Plot: Ariel is a mermaid, a teenage mermaid no less, with dreams of what awaits outside of her undersea realm. Although she has a wonderful life, given that she is the daughter of King Triton, Ariel is consumed with fantasies of life above the surface. She collects various items that have floated to the ocean floor and ponders the surface life with her friends, but that just isn’t enough. In a violent storm, she happens upon a human, Prince Eric, who she rescues and in the process, falls in love with. But of course, she can’t pursue the romance, since they live in different worlds. She is so desperate to be with Eric that she visits the evil Ursula, who offers to turn her human in exchange for Ariel’s voice. But if Ariel can’t make Eric fall in love within three days, she will be imprisoned in Ursula’s hold forever. Even with the help of her friends Flounder and Sebastian, can Ariel somehow make Eric fall in love or she doomed to be Ursula’s prisoner?
Entertainment Value: The Little Mermaid was a bold risk for Disney, as the studio was desperate for a hit and had poured a lot of resources into the production, so another failure would have been disastrous. Of course, The Little Mermaid would not only be a massive success, rack up impressive box office and awards, and launch Ariel as a pop culture icon, but it would signal the start of a Disney renaissance, leading to a string of absolute blockbusters. The movie remains a vibrant, fun experience and while it has aged a little, that is to be expected and overall, I think The Little Mermaid will hold up for many more generations to discover. The narrative is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale, though the darker elements have been weeded out, as you’d expect from Disney’s sensibilities. The pace is on point, the musical numbers are a cut above, and the movie is populated with colorful, memorable characters, led by Ariel, Ursula, and of course, Sebastian. The movie has humor and romance, as well as a good amount of heart and the emotional beats are well earned. This is pure Disney magic and beyond being the film that helped kickstart a new era for the studio, The Little Mermaid is a fun and bright cinematic experience.
The animation holds up well, the result of a painstaking and detail oriented approach, down to the directors asking for each individual bubble to be hand animated, rather than just duplicated. This leads to some amazing visuals and while some parts have become a touch dated, the beauty of the animation shines through and to me, the movie feels like a living painting in most scenes. I love the underwater world and how it was brought to life here, as it comes across like an authentic, which powers the atmosphere and really enhances the entire experience. The vivid colors, beautiful animation, and lively character designs, it all combines to create a wonderful visual ride that is packed with detail. The voice cast of The Little Mermaid is led by Jodi Benson as Ariel, who is joined by Rene Auberjonois, Buddy Hackett, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Edie McClurg, and Christopher Daniel Barnes.