31 December 2007

The Little Mermaid

In the early 90s, I loved Garfield and the Ninja Turtles. (What kid didn't back then?) I got up at 8 AM every damn Saturday just to watch them. I watched my recorded Garfield specials quite often. I practically memorized the first Ninja Turtles movie. I bought anything with Garfield on it; I even had some expensive ceramic figurines. Needless to say, I was something of a fanatic.

Now maybe you'll understand my full meaning when I say that phase was a mere blip on the radar compared to my all-out obsession with Disney's The Little Mermaid. It became my life.

It was released to theatres in 1989, but my mom wouldn't let me go to the theatre for reasons that I'd rather not get into right now. Instead, I saw it when it was released to video, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. When it aired later on The Disney Channel, my dad recorded it for me, and I watched it every. Single. Day. The sad part is that I am not exaggerating for comedic effect. Sometimes I watched it more than once a day.

I had everything. Toys. Clothes. Sleeping bag. Bedroom set. Any other random crap they sold that had Ariel's face printed on it.

Somewhere along the way, my tape got lost and my interest finally waned. I didn't see the movie again until the Platinum Edition DVD was released and I shelled out the 20 bucks for it.

Anyway, how could I be writing a nostalgia blog and not mention this movie? Therefore, here's my observations now that I'm an adult with more discerning taste and self-control.

It can't be denied that the production values are stellar; the animation fluid, bright, and colorful. The songs are among some of the best in the Disney canon, perhaps even the best. This movie is the reason Disney still exists today (though it's arguable if we should be thankful for that or not).

The opening sequence is a pretty nice piece of animation, and is an okay hook. However, the, er, cinematography (?) isn't anything fantastic; I feel like it could've been much more epic. The accompanying score really makes up for it, though.

One random stupid thing that's always bothered me: Do Triton's seven daughters all have different mothers, or are mer-genetics just weird like that? I mean, they all have different hair colors and such.

Speaking of hair colors, it's refreshing that Ariel is a red-head and not a blonde. Her character design is simple but nice; it lends itself very well to becoming iconic.

Also, how come the requisite sidekick character had to be a dumb little fish, anyway? Why couldn't we have had another mer-person or something? Flounder is one of the least-irritating animal sidekicks, but he's still pretty boring.

Speaking of bad animal sidekicks, Scuttle the seagull is one of them. I just can't stand the guy. The bit with the "human stuff" is cute, but other than that, ugh. At least he isn't totally useless, and there is one pretty funny part where Eric makes a joke at his expense.

It's amazing how much your outlook can change when you get older. When I was a kid, I thought King Triton was a royal asshole. I thought, how could he just blow up all Ariel's shit like that? Now that I'm an adult, I realize that I probably would've done the same thing. He's not a bad guy, he's just trying to do the right thing, trying to protect his defiant teenage daughter. Moral #1: Just because you're 16 doesn't mean you suddenly know everything.

As for Ariel, her persistence and bravery are admirable, but I just can't help thinking that she's dumb (pun intended). This could very well stem from my general dislike of teenagers, though. Nevertheless, she's likeable enough and not completely flat or one-dimensional like most other Disney heroines. I think that has a lot to do with the performance of her voice actress, which is no less than perfect.

Therefore, the saddest thing about this movie is that Ariel doesn't get to sing more. Part of Your World is probably the best part of the whole thing. The song is adeptly composed and beautifully performed. The only flaw is that they should have played it totally straight. There are random funny moments with Sebastian the crab throughout the number, and I think it really breaks up the drama. The comedy should've been saved for after the song was over.

As for other big numbers in the production, Under the Sea leaves me somewhat underwhelmed. Yeah, it's cute...I guess. I realize that the whole point of it was to say to Ariel, "Hey, life under the sea is badass. Quit being a retard," but something about it is just...too much.

Another random thing that's been bothering me is...how the hell did Flounder get a hold of that statue? Did he have to pay someone to haul it to Ariel's secret place for him?

The other character who really benefited from a great voice actress was Ursula. The character would have been total crap without the right actress. Ursula is a strong presence for this reason, not necessarily because of the writing. Her dialogue is mostly bland, but the performance makes up for it.

Her big number, Poor, Unfortunate Souls, is pretty damn good. It's a catchy song, well-written, and it helps to further the plot because it's used to convince Ariel to give up her voice in exchange for legs. By the way, you'd think that Ariel would've been a little put-off by that whole "you belong to meeeee" thing, but I guess the point they're trying to make is that she's very fearless and dedicated-- or maybe just really, really stupid. Moral #2: Always read contracts before signing them.

I feel that the second half of the movie is significantly weaker than the first, partly due to the fact that there's no more singing by Ariel until one little tidbit near the very end.

There are a couple of highlights though, such as the scene at the dinner table with the fork and the pipe. Probably the funniest part of the movie. Although, why in the hell did they put her in a pink dress? She's a red-head, for crying out loud! They should have put her in lavender or green or something. Ugh.

Also, there's the bit with the French chef, which is also pretty funny, but way over-the-top. I'm surprised more kids weren't traumatized by this.

The backgrounds on land are exquisite. There's a lot of contrast between the undersea world and the world above the surface.

Then we have the last big number, Kiss the Girl. It's a nice song, but again, they tried to put in comedy and I think it undermined the whole thing.

I'm also not a big fan of the movie's climax. I don't know how I would make it better, but something about it just doesn't sit right with me.

And then there's the biggest departure from the original story: the happy ending. It's just...meh. I mean, it sends the message that even if you almost get yourself killed, Daddy will still be there to save you, AND you'll still get what you wanted in the end. Maybe I'm cynical for looking at it that way, but surely I'm not the only one.

I know I haven't exactly been nice in this write-up, but I do still enjoy this film for what it is, and I can't ignore the impact it had on me. Besides, what do you expect from Disney? High drama?

By the way, this is the last post of 2007. Good riddance, 2007! Here's hoping for a brighter future in 2008.

2 comments:

A. said...

Though Beauty and the Beast was my clear favorite, I still have fond memories of The Little Mermaid (and the sleeping bag, for which I am several feet too tall for now).

The thing I remember most about it was how in the scene where Ariel bursts out, "I'm 16, I'm not a child!", my mother would always--ALWAYS--interject "that's no way to talk to your father. She's being very disrespectful and rebellious."

aykon said...

The Little Mermaid was a great movie. In fact, I will fully admit that I watched it quite a bit. I thought the characters were fun and the story was decent. I still randomly break out in song of "Under the Sea" for no apparent reason.

I haven't watched it (or any older Disney movies) since I have grown up so my opinion might change. I still think that Alladin was a bit better though.