Directed By: Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring: Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, Rene Auberjonois
Tag line: "Somewhere under the sea and beyond your imagination is an adventure in fantasy"
Trivia: "Part of Your World" was nearly cut; Jeffrey Katzenberg felt that the song was "boring", as well as being too far over the heads of the children for whom it was intended
After languishing through much of the ‘80s, Disney Animation rebounded in a big way with 1989’s The Little Mermaid, a movie that ushered in a new period of creativity for the studio, an era commonly referred to as the “Disney Renaissance”.
As any mermaid will tell you, life under the sea can be pretty great. Unless, of course, that mermaid happens to be Ariel (voice by Jodi Benson). The daughter of King Triton (Kenneth Mars), Ariel is tired of swimming, and longs to experience life on dry land. Against the direct orders of her father, and ignoring the pleas of the king’s crustacean advisor, Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright), Ariel and her good friend Flounder (Jason Marin) swim to the surface, where Ariel catches a glimpse of the handsome Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes), a mortal with whom she falls instantly in love. Ariel ends up saving the Prince when his ship is caught in a storm, but despite her good deed, her father the King forbids her from ever visiting the human world again. For help, Ariel turns to Ursula the Sea Witch (Pat Carroll), who promises to transform the young mermaid into a human for three days if Ariel, in turn, surrenders her voice, meaning she’ll be with Eric, but unable to speak to him. Per her agreement with Ursula, Ariel must receive “true love’s kiss” from Eric during her three days as a mortal. If she fails to do so, she’ll return to the sea, where she will immediately become Ursula’s slave!
Based on the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Mermaid is a gorgeously animated motion picture, bringing its underwater world to life in brilliant detail. What I love about the movie, though, are the musical numbers composed by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, two Broadway veterans brought in specifically to work on this film. The songs they contributed are positively unforgettable. The wild and exuberant “Under the Sea”, in which Sebastian tries to convince Ariel that life at the bottom of the ocean is much better than anything above, won the Academy Award for Best Song, and, in my mind, is second only to “Part of Your World”, where Ariel, surrounded by the various “dry land” trinkets she’s collected over the years (everything from combs to corkscrews), expresses her desire to be “where the people are”. With a handful of other fine tunes, including “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Kiss the Girl”, The Little Mermaid features what I consider to be the finest collection of songs ever created for a Disney animated film.
Disney would keep the “renaissance” going through much of the ‘90s, turning out classic pictures like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Not since the reign of Walt Disney himself had the “House of Mouse” experienced such a level of success (aside from the impressive box-office returns, the majority of these movies were also critically acclaimed; Beauty and the Beast was the first Disney animated film to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy).
And they had The Little Mermaid to thank for it!