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Still shot from the movie: The Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid

A young mermaid (voiced by Jodi Benson) makes a bargain with an evil Sea Witch (Pat Carroll) that will transform her tail into legs, in the hopes of netting the human prince (Christopher Daniel Barnes) she loves. But the fishy deal may reel in more trouble than she expects.

Overall Grade: B+
Violence: B
Sexual Content: B+
Language: A
Drugs/Alcohol: A-
Release Date: 17 Nov 1989
Run Time: 83
MPAA Rating: G

0

In-Depth Review

Whenever I watch Disney's The Little Mermaid, I always wonder if the story is about rebellion or prejudice. The characters seem possessed of these differing opinions too.

To King Triton (voice of Kenneth Mars), ruler of the ocean realm, the behavior of his youngest and most talented daughter appears to be a haughty disregard for his orders. As stubborn as her stereotyped redheaded locks might predict, Ariel (Jodi Benson) is obsessed by the forbidden world of humans, and is constantly sneaking up to the surface to take a peak.

To the sixteen-year-old mermaid (with the carefully positioned clamshells), the unreasonable restrictions of her royal parent simply affirm his bigotry towards an amazing civilization, which he refuses to learn anything about. Her conviction that people are not the two-legged, fish-eating barbarians he claims they are increases after the water-waif witnesses a shipwreck and rescues a drowning man (Christopher Daniel Barnes) -- the fact the victim is a handsome prince might have influenced this conclusion.

When their heated viewpoints boil over, the reprimanded teenager swims off to look for a more sympathetic ear. A slippery octopus named Ursula (Pat Carroll) is happy to listen to the poor, unfortunate princess--for her own secret reasons. Having a bit of magic up her tentacles, the bosom-bouncing enchantress offers to grant legs to the lovesick girl in order for her to win the heart of the human she fancies. Of course, this charm comes with a price tag. Not only does the nautical maiden have just three days to get the boy to "kiss the girl," but she must also give up her voice for this privilege.

Meanwhile, the fatherly monarch assigns a trusty crab named Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright), to keep a close eye on his wayward child. The staunch supporter of the sovereign arrives just in time to see the mermaid trade in her tail. Although at first horrified, the crusty crustacean soon finds his shell softening because of Ariel's doe-eyed admiration for Prince Eric. However, when he joins her efforts to satisfy the contract with the Sea Witch, they quickly discover the real cost of the bargain.

Amidst this conflict of wills, the Disney production often conjures up frightening images of jaw-snapping sharks, lightening-zapping tridents, and spell-transforming potions. Young viewers may also be bothered by an angry confrontation between a parent and child, a violent conflict that depicts a character being impaled, and a scene parodying a horror movie where a sea creature stumbles into the kitchen of a seafood-cooking chef.

Despite these mild concerns, The Little Mermaid has made a big splash with family audiences since it's theatrical debut in 1989. Part of its appeal is the delightful soundtrack written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, which features such memorable tunes as Part of Your World, Under the Sea, and Kiss the Girl.

For me, the biggest fish to fry is still the debate over the film's message. Tolerance for cultural differences is an attribute I, and most other parents, would welcome our children to emulate--whereas willful rebellion against authority is something we'd rather not encourage. So, what is the story trying to say? Your enjoyment of this otherwise amazing animation is likely to depend upon your answer to that question.

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

Characters are in peril when chased by a shark, a storm and fire sink a ship, and during a showdown with a magic-welding villainess. Death is implied after a character is impaled. An angry parent destroys his child’s precious possessions. Some mild name-calling occurs as well as a depiction of ale drinking seaman. Sexual content includes mermen with bare chests, bikini (or clamshell) clad mermaids, a sensual sea witch, obscured nudity, and a couple of kisses.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

Do you think this story is about a rebellious teenager who gets her own way, or a father who overcomes his prejudice? Does King Triton’s solution to the problem between Ariel and Prince Eric’s union affect your opinion? Why do you think the ruler didn’t give the prince a tail instead? How might a different ending have changed the story?

Why does Ariel (the girl who has everything) feel the world above would be so much better than the ocean where she lives? Do you think she is right? Why do the things we don’t have often seem better than the things we do have?

Video alternatives

An incompatible union, this time between an ogre and a princess, is the basis for the movie Shrek. The life of the author of The Little Mermaid is told, with reenactments of some of his other famous stories, in the film Hans Christian Andersen: My Life as a Fairy Tale. In 2000 Disney followed up with a sequel, The Little Mermaid II.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition

Release Date: 1 October 2013

Disney’s The Little Mermaid releases to home video in a Diamond Edition. There are four packages to choose from:

The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition - 3-Disc 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack

- 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy and Music Download

- New Music Video

- @Disneyanimation: Go Under The Hat At Walt Disney Animation Studios

- Disney Intermission (Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along)

- Deleted Character - Harold The Merman

- Under The Scene - The Art Of Live Action Reference

- Part Of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage To New Fantasyland

- Howard’s Lecture: Howard Ashman, The Lyricist & Executive Producer Of The Little Mermaid

- Treasure’s Untold: The Making Of The Little Mermaid

- Storm Warning: The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit

The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition- 2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack with Digital Copy

- Blu‐ray, DVD and Digital Copy

- Includes All Bonus from the 3-Disc 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack

- The Story Behind The Story

- Under The Sea Early Presentation Reel

- Original Theatrical Trailer

- Deleted Scenes With Introductions

- Easter Eggs

- Disney Song Selection - Play Movie With Lyrics

- Audio Commentary

- Ashley Tisdale “Kiss The Girl” Music Video

- The Little Match Girl With Intro

- Disneypedia: Life Under The Sea

- Under The Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride Inspired By Disney Imagineers

The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition -2 Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack

-  Blu-ray and DVD

- Includes All Bonus from the 3-Disc 3D Blu-ray and 2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Packs

The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition - 2-Disc DVD Combo Pack

- DVD and Blu‐ray

- Includes All Bonus from the 3-Disc 3D Blu-ray and 2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Packs

DVD Notes: Disney’s The Little Mermaid: 2-Disc PLATINUM EDITION

DVD Release Date: 3 October 2006

Plunge into Disney’s The Little Mermaid in a way never possible before with this 2-Disc Platinum Edition. The feature presentation shimmers thanks to its digital restoration, and the sound resonates with an all-new 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theatre Mix. Other treasures include an audio commentary with co-writer/directors Ron Clements and John Musker, and composer Alan Menken, Ashley Tisdale’s music video of Kiss the Girl, a Disney Song Selection and a sneak peek of The Little Mermaid III. Disc 2 is deluged with games and activities such as an Under the Sea Virtual Ride (as well as featurettes about its creation), DisneyPedia: Life Under The Sea (full of fun facts about fish), Backstage Disney’s Treasures Untold (the making-of The Little Mermaid), deleted scenes and an alternate ending (with filmmaker introduction), Storm Warning (meet the special effects unit), art galleries, an early presentation reel, the original theatrical trailer and a song demo of Silence Is Golden. In celebration of Hans Christian Andersen, author of the original fairytale of The Little Mermaid, there is a short look at The Story Behind The Story and a short animated film of another of his creations, The Little Match Girl. Audio tracks are available in English, Spanish and French, with subtitles in English.

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About the Reviewer: Donna Gustafson

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