best scene: A French cook goes crazy as he tries to cook our Mermaid’s favorite crab. Slapstick is this otherwise boring film’s only refuge.
Technical assessment: This is a surprisingly inferior DVD by any measure, not to mention by the Disney one that tends to otherwise set the upper edges of the benchmark. The picture looks severely dated and the sound is very unspectacular.
Overall: Well, there’s a film that did not survive the test of time. 2 out of 5 stars.