Title: The Little Mermaid
Release Date: November 17, 1989
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Feature Animation | Silver Screen Partners IV
I don’t know what the experience was for moviegoers who saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the silver screen in 1937, but I can tell you that there was an incredible buzz in 1989 when The Little Mermaid was released. Disney was back. Growing up in the 70s and 80s it was hard to see the classic Disney animated features which you might see in a theatrical rerelease, or the Wonderful World of Disney or on the Disney Channel, but generally as a Gen X kid you just kind of knew these movies existed without actually seeing them. By the late 80s, Disney started trickling out VHS releases of classic films, but it was the Millennial kids who’d get to watch them over and over.
As for the movies Disney released during the 70s and 80s, this was a well-documented down period for the animation studio, although The Rescuers was a hit and I have a personal soft spot for The Fox and the Hound. The reputation of Disney movies during this time was that they were “kiddie movies.” Teenagers, and even older grade-school children would turn their noses up at them. The Little Mermaid was different. It was a movie audiences of all ages enjoyed.
One thing that set this movie apart is the music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Teenage boys more macho than me at my high school enthusiastically admitted that they loved the songs. The calypso numbers by Sebastian the crab ( Samuel E. Wright), “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” were the gateway, tying into the World Music trend of the late 80s. All of the songs fit into to the story following the Broadway musical model, and the soundtrack proved very popular.
The animation for the film is also excellent, looking better than any Disney movie had for decades. The aforementioned musical numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” are particularly spectacular in the use of various marine life and visual gags. The fluid mermaid movements of Ariel (Jodi Benson) and her hair are also spectacularly brought to life in animation. While Ariel’s dream of marrying a prince may not be a particularly feminist plot, her characterization is more realistic and relatable than previous Disney portrayals of young women.
I hadn’t watched The Little Mermaid in a long, long time, and I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh and funny and just downright entertaining it remains after all of these years.