(1989) dir. Ron Clements, John Musker
viewed: 08/27/08 at The Castro Theatre, SF, CA
Seeing Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Castro Theatre was more than just seeing The Little Mermaid. This was The Little Mermaid (Sing-along), featuring handout clappers, poppers, glowsticks, and other goodies. I reckoned it to be like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), for kids. And it was quite a bit of fun. Took both Felix and Clara and the two neighbor girls and amusement was had by all, including Felix, who swore that he hated the movie beforehand. He had to admit that he had fun in the end.
For Disney, The Little Mermaid was a turning point, a turning point in many directions. The studio, which defined itself and feature animated films in its earliest work, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Pinocchio (1940) in the musical format, adapting the more classical (public domain) fairy tale. The Little Mermaid was a return to this form for the studio, whose prior feature animated films had continued to decline in quality and popularity. It was also the last of the Disney features to be created with tradtional cel animation, transitioning forward to more digitized production.
It also was the first in a series of huge hits for the studio, reclaiming the domain of American kiddie fare, feature animation, and ultimately marketing, marketing, marketing.
Oddly enough, Disney has seemingly relpased into a malaise after having tried to strike gold again and again with its formulae. After the successes of Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994), somewhere between Pocahontas (1995) and Tarzan (1999) and ultimately Home on the Range (2004) (Disney’s last film to feature “traditional animation”). They still have a long way to go to catch up with Pixar, even if they are partnered up with them financially.
The Little Mermaid is pretty good, which was good enough for 1989. The songs, “Under the Sea”, “Kiss the Girl”, and “Part of Your World” made for more humable stuff than the studio had produced since The Jungle Book (1967), when the studio had some great songwriters on staff.
Oddly enough, my eroded memory of last having seen the film (believe it or not those of you with children raised on repeated watchings of the Disney canon) aparently not long after it first came out on video, I found myself most appreciating the same scene that I liked the most back in that time: the maniacal French Chef Louis, chasing after the crab Sebastian, while singing “Les Poissons”, a tune with hilarious lyrics about loving fish by “chopping off their heads” and “rubbing salt on them”. It’s very funny. Could stand on its own.
Not the studio’s greatest, but good. My apologies to those who might be offended by that.