12/10/2008

DVD Review: The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea -- Special Edition (2000)



Swimming Onto DVD Shelves as a
Walt Disney Special Edition
12/16/08



Ariel's Other Adventures






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Like mer-mother like daughter. In the 1989 modern Disney classic The Little Mermaid, Ariel longed to be-- sing it with me now-- "up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun."



And sure enough-- this being from the studio where dreams come true-- her wish was granted and as we're reunited with the now land-based Ariel (still voiced by the wondrous Jodi Benson) in the sequel, it's time for her daughter Melody to long for something of her own.

While I was for land, Mermaid II is for sea. Kept in the dark about her genetic origin for fear that Morgana-- the sister of I's slain villainous Ursula-- will exact murderous revenge on Ariel's beloved family, Melody grows up mysteriously drawn to the crystal blue shores just outside her palace wall.

Reprising his role as the unlikely teenage-sitter, Sebastian returns and dutifully keeps Melody's past a secret even when she sadly laments that she feels more at ease conversing with sea creatures than she does with her own mother. Continually venturing on past the walls of the palace-- the feisty and determined twelve year old Melody swims away from home and it's only a matter of time before she floats directly into Morgana's clutches.

Soon the guilt-stricken Ariel returns in full mermaid form and leads a sea-based search while her impossibly boring husband Prince Eric (basically drawn in to stand there and look pretty with perfect hair and a perpetually open shirt revealing a shiny chest) vows to search on land. Meanwhile Melody meets some feisty new fin-based sidekicks of her own. While they definitely help supply humor to an increasingly lifeless script, ultimately the film which started out very strong, descends into feeling like little more than a Disney Xerox.

More specifically, it echoes the original so much-- along with numerous other Disney tales that move throughout the hero's journey... or in this case heroine's-- that it's hard to feel that invested in the stale plot which is blurry, shapeless, and nowhere near as compelling as the first. And while it's especially disappointing to see our beloved Ariel evolve into an ineffective and extraordinarily dull parent who wouldn't be that out of place on any network television series, the one benefit is that Eric is so one-dimensional and uninspiring that it may work as a nice antidote to girls raised on Disney Princess tales to realize that no matter how pretty they are-- it's probably best to ensure that your dream prince can actually carry on a conversation.

While of course it's worth a look for those like myself who still can recite every lyric and line of the first one-- which still remains one of Disney's most beautifully touching offerings and proved to be an effective stepping stone to their masterpiece, Beauty and the Beast-- basically this Return to the Sea is so shallow that you'll float back to land in no time, despite a wickedly genius turn by Pat Carroll who voices Morgana as a cross between Mermaid's Ursula, Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent, and 101 Dalmatians' Cruella De Vil. Although she isn't quite as terrifying as her predecessor and man, would her character loathe that remark as she still seems to be struggling to get out of Ursula's shadow more than a dozen years after her death, Mermaid II is still a bit too intense for young viewers and would probably best fit the age demographic befitting its main character of roughly nine to thirteen.

The film which releases as a Special Edition DVD on Tuesday, December 16 is packed with extraordinarily fun, colorful games and bonus features including the deleted music video for "Gonna Get My Wish" and Benson narrating a DVD storybook of Mermaid II which help balance out otherwise weak seventy-five minute film. And while unfortunately the film couldn't help but drown, luckily it will ultimately lead those in my generation to reach back on their dusty shelves of Disney classics from childhood to bring out the original to share with the next generation so that they can too-- join the refrain-- "be part of [Ariel's] world."