"I don't know when, I don't know how, but I know something's starting right now," Jodi Benson sang as Ariel in 1989 and this gorgeous line not only anchored the Little Mermaid's theme song "Part of Your World," in Walt Disney Studio's first fairy-tale in roughly thirty years but it also ushered in the Renaissance in animated filmmaking that brought about a new wave of classics from Mermaid to Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, up through The Lion King.
Expanding upon the experimental pop rock opera approach utilized in the music heavy Dickensian Disney dogs feature Oliver & Company but injecting it with much needed humanism and a strong sense of post-Baby Boomer feminism that grounded the Hans Christian Anderson source material in contemporary awareness, Disney offered young viewers a new kind of female heroine who was a far cry from the monosyllabic Sleeping Beauties of their past.
Giving teenage mermaid Ariel a clear goal long before she had met the man of her dreams, we're introduced to the seventh and youngest daughter of ruler of the Mer-People, King Triton, who, in a long line of Disney films, is doing his best to raise his children without the benefit of a mother.
An outsider who spends her days searching for lost treasure from sunken ships navigated by those above who walk on land with two legs, Ariel is quickly called to action in the film when she rescues the handsome Prince Eric from a watery grave after his ship hits rough waters. Needless to say -- and particularly to young girls watching in the theatre at the time of its release -- the fact that it's the mermaid who saves the prince and not the other way around (as is often the traditional case for Disney) was a huge step in the right direction narratively speaking.
While the introduction of Eric and Ariel's love for him solidifies her determination to be "part of" his world, it's an important distinction that she longed for life on land before Eric, making the addition of a potential mate to share her goal with just happy icing on the cake and these lessons subtly implanted in the film -- undoubtedly trying to appeal to changing times -- are much more appreciated upon repeat viewings.
Offering us easily the most terrifying female villain since Cruella de Vil, Ariel trades her voice for legs, later learning that you're never as powerful as when you (retain) and listen to your true voice, as only once does Eric see her as a full being with a voice and not a mere beautiful object does he realize how much he truly loves her.
Filled with gorgeous animation that's all the more heightened by attention to detail that makes us nearly forget we're watching drawings edited together, thanks to the animators painstaking adherence to Walt Disney's practice of using actors to bring the action to life for artistic reference, The Little Mermaid has never looked or sounded quite as stunning as it does in this digital restoration.
Giving even the amateur Disney historians among us a plethora of new material to pour over, Disney gold is best on display in "Under the Scene -- The Art of Live Action Reference," as we watch Groundlings veteran Sherri Lynn Stone enact the film, improvising some of Ariel's now most identifiable mannerisms and movements on the spot.
The first film that I specifically chose to see in the theater as a child (selecting Mermaid over the morose sounding All Dogs Go to Heaven from former Disney animator Don Bluth) when I was just eight years old, The Little Mermaid holds up amazingly well on Blu-ray. Also boasting a digital copy of the feature, the two-disc BD/DVD set offers those of us who grew up in the Disney Renaissance new treasure to explore in this long-awaited release, timed for Diamond Edition Blu-ray debut to (nearly) coincide with its twenty-fifth anniversary.
101 Dalmatians (Live-Action)
101 Dalmatians (Live-Action)
Waking Sleeping Beauty (Disney Renaissance Era Documentary)