Greetings again from the darkness. The first of three true classics from the “middle era” of Disney animation … along with Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994) … this 1989 version of Hans Christian Anderson’s 1837 story brought musical theatre to an animated children’s fairy tale. It was also the 28th Disney film, and the final to utilize hand-painted cel animation.
The Blu-Ray release (a Christmas present from my son) to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary is truly stunning in color, brightness, clarity and sound. An explosion of sight and sound occurs during the incredible cacophony of joy and cheer better known as the Best Song Oscar winner “Under the Sea”. The calypso style was a very creative choice by musical directors Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.
Of course, the star of the show is Ariel, the rebellious 16 year old mermaid who dreams of walking on the beach and dancing with the Prince. Ariel’s remarkable vocals (“Part of Your World”) are provided by Jodi Benson, who beautifully captures the innocence and longing necessary for the character. Samuel E Wright is the smooth voiced Jamaican crab Sebastian, who not only takes lead on “Under the Sea”, but also on romantic ballad “Kiss the Girl”. The other standout is Pat Carroll as Ursula the Sea Witch. She is the perfect villain vs Ariel, and is quite a commentary on the actions of those who are power hungry.
Written and directed by John Clements and Ron Musker, the film was a bit different for its time because of the depth of Ariel’s character. This was a typical teenager going against her strict parent and dreaming of a better life. Ariel has a mind of her own and is willing to chase her dreams … even if it’s a boy from the proverbial “other side of the tracks” and with a Faustian negotiation. From a technical perspective, the artwork is spectacular and movements are full and fluid (sorry for the pun). This came 5 years after Ron Howard’s live action Splash with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. If you ever doubt the power that expert animation can possess, just compare the emotion and charm in these two mermaid films.
This latest Blu-Ray release has some very interesting special features. We are treated to interviews with the film’s animators as well as a peek inside the Disney Animation studios, now on its third generation of animators. Much reverence is provided to The Nine Old Men … the original group of animators hand picked by Walt Disney. The last of the nine men died in 2008, and their trainees are now mentoring the most excited current group that is kicking out some new classics like Frozen and Wreck-it Ralph. What’s that word … circle of life.
watch the “Under the Sea” segment (Best Song Oscar winner):