Though it’s often thought of as the film that helped revive the animated film boom from Disney in the nineties, predating a string of hit films from the studio, “The Little Mermaid” is much like “Bambi.” It has amazing animation, and a wonderful soundtrack, but in the narrative frame, it’s unspectacular. While the former film garnered a nearly non-existent storyline with a simple resolution stretched in to ninety minutes, “The Little Mermaid” has almost nothing in the way of reasoning or logic for its heroine’s motives toward happiness.
When you get down to it, “The Little Mermaid” is another of the restless princess tropes, many fantasy epics would crib from for years. Ariel herself, is selfish and kind of vapid, becoming obsessed with a world apart from her own she’s unfamiliar with. If she’s only seen the world through trinkets and treasures she’s collected, what’s to say the world beyond the water will greet her with kindness? And it’s not like Ariel ever leaves her class ranking when she becomes a human. She goes from underwater royalty to land based royalty, and almost nothing is really learned. That said, as a technical marvel, “The Little Mermaid” is quite amazing, and possesses some of the most heartfelt and incredible music ever put to screen by Disney.
Jodi Benson as Ariel really offers a depth and emotion that help the audience feel Ariel’s urgency and desperation for new adventures. “Part of that World” is still an immense and stunning song rivaling “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the wish for something new and different. Benson’s vocals are incredible, and still strike a chord. The animation is also Disney at its absolute best, offering characters that are expressive and humanistic. Ariel is still a very beautiful Disney character, and some of her moments as an animated character make her come to life and reveal to audiences why Prince Eric would fall for her so quickly.
“The Little Mermaid” is filled with memorable and brilliant musical numbers that help tell a story (“Poor Unfortunate Souls”) and help act as an interesting insight in to the world (“Under the Sea”) that Ariel simply doesn’t appreciate anymore. Ursula is a banner Disney villainess (even if she is evil just for the sake of being evil), while characters like Sebastian and Flounder are absolutely iconic in their charm and loyalty. “The Little Mermaid” is an excellent precursor to “The Lion King” and one that doesn’t quite work as a narrative, but manages to induce awe with its timeless soundtrack and production quality. It’s a childhood favorite that shows no sign of aging, any time soon. Before Disney pandered to their audience, their films achieved the near impossible feat of timelessness, and “The Little Mermaid” accomplishes that, despite its faults.