The Little Mermaid (1989) Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review: Another Disney Dip Under the Sea

The Little Mermaid is a wonderful animated film on par with many of the Disney classics of the past, and the Blu-ray offers a top-notch high-def experience.
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Based on Hans Christian Andersen's story, The Little Mermaid began a period in the studio's history known as the Disney Renaissance, which saw a resurgence of critical and commercial success that lasted a decade. The tale appealed to Walt also and it almost appeared in an anthology of Andersen stories, although that film never got passed the development stage. Tying into the its 30th anniversary, The Little Mermaid is being re-released as part of Walt Disney's Signature Collection, reusing the same HD transfer from the Diamond Edition and bringing over bonus material from past editions.

Sixteen-year-old Princess Ariel (Jodi Benson), daughter of King Triton (Kenneth Mars), is fascinated by things from the human world and sings about wanting to “ be where the people are,” even though her father has forbidden contact with them. She becomes enamored with Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) whose people are hoping he finds someone to marry. When he is thrown off his ship during a storm, Ariel saves him. While he only catches a glimpse of Ariel, Eric vows to find her.

After King Triton destroys her collection of human artifacts, the sea witch Ursula (Pat Carroll) makes her a deal: a potion will turn into a human for three days. In that time, she needs Eric to fall in love with her, proved by a kiss of true love, which will make her human permanently. If not, she turns back into a mermaid and belongs to Ursula. The catch: Ariel has to give up her voice. Even without being able to speak, Erik starts to fall for her. Naturally, villains don't play fair and Ursula poses as a beautiful woman, using Ariel's voice, and tricks Erik into marrying her. Ariel and her animal friends spring into action, which is not as easy as it seems when going up against someone with magic powers.

While the heroes have simple, straightforward motivations expected between young lovers, the story is made more interesting thanks to Ursula whose goal is much more complex than first suggested. Carroll does a marvelous job bringing the character to life with her vocal performance, creating a memorable addition to Disney's rogues' gallery that has led to appearance in other projects. Her defeat during the climax might be too violent for small children.

Little Mermaid has a good collection of songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman that help move the story along. The latter had been working for Disney on Oliver & Company and brought in Menken, having previously worked together on Little Shop of Horrors. The Mermaid soundtrack won Oscars for Best Score and Best Song (“Under the Sea) and two Grammys. They worked together on Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Ashman died before Aladdin's release, and Menken continues to work for the studio.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer and displayed at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image delivers a rainbow of vivid hues, inky blacks, and bright whites. Contrast is strong. Animation techniques are used to create depth in shots and objects appear in focus unless effects creating the appearance of being underwater are used. The picture is clean, free of dirt and defect.

The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Dialogue is clear, and the music fills the surrounds. Sounds move across channels, such as when a shark chases Ariel and Flounder in a sunken ship, and front to back, as when Scuttle the seagull is blown away. The subwoofer delivers satisfactory bass supporting the music and effects. The track has a wide dynamic range

The new bonus features on the disc are:

  • Alan Menken and the Leading Ladies (HD, 16 min) - Alan Menken and Jodi Benson and other Disney actresses, Paige O’Hara (Belle - Beauty and the Beast), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas), Lilliias White (Calliope the Muse - Hercules), and Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel - Rapunzel), meet in New York for a discussion of their roles. Fun to see them singing.

  • “What I Want From You Is… Your Voice” (HD/SD, 6 min) - VHS footage of the actors performing.

  • Stories from Walt’s Office: Gadgets & Gizmos (6 min) - A look at pieces from Walt’s collection of miniatures.

  • #Treasuresuntold (6 min) - In a bit of corporate synergy that will presumably appeal to kids who know them, Ruby Rose Turner and Olivia Sanabi from Disney Channel’s Coop & Cami Ask the World present trivia about The Little Mermaid.

  • DCapella “Part of Your World” Music Video (3 min)

The classic bonus features on the disc are:

  • Deleted Character: Harold the Merman (2 min) - Co-writers/co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements present a storyboard sequence with Harold, who got on the wrong side of Ursula.

  • Under the Scene: The Art of Live-Action Reference (13 min) - Musker and Clements discuss creating live-action reference films to assist the animators. Kathryn Beaumont (voice of and live-action reference for Alice), Sherri Lynn Stoner (live-action reference for Ariel), and Joshua Finkel (live-action reference for Eric) offer their thoughts.

  • Howard’s Lecture (16 min) - Video of Howard Ashman talking to Disney animators interrupted by commentary from Clements, Musker, and Jodi Benson.

  • Audio Commentary - Clements, Musker, and Alan Menken sit together for a thorough talk about the making of the film, each getting their own front channel. They include trivia, Howard Ashman appears from archival interviews, and have fun pointing out mistakes, like a thimble disappearing and re-appearing on Sebastian's foot.

  • Classic Bonus Preview (1 min) - This preview shows the bonus features available online.

The online extras are:

  • New: “Part of Your World”: A Look Back with Jodi Benson and Alan Menken

  • Visual Development Galleries covering Backgrounds, Visual Development, and Character Model Sheets.

  • Music Videos

  • Storm Warning: The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit

  • The Little Mermaid: The Story Behind the Story

  • “Under the Sea” Early Presentation Reel

  • Treasures Untold: The Making of The Little Mermaid

  • Deleted Scenes with Introductions

  • DisneyPedia: Life Under the Sea

  • @DisneyAnimation

  • Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

  • Under the Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride Inspired by Disney Imagineers

Bonus material that appears to not be available includes Crab-E-Oke Sing Along, The Little Match Girl, John & Ron Make Caricatures of Each Other, Animators Comment on their Characters, and The Little Mermaid Handshake.

The Little Mermaid is a wonderful animated film on par with many of the Disney classics of the past. The Blu-ray offers a top-notch high-def experience. Considering it is the same as the previous Blu-ray, the new extras aren't worth a double-dip. With that said, I definitely recommend this for fans of Disney and animated if it's not already in one's library.

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