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The Little Mermaid 3D(1989)
Ariel, a fun-loving and mischievous mermaid, is off on the adventure of a lifetime with her best friend, the adorable Flounder, and the reggae-singing Caribbean crab Sebastian at her side. But it will take all of her courage and determination to make her dreams come true—and save her father's beloved kingdom from the sneaky sea witch Ursula!
For more about The Little Mermaid 3D and the The Little Mermaid 3D Blu-ray release, see the The Little Mermaid 3D Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on September 27, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Kenneth Mars, Mark Hamill
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
» See full cast & crew
The Little Mermaid 3D Blu-ray Review
"Watch and you'll see, some day I'll be... part of your world!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, September 27, 2013
No one factor was singularly responsible for The Little Mermaid's success. It wasn't a surefire hit from the outset. Walt Disney Animation wasn't riding high, gaining momentum or in the midst of restoring its reputation. (Yet.) A new era in Disney animation had yet to begin, much less be realized or dubbed the Disney Renaissance. In November of 1989, acclaim, awards and classic status were still something of a long shot, and animated filmmakers Ron Clements and John Musker weren't assured of anything, especially box office success, critical respect and audience appeal. Having cut their directorial teeth on The Great Mouse Detective just three years prior, Clements and Musker used every minute of the production of The Little Mermaid to do the only thing they could: make the best movie possible with all the tools at their disposal. Those tools included a sharp script based on a cherished fairy tale, by Hans Christian Anderson no less. Colorful characters and memorable villains. Songs of actual quality penned by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman. Innovative animation techniques (among other advances, Mermaid was the first Disney animated production to use the CAPS digital coloring system, although only one CAPS scene made its way into the final film). The list goes on, and even extends beyond the walls of the Mouse House, where Don Bluth, Steven Spielberg, and the VHS home video market all played a role in setting the stage for feature animation's revival.
The success that came and the Renaissance that was (unofficially) launched all seem so inevitable in hindsight. The Little Mermaid won rave reviews, earned more than $200 million worldwide, imprinted itself on the hearts of countless little girls, marked the beginning of one of Disney's most productive and successful eras, took home several Oscars and Golden Globes, stormed the home video market, and inspired many an animated film that would follow. Above all, it continues to stand as one of Disney's most beloved classics. No, twenty-four years after its debut, Ariel's adventure isn't as spry or nimble as it once was. And yet a very real, very palpable magic remains, coursing through its waters and pumping through its veins; a stirring, spirited magic that, in the early '90s, overflowed into Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, the Disney Renaissance greats.
Sweet, free-spirited teenage mermaid Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) is obsessed with the surface world, collecting trinkets and trash that sink to the bottom of the ocean and longing for a glimpse at a real human being. Such things are forbidden by her father, King Triton (Kenneth Mars), who warns Ariel of the dangers involved to no avail, and assigns his advisor, Sebastian the Crab (Samuel E. Wright), to keep an eye on her. Rebellious daughters are rebellious daughters everywhere, though, even under the sea. With a reluctant Sebastian and best friend Flounder (Jason Marin) in tow, Ariel makes her way to the surface, where she almost immediately falls in love with a human prince, Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes). When her father finds out, he's furious, confining Ariel to her room, which she promptly escapes. Succumbing to a deal offered by the evil sea-witch Ursula (Pat Carroll), Ariel relinquishes one of her most prized possessions -- her voice -- to obtain the one thing she wants more than anything: to be human. But Ariel soon learns witches aren't to be trusted, as Ursula's only interest is in making the little mermaid her slave.
While The Little Mermaid has aged quite gracefully, it isn't without its wrinkles. Ariel is more in control of her future than pre-Renaissance Disney princesses, and yet after her rebellion there isn't much coming-of-age empowerment to be had. Her destiny is continually secured by a boys club of well-intentioned males (single-dad Triton, dreamy prince Eric, blustery Sebastian, kindly Flounder and dim-bulb Scuttle the Seagull), and her arc is essentially Princess Pines for Her Prince Charming. Without a mother, Ursula is the only female in Ariel's life with any sway. And while that certainly wasn't Musker or Clements' intent, there it is, right out in the open: another damsel in distress, literally robbed of her voice and freedom, in need of rescue, which Eric pulls off when Ariel's problems get (again, literally) too big. There's also the small matter of Triton's deep-seated and (surprise!) validated xenophobia. At no point is the King's mantra -- beware the humans, they're different and dangerous -- resolved or amended. Ariel and Eric have a happy ending courtesy of Triton's blessing, but enlightenment never really descends on dear old dad, leaving his original warning dangling in the wind, largely unaltered and unaddressed. Still, as princess-in-peril tales go, it's all rather harmless and easy to overlook, and I'd suggest for the sake of entertainment doing just that.
