Disney Was Sick of Swimming and Ready to Stand
Originally Released: 1989
The Little Mermaid is the first real movie theater experience I can remember as a child. I can still visualize being at the theater with my older sister and watching the musical story unfold on the screen. I think it is safe to say that as most kids grow up, that first movie theater experience earns a special place in in his or her heart. That was definitely the case for me. Because of this significant event, The Little Mermaid automatically qualifies as a cherished film in my book.
I’m fairly certain, though, that it is cherished by more people than just me. Even setting personal nostalgia aside, The Little Mermaid is a bona-fide classic and stands tall in the Disney hall of fame. The story is great, the characters are beyond memorable, and the music is simply spectacular. After watching in rapid succession the films released during Disney’s so-called “dark ages” and then following that up with The Little Mermaid, it is more clear than ever to me that this one is special.
The way The Little Mermaid came to be was something of a perfect storm, with the right people coming together at the right time. After getting kicked off the studio lot, the animators realized that they needed to really perform or they would likely lose their jobs. Peter Schneider was brought on to head the animation department, and he emphasized collaboration and open communication. Disney also brought on the talents of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to work on the songs and score for The Little Mermaid. Ashman was a Broadway guy and was instrumental in restoring musical storytelling to Disney films. He eventually became involved in the story development of The Little Mermaid as well. Many other people also had positive contributions that added to the wave of creativity.
The result of this storm of creativity is a product that meshes story, animation, and music in a wonderful manner. Each separate aspect adds to The Little Mermaid in its own way, but they combine together to form something truly great.
Consider the song “Part of Your World.” It is a lovely melody sung by the beautiful voice of Jodi Benson. But these pieces only get so far alone. Similarly, the lyrics alone are not going to inspire anybody. They talk about a girl who wants more gizmos, gadgets, and thingamabobs. The lyrics require the context of the story to make any real sense. But by putting all these elements together, the story moves forward very effectively and we also connect much better with Ariel. Before this piece, we may think of Ariel as just a rebellious teen, but after the song, we can understand her a little better and see her in a different way.
Knowing the story and hearing the music helps a lot, but now add to the scene some truly inspired and gorgeous animation by Glen Keane that portrays Ariel earnestly hungering for her desires. The end result is incredible. Again, each storytelling piece on its own is good. But as a completed whole, it is an amazing thing to see and hear (imagine my surprise when I learned that one man almost cut the whole piece from the film!). In my opinion, “Part of Your World” is a perfect showcase of the animation medium. If you want to see what animation is capable of, there aren’t many better examples than that.
Really, though, The Little Mermaid has many great moments. Ursula is a top Disney villain, Sebastian is an excellent sidekick, and the other characters are fun, too (somehow when I was young my favorite character was Flounder. I wouldn’t pick him today, but for some reason I did back then). As far as music goes, “Under the Sea” is deserving of its academy award and is another example of all elements combining to create an even stronger whole. Also, I love the score. It perfectly matches the tone of the film. And there is great animation and special animation effects littered throughout.
In short, I am a pretty big fan of The Little Mermaid. I don’t have much negative to say about it. Of course, I may be a little biased considering it was my first childhood movie experience, but surely nostalgia is not the only thing that will get someone to appreciate this film. It has enough going for it that many people would happily let it be part of their world.