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In 1989, many of us were too young to appreciate what Disney’s animators had achieved when they released The Little Mermaid. The animation side of the studio was in dire straits at the time. They hadn’t had a hit since The Rescuers and many of their post- Jungle Book releases barely even pulled in a profit, if any money at all. To add insult to injury, former Disney animation lead Don Bluth’s studio’s films were (specifically An American Tail and The Land Before Time) had out-grossed them at the box office. Things were so bad that in 1988 Touchstone and Amblin went to Europe for Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s animation. Again, most of us were too young to care about the impending downfall of Uncle Walt’s flagship product, we just knew we were more interested in seeing The Land Before Time than Oliver and Company. The Little Mermaid gets all the credit for finally turning things around for the studio, but the young, underappreciated creative team didn’t do it by trying to reinvent the animated musical, they did it by returning the genre to its roots and giving audiences what they wanted all along.

Well, not me. I was nine or ten at the time and that movie was totally for girls.

Little Mermaid (2D), The

Video


This 2D Blu-ray version of The Little Mermaid (there is also a post-converted 3D release) is presented in 1.78:1 (it was released theatrically at 1.85:1 and the older DVD release was 1.66:1) and, for the first time, 1080p HD. This is definitely one of the most sought-after Disney animation Blu-ray releases, if not the most sought-after since the big dogs, like The Lion King, Snow White, and Fantasia, have been available for quite some time now. Though taken from the restructured 3D version, the image quality mostly matches the high standards the studio has set for themselves with previous big ticket animation releases (i.e. the ones that aren’t being stuck in a collection with their STV sequels and shoved out the door) – vivid, vibrant colours (maybe a bit too vibrant), sharpened edges, tighter texture details, and smoother gradations along the background blends and the glowing effects. Having not seen the film in a number of years, I had forgotten that The Little Mermaid wasn’t one of the studio’s pricier productions (obviously, since they were practically out of business at the time), which is an issue that shows in the sometimes inconsistent character animation and simpler element layering. This isn’t to say that the animation is sub par, though. In fact, the uneven, hand-painted look is beautifully represented here and the contrast is actually quite charming. There’s never been a question that Disney is using DNR processes on their animated releases, but they’ve been using it tastefully. It wasn’t until recently that critics with sharper eyes than me began to notice exactly how smudged some of the ‘lesser’ releases were. This image still exhibits quite a bit of fine film grain and the harder edges, though occasionally a bit blurry due to cell shadows and the Xerographic process, don’t exhibit the blobby, smudge-stick effect seen on the Sword in the Stone and Oliver and Company releases. There are some moments where the solid hue qualities bleed into some of the black outlines. This is most apparent on Sebastian’s shell during the lighter, above the sea palettes.

It’s not exactly a problem with the transfer, per se, but there has been news that, during the 3D conversion, Disney accidentally made some kind of quick error in image sequence order (reportedly a misplaced cutaway during ‘Part of Your World’). Again, I probably haven’t watched The Little Mermaid in 15 years, so the fact that I didn’t notice doesn’t really prove anything, but the studio did acknowledge the mistake in a brief note to consumers, so I guess it’s in there somewhere.

Little Mermaid (2D), The

Audio


This Blu-ray also features a new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio remix to match its digitally remastered video. Again, this remix matches the expectations set by similar Disney releases and remains relatively true to the original stereo/surround material. Effects have been augmented for the sake of immersion (creepy vocal moments, underwater bubbles, crowd noise) and directional movement during action sequences (sharks chasing Ariel and Flounder through wreckage, the storm that takes down Eric’s boat, the magic-laced climax). The majority of the incidental effects and dialogue tracks sit exclusively in the center speaker, which is set a hair too loud. This is really only a problem for the musical sequences, where the centered instruments pop out more boisterously than originally intended. Otherwise, Alan Menken’s score is generally given the biggest stereo and surround upgrade, including a nice spread over the channels and a broadened overall depth and LFE impact. Unfortunately, Disney is continuing their practice of not including the original sound mixes with their Diamond Edition Blu-rays. The option of an original 2.0 mix would’ve been nice, even in the form of a compressed Dolby Digital or DTS track. For the record, there was a six-channel track included with 70mm prints, so perhaps the remix is based more on one of those than the 2.0 tracks.

Little Mermaid (2D), The

Extras


The new, Blu-ray exclusive extras include:
  • ’Part of Your World[/I] music video by Carly Rae Jespen (3:40, HD)
  • @DisneyAnimation (10:50, HD), a cute retrospective featurette with directors Ron Clements and John Musker, animators Mark Henn and Ruben Aquino, alongside the younger Disney artist’s they inspired,  Brittney Lee, Lee Hyu-Min, Kira Lehtomaki, Chad Sellers, and John Khars.
  • Deleted Character: Harold the Merman (2:10, HD), with the directors.
  • Under the Scene: The Art of Live-Action Reference (13:10, HD) – an exploration of The Little Mermaid’s live-action reference, including discussions with the directors, animators, and live-action actors Kathryn Beaumont (the original Alice and Wendy), Sherri Lynn Stoner (Ariel) and Josh Finkle (Eric). This section also features clips from the surviving footage itself.
  • Excerpts from producer Howard Ashman’s lecture to his animators, the rest of which can be seen in Don Hahn’s documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty.
  • Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland (4:50, HD) – an ad for the revamped Fantasyland with the actress that voiced Ariel.
  • Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along
  • Disney Intermission mode


Little Mermaid (2D), The
The classic DVD extras include:
  • Seven deleted scenes with directors’ introductions (27:00, SD)
  • Backstage Disney:
    • Treasure Untold: The Making of The Little Mermaid (45:30, SD)
    • Storm Warning: The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit (8:40, SD)
    • The Little Mermaid: The Story Behind the Story (11:30, SD)
    • The Little Match Girl animated short (6:40, HD)
    • An early presentation reel of ‘Under the Sea’ (2:40, SD)
    • The original theatrical trailer (2:20, SD)
    • Footage of the directors making caricatures of each other (1:10, SD)
    • Footage of the animators commenting on their characters (1:40, SD)
    • The directors demonstrating the ‘Little Mermaid Handshake’ (:30, SD)
  • Music And More:
    • Song Selection
    • ’Kiss the Girl’ music video performed by Ashley Tisdale (3:30, SD)
  • Audio commentary with the directors and composer Alan Menken
  • Disnepedia: Life Under the Sea (8:30, SD, the audio did not work on my copy)
  • Behind the Ride that Almost Was (6:00, SD)
  • Footage from behind-the-scenes of the construction of the Under the Sea virtual ride (4:20, SD)


Little Mermaid (2D), The

Overall


I personally appreciate The Little Mermaid more for its part in Disney’s history than I love it as a movie, but I’ll happily sit in the minority here. I understand why it means so much to so many. Disney has given this crown jewel a solid ‘Diamond Edition’ treatment, including a sharp, vibrant picture, a respectful 7.1 remix, and a full stack of extras, both old and new. There are some nagging questions about the DNR being applied to the image (not to mention the supposed sequence error I didn’t notice) and I’m a little disappointed that Disney doesn’t seem interested in including the original sound mixes anymore, but the overall package is more or less what I expect fans are hoping for.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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