It's the animation that's more dated than you might remember. Like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid rests on the precipice of a revolution rather than basking in the light of a fully revealed renaissance, and the stunning fruits of the fledgling new era's animation had yet to ripen. To be clear, it's by no means a poorly animated film. Innovation abounds, as do daring sequences above the waves and below, and the delightfully designed and developed characters remain some of the most convincing and expressive humans and creatures in Disney's hand-drawn canon. Musker and Clements used actors and shot live-action reference scenes to accomplish the feat, but the results speak for themselves: the subtle gestures, the all-too-human reactions, every scrunch of a brow or flick of a wrist, it's all so absorbing. At the same time, there's a telltale roughness, sometimes even a hurriedness, to the animation; a minimalism that isn't so much stylistic as it is practical.
All that said, The Little Mermaid captures and distills the essence of the Disney classics of old, all while ushering in a new dawn. With renewed focus, unforgettable songs, bewitching fairy-taling, and a cleverly crafted cast of undersea characters, it's hard to feel anything but affection for the film. Quoth my understandably anti-Mermaid son, who's on the cusp of turning nine: "I'm surprised. It isn't terrible. I thought it was just a girl's movie, but it's fun." Pressed for further impressions, he naturally began back-pedaling, but still finished the movie without putting up a fight. And at no point was I making him watch it. He wandered in mid-viewing, he just didn't wander out. There are laughs to be had, cheers worth letting out, and enough heart to make Ariel's adventure something special; something that just as easily could have come from Walt Disney himself thirty, forty or even fifty years before, when the man behind the Mouse first started tinkering with adaptations of Hans Christian Anderson's original story. Good Disney movies are built upon their predecessors. It's the great Disney movies, though, that are cut from the same cloth, carved from the same oak, born of the same magic. The Little Mermaid is one of the Disney greats, and I have no doubt we'll one day be celebrating its thirtieth, fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries. Its every element may not be timeless, but the film is unmistakably so.
The Little Mermaid 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
The last time I reviewed a classic Disney Animation release -- and the time before that and... the time before that -- I spent a great deal of time outlining the good, the bad and, unfortunately, the ugly; discussing everything from overzealously processed presentations, flawed restorations and other (relatively minor) issues. I can't even begin to tell you, then, how relieved I was while watching The Little Mermaid and its near-perfect 1080p/MVC-encoded 3D presentation and 1080p/AVC-encoded 2D video transfer, each of which should please both purists and modern animation fans alike. (More on the film's 3D conversion and subsequent 3D experience in a moment.) Yes, the animation is dated by Disney Renaissance standards. Yes, slight softness is apparent in the original source from time to time. And yes, the image isn't always as vibrant as the film's colorful characters. But none of these inherent shortcomings should be held against Disney's (mostly) faithful restoration and presentation, which rarely disappoints. The undersea palette is lovely, with strong primary presence, satisfying black levels, and nicely balanced contrast. Detail is excellent as well. Lines are clean and refined, background textures are nicely resolved, a faint, filmic veneer of grain reveals just how small a role any egregious noise reduction played in the restoration, and virtually everything the animators brought to life in 1989 is, indeed, alive and well in 2013. Moreover, macroblocking, banding, errant noise and other troubling anomalies are either kept to a bare minimum or altogether absent.
And so we come to the 3D Blu-ray edition's less than effective 3D experience. While it's a technically proficient presentation -- free from significant aliasing and largely immune to ghosting (on crosstalk-prone displays) -- The Little Mermaid isn't a film that begs to be rediscovered in 3D, nor do its underwater adventures, relatively simplistic animation and backgrounds, or slightly (and intentionally) murky seascapes lend themselves to a 3D conversion, or the added dimness of the 3D glasses. The upside is that the 3D image does feature a sense of prevailing depth, even if Ariel and her friends resemble characters in a pop-up storybook rather than anything more substantial. Triton's shadowy undersea realm, Ursula's still darker lair, and a pair of violent, chaotic rain storms at sea don't help matters either, meaning castle interior shots, musical numbers and brightly colored topside sequences are among the 3D conversion's few showcase scenes. It's in no way a problem, but any high expectations you might have should be adjusted accordingly.
There is one nagging little problem in both the 3D and 2D presentations, though, despite the fact that 99.9% of viewers won't notice. And since I'm already quantifying educated guesses, I'll go one step further and say 90% of those who do notice won't care all that much. (Honestly, I wouldn't have realized anything was amiss had I not been informed ahead of time.) It seems a handful of shots (assembled here) exhibit small changes made to the original animation or, every now and again, an error. Of the split-second alterations and mishaps, most are frankly negligible (the interior of three clamshells are blue instead of green during an early song, etc). However, three are worth mentioning. The first: the opening titles are slightly mistimed (which wouldn't be on my shortlist if the filmmakers didn't specifically comment on the precise timing of the opening titles and music in the disc's audio commentary). The second: a strange bar appears (for the briefest of moments) at the upper right-hand side of the screen when Ariel and Eric leap from atop giant Ursula's crown. And finally, the third and -- I'd argue -- only potentially serious distraction: two shots have been inadvertently switched at the climax of "Part of Your World" (Flounder reacts as a singing Ariel descends), and it's made more obvious by a lip-sync discrepancy between the song lyrics and animation. It's tough to spot... until you know what half-second mistake to look for. After that, it's impossible to miss. What's seen cannot be unseen, although it will still only bother a scant few. Will Disney correct the issue and offer a correction and formal disc exchange program in the future? Possibly. It certainly isn't unprecedented.
All that being said, nothing outlined above should prevent anyone, and I mean anyone, from picking up the 3D or 2D Diamond Edition Blu-ray release of The Little Mermaid. If a two, or even one, disc replacement program is eventually offered, problem solved. If not, you only need ask yourself: is a one-second swap/sync error irritating enough to overshadow everything Disney gets right with the remaster and encodes, and gets right so spectacularly with such respect for the original animation and film elements? That will be up to each of you, of course. But there simply isn't enough of an issue to require drastic cut off your nose measures, unless you're in a hurry to spite your face. The Little Mermaid transfer is terrific -- 3D shortcomings or no -- and represents the sort of faithfully rejuvenated presentation cinephiles are forever begging Disney to produce. This is the real deal, folks. The 3D is merely decent, but that doesn't hinder the underlying beauty in the slightest. Enjoy.
The Little Mermaid 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There's an argument to be made that Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track amounts to overkill... and an argument to be made that it's a bit underwhelming. However, I'm of the opinion that the studio should be commended for both offering dynamic new 7.1 lossless remixes with their animated catalog and managing to stay true to the tone and tenor of each classic's original sound design and audio presentation. It requires a delicate balance, albeit one The Little Mermaid exemplifies. Enhance the original 70 mm 6-Track Dolby Stereo soundscape too much and you risk creating an inconsistent, jarringly artificial, off-putting experience. Tweak it too little and you risk a thin, two-dimensional, disappointiing remix. Thankfully, neither applies here. Voices are clean and carefully prioritized, with beautifully bouyant effects and full, enveloping music and songs. The LFE channel asserts itself without becoming too aggressive, and the rear speakers are engaging and lively, delivering a reasonably immersive undersea world. The soundfield is a tad front-heavy now and again, but none of it proves distracting. As far as The Little Mermaid goes, I can't imagine it sounding much better than it does here. It has the sonic heart of a 24-year-old classic but the soul of a newer animated musical.
The Little Mermaid 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Little Mermaid: New HD Bonus Features
The Little Mermaid: Classic DVD Bonus Features
3D Blu-ray/BD/DVD/Digital Copy/Music Download Combo Pack Contents (Subject to Change): The initial 3D combo pack release of The Little Mermaid features a slipcover (with the original pressing), two BD-50 discs, a standard DVD, a music download code, and a digital copy of the film (DigitalCopyPlus.com/Mermaid download via redemption code, expires 10/01/2018). Please note: The Little Mermaid digital copy "works with iTunes."
The Little Mermaid 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The 3D and 2D Blu-ray releases of The Little Mermaid represent Disney animated releases of the highest order. Rather than an hyper-bright, over-processed remaster and high definition presentation, Disney's encode is a filmic wonder with very little that could be legitimately labeled an issue. Its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track follows suit, and its full complement of supplemental features -- old and new -- injects even more value into an already enticing Diamond Edition set. Its 3D experience may not be revolutionary, and the film itself won't inspire as much affection for some as others, but it's a wonderful little animated musical, in 3D or 2D, and arrives via the sort of Blu-ray releases every Disney classic deserves.
The Little Mermaid: Other Editions
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• Blu-ray Sales, Oct. 7-13: The Little Mermaid Bests The Hangover o... - October 17, 2013
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• The Little Mermaid 2D & 3D Blu-rays Detailed - April 19, 2013
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