Let me start this one off by appropriately catching my audience up on things. This is a suitable place to do it, as 'The Little Mermaid' marks the beginning of the Disney Renaissance era. One could also refer to it as the "5th Age" or, the span of films where Disney animation really became musical. Sure, there has been plenty of music up until this point. But there's something about this era that lends itself to something like Broadway - and in some cases, quite literally. For me, watching these are reminiscent of watching a stage musical a bit more than most of the films up until this point.
Just to cover it all, my reviews have so far covered Disney animation through their Golden Age ('Snow White' to 'Bambi'; 1937-1942), Wartime Era ('Saludos Amigos' to 'The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad'; 1943-1949), Silver Age ('Cinderella' to 'Jungle Book'; 1950-1959), Bronze Age ('Arstocats' to 'Oliver & Company'; 1970-1988). And even though I saw 'Oliver' in theaters, it's interesting to note that even with a somewhat universally defined division between 'Oliver' and 'Mermaid', I have my own little nook of films I've always considered, shall we say, my personal peek of Disney viewing. It started here, when I was 7 years old, and I eventually grew out of the theater-going experience after 'The Lion King', when I was 11 going on 12, and it was all becoming a bit "childish". Of course, I'd eventually rekindle my appreciation for it as a grown-ass man, but that's besides the point.
Our main focus is the young Ariel (Jodi Benson)- youngest of King Triton's (Kenneth Mars) daughters, and ever-eager to sneak away and plunder sunken ships with her friend, Flounder (Jason Marin). She brings items she finds to a seagull named Scuttle (Buddy Hackett) who "identifies" them, and I have to admit it's pretty funny to see what he comes up with. The most famous perhaps is the "dinglehopper", or as we know it, a fork - not for eating, but for grooming. Anyway, her curiosity gets her into trouble one day when it leads her to an exploding ship, rescuing of a man named Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes), who Ariel falls gills over fins for. When her father disapproves of her interests (once he finds out), she is soon led to Ursula (Pat Carroll), the sea witch.
Most know what happens at this point, but just in case, Ariel makes a deal to substitute her voice for some legs so she can have a chance with Eric, but has to experience the whole "kiss of true love" thing before her three days are up. This all ends up being a part of a bigger plan Ursula has to knock Triton off his throne and turn him into a sort of creepy lost soul thingy to live in her garden as a sort of slave. Quite honestly, I hadn't seen this in quite a while and forgot how dark it gets in points. I suddenly remembered the garden creatures in this freaking me out a bit when I was a kid. Of course, as a kid, you also had the catchy island rhythms of Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) to keep the mood light, and I swear, 'Under the Sea' is actually still a pretty catchy tune.
I know there's a fair share of people out there who have their problems with the film, be it the story sending the wrong message of "change to get what you want", or some pretty on-the-nose French racism. But for your truly, I must confess that this was a viewing that genuinely hit me in the nostalgias. I can certainly see that the film isn't quite as awesome as I thought it was back in the day (I honestly did), but I did consider it a fun stroll down memory lane. Of course, being the sucker for nostalgia that I am, I may have been a little more into this that I care to admit. But it did take me right back to a carefree time when my biggest problem was getting a few basic math questions right for homework. I've woken up to a few things since then, but I'd still consider it a fun flick.