Friday, November 17, 1989
The Little Mermaid is, essentially, an experiment.
With its release in 1989, it kickstarted the "Disney Renaissance," being the first in a series of animated films with extremely high production values. Music, animation, and writing are all at their highest in these films, but to separate those three qualities would be a mistake, as they're expertly blended into a single experience that has no equal.
The Little Mermaid, being the first in this new line of films, is not necessarily up to the same animation standards as the Disney films that would immediately follow. A new animation coloring technology known as CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) was experimentally used on a few scenes of the film, but the majority of TLM was completed with traditional hand-drawn coloring, causing the picture to seem somewhat grainy in comparison to the later films that were completed entirely using CAPS. While this cannot be held against TLM, it still would have been nice to have the entire film in CAPS, as even the most recent DVD release does not make the picture any clearer.
However, the sheer level of detail in the hand-drawn animation is astounding. It was estimated that over a million bubbles were drawn for the film, without exaggeration. Every character moves through the water realistically, which is a very impressive feat. It's quite obvious that the animators studied the movement of human bodies underwater (especially hair) for this film, and their effort should be applauded.
The music of the film is quite literally astounding. The score echoes the underwater theme very well, and sounds just different enough to differentiate it from other European-based fantasy stories.
The actual songs themselves generally annoy me on many levels, though the main theme, "Part of Your World" is refreshingly less embarrassing, if perhaps still too quirky and girly for my taste. However, I can still acknowledge the songs' high quality, even if I personally don't enjoy them much.
The story is simple, yet contains many odd elements that are actually quite jarring. First of all, perhaps more from a visual perspective rather than story, is the fact that Ariel is a sixteen-year-old girl wearing very little clothing throughout most of the film, and is quite literally prancing about naked in one scene. While this is logical considering the plot, it's also quite unsettling considering the character's age. Were she either a bit younger or a bit older, she could have been too innocent or too mature for it to matter, but that in-between stage is highly problematic. While I'm completely willing to overlook the lack of clothing for plot's sake, I'm not entirely sure that the film's "camera angles" were done in completely good taste. Many have made the argument that The Little Mermaid is oversensualized, and, sadly, I'm not entirely sure I disagree with them.
Second of all, the story involves a teenager that essentially is rewarded for being rebellious. The message of the film is that of "following one's dreams," but in this case the protagonist chases her dreams by defying her father's wishes and engaging in witchcraft. While the negative consequences of her actions become apparent toward the end of the story, it seems rather odd.
The characters aren't extremely deep, but not completely shallow either.
Ariel herself is seemingly very shallow at first, falling literally for the first young male she sees. Furthermore, she seemingly devotes her entire life to him, rejecting everything she has for a man she doesn't even know. Luckily, he turned out to be a good guy.
Prince Eric seems to be a bit more mature than Ariel. Rather than simply falling for the first girl he sees, he very specifically waits for the moment when he meets the right one. It seems as though he has something specific that he's seeking after, rather than following a simple whim. His actions in the final battle of the film are actually quite remarkable. He is quite determined and dedicated, fighting with all his ability to protect his beloved. While it does seem odd that he would be in love with her so quickly, it does make sense to an extent, since he had essentially dreamed of her for his entire life, and was therefore in love with her before he actually met her.
As an aside note, Eric's maneuver with the sunken ship and the whirlpool is quite possibly the best action move I've ever seen in an animated film. I vividly remember being four years old and thinking how ironic it was that Ursula had become the ultimate supernatural power of the sea, yet, through misuse of that power, allowed Eric to steer the sunken ship and use sheer physical force to overcome all the magical power in the oceans. Effectively, her dark actions came full circle in the whirlpool, bringing about her own death.
Of course, I was only four, and didn't even know what the word "ironic" meant. I guess it should have been obvious at that point that I'd be a literary analyst and writer.
All in all, The Little Mermaid is not without its flaws, but is ultimately a great spectacle that shouldn't go unnoticed.
Rather than give TLM a star-rating here, I'll wait until the rest of the Disney reviews are done, and compare them all together in a separate post.