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The Little Mermaid (G)
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Caution: spoilers!

This came out in 1989, and was by most accounts the start of the Disney Renaissance. Um... it must have been several years after its release that I first saw it, and it's something I felt like I was looking forward to for a long time. I know at some point I saw it on VHS, and at some point I saw part of it in a theater... probably in 1997. Except there was a malfunction with the film partway through the movie (apparently it melted), so I didn't get to see the whole thing. Which was really annoying. Anyway, I don't remember if I'd seen the movie on VHS before that, or after. But I got it on DVD (the diamond edition) in 2013, which is when I'm writing this review. (I wanted to get the trilogy box set in 2008, which included the 2006 platinum edition of the movie, along with the 2000 sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and the 2008 prequel The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning. But at the time, I couldn't afford it, and then it went back into "The Disney Vault." So I had to wait several years for another chance to get any of those movies.)

Anyway, the movie is based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen, though I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the details of that story. But um... this story begins with a ship full of humans, including Prince Eric. But before long, the focus shifts under the sea. A merman named King Triton is attending a concert conducted by a crab named Sebastian. Singers include a bunch of Triton's daughters (there's no mention of their mother, though presumably Triton is a widower). The concert is supposed to be the debut of his youngest daughter, 16-year-old Ariel (Jodi Benson), but she's not there. She totally forgot about the event, and is off exploring a sunken ship with her friend, a flounder named Flounder. (Gosh, he must have had imaginative parents.) They get attacked by a shark, and barely manage to escape. Of course Triton and Sebastian are both upset that she missed the concert. Triton is also upset that she went to the surface... Ariel, you see, likes to collect human artifacts, and then she shows them to a seagull named Scuttle (Buddy Hackett), who tells her what they are. Of course, the names he gives the objects are completely ridiculous, and he's just as wrong about what humans use the things for.

So, Triton orders Sebastian to follow Ariel and make sure she doesn't disobey his orders to stay away from humans. Why he thinks a little crab could control her, I don't know. But anyway, Sebastian discovers that Ariel has a whole collection of human artifacts. And then she sees a ship passing overhead, so she goes to check it out. On the ship is Eric, with whom she falls in love at first sight, though she doesn't let him see her. But then a storm destroys the ship, so Ariel saves his life, and brings him to shore. Just as he's waking up, she's singing, and while he doesn't clearly see her, he falls in love with her voice. But she swims away before he's fully conscious.

Triton eventually finds out about all this, and he's furious. So he destroys Ariel's collection. After he leaves, while Ariel is crying, a pair of eels named Flotsam and Jetsam come and tell her that her problem could be solved by their boss, Ursula the sea witch (Pat Carroll). (Ursula is like half woman, half octopus.) Ariel is reluctant at first, but soon decides to go with them to talk to Ursula, followed by Flounder and Sebastian