Musings on my childhood favorite – Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989)

Happy weekend!! Hope you’re all doing well. It’s  I’ve been quite preoccupied with a bunch of stuff this week I barely have time to write anything for the blog.

But hey, I finally did get approved by Rotten Tomatoes! Yes I know I know, I could’ve done that years ago but I guess I just never took the time, but hey, better late than never. To clarify, this blog FlixChatter is NOT a Tomatometer-approved site, but I, Ruth Maramis, am an RT approved critic 🍅So check out some of reviews I’ve submitted, A Star Is Born, Alita: Battle Angel, Cold War, etc. Oh and my first ROTTEN review: A Christmas Prince, ha!

Now, about the main topic at hand…

I actually pre-ordered the Anniversary Edition blu-ray in early February, and finally picked it up a day after it’s official release on Feb 26.

The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite Disney Princess movies. When it was first released in 1989, I was in my early teen. If I were to rank my fave Disney princesses, I’d say Ariel would be in my top three (along with Sleeping Beauty‘s Aurora and Beauty & The Beast‘s Belle).

It’s been decades since I saw the movie in its entirety, and to see it in its gloriously stunning, sharp HD is such a treat! The story features a precocious, fanciful teenage mermaid who dreams of being part of the human world. I can see how this resonated with me as an Indonesian teen growing up in Jakarta, as I too was dreaming of moving away from home and going to the ‘land of dreams’ that is America! Now that I’ve been living in the US for over 20 years, more than I lived in my homeland, I can still identify with Ariel.

We can all identify with kids rebelling against strict parental rules that forbids them from doing what they want. When her dad, King Triton, finds out her vast collection of human memorabilia… and worse, that his favorite daughter has fallen in love with a human, he destroyed her room (a sacred place for any teenager!). A perfect moment for the evil sea witch Ursula to snatch her into her trap. The ‘poor unfortunate souls’ are all of us who’ve succumbed to temptation throughout our lives, some of which comes with dire consequences.

Now, the part about her giving up everything she is, even her own identity, for a guy she doesn’t even know… well, that’s where the Disney princesses narrative has become oh-so-passé, even long before the #MeToo era. Basically Ariel made a deal with the devil, trading in her voice, identity and more for a pair of feet in order to get her man. That’s why I got such a kick out of Ralph Breaks The Internet‘s hilarious-but-accurate commentary on Disney princesses!

Perhaps if you compare to Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, The Little Mermaid is just slightly more ‘progressive’ in that we get to see the prince–AND princess–actually get to know each other (albeit sans dialog as she’s been rendered mute). I suppose three days is better in getting to know someone than three hours (or even less in the case of Snow White!). I also think Eric is perhaps the hunkiest of the Disney princes, voiced with masculine vigor by Christopher Daniel Barnes.

This movie also boasts a memorable and rather fun villain in Ursula (voiced perfectly by Pat Carroll). I was a bit scared of her initially, ok maybe scared is a strong word, her dark underworld and witchery is rather eerie and unsettling. But watching it now, I’m hugely amused by her sassy attitude and her gravely voice. Her voluptuous octopus lower body and bold red lips and stylized white hair is like a blend between Cruella de Vil and Devil Wears Prada‘s Miranda Priestly.

Apparently Disney originally wanted to tell the original Hans Christian Andersen tale that’s got a much darker ending. But I doubt that would sit well with kids, though the altruistic nature of the protagonist in the book would appeal more to adults. In this version, the obvious problematic issue with Ariel is that despite all the privileges she has (and there are many), she can never be truly happy unless she gives up her identity and becomes another being entirely. I guess with Disney movies, one must not overthink it which would lessen the enjoyment.

I wasn’t one of those girls who’d collect every Disney memorabilia I could get my hands on, but I remember buying a Sebastian stuffed toy and kept it for a long time! Seeing this decades later, I still adore Sebastian the Crab who’s got the arduous task of being Ariel chaperon. He’s still one of my all time favorite Disney characters, and for a diminutive crustacean, Sebastian’s actually got a pretty strong character arc. I LOVE the way he’s drawn… the way his jaw drops whenever Ariel did something unthinkable, how his legs quiver when he’s confronted by King Triton… he’s SO much more than a comic relief, and thanks to Samuel E. Wright, he’s certainly one of the best-voiced character in the vast Disney universe!

Speaking of voices, Broadway star Jodi Benson‘s voice as Ariel is absolutely perfect. As I’m watching the behind the scene feature, Alan Menken & the Leading Ladies, it’s amazing how Benson still sounds exactly like Ariel 30 years later! I suppose most of the leading ladies featured there still sound like their characters, but Benson seems to have the right personality as well.

Surely the music is often the highlights of the Disney Princess movies, thanks to the genius of Alan Menken and his lyricist partner, the late Howard Ashman. I usually love the ballads that the princesses’ sing, but in The Little Mermaid, the highlight has got to be Under the Sea!

No wonder the movie won two Oscars for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. The movie is a rare double nominee in the music category as the whimsical song Kiss the Girl was also nominated!

Per IMDb Trivia, this was ‘the last Disney animated feature to use hand-painted cels and analog camera and film work. 1,000 different colors were used on 1,100 backgrounds. Over one million drawings were done in total.’ That’s truly astounding and it looks absolutely breathtaking. I LOVE the underwater world of the kingdom of Atlantica, I’d say it’s way more beautiful to look at than the recent underwater universe of Aquaman.

I have just started watching the Bonus Features, and the one I enjoyed the most is the Art of Live Action Reference where models would act out the characters in order to help the artists draw them better. It’s amazing how much the two actors who play Ariel and Eric resemble their animated characters! They also get to improvise the mannerism that we get to see in the final movie.

I love just how expressive Ariel is, her wide-eyed wonder and long, flowing red mane is iconic. Animation effects have come a looong way since then, but I think The Little Mermaid still holds up pretty well. Naturally Disney has done a great job remastering their old classics to ensure the colors look vibrant and the details are sharp, but overall the animation style itself is still a marvel to look at.

So yeah, I still very much enjoy The Little Mermaid, despite some of its narrative problems I mentioned above. It’s certainly a gorgeous movie and rewatching it was a pretty satisfying walk down memory lane.


Have you seen The Little Mermaid or seen it recently? What did YOU think?

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6 thoughts on “Musings on my childhood favorite – Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989)

  1. Congrats on being approved as critic on RottenTomatoes!

    It’s been a long time since I saw The Little Mermaid, I think I saw it back in I was in 6th grade. I think our choir teacher had a movie day and showed this movie to the whole class, I don’t remember much about it except the Under the Sea song. Lol.

    1. Thanks Ted!

      Wow that’s so cool you saw this in class! Yeah, that Under the Sea song is SO catchy, now it’s stuck in my head again, ha!

  2. That’s a film I used to have on VHS as it was a popular release for myself and my sisters when we were kids though years later, I began to notice the look of the castle under the sea and how close it looked like to a certain anatomy. That was fucked up.

    1. I think I have it on VHS too Steven. Mwahahaha, wow I didn’t even realize that but now that you mentioned it I know what you mean 😀

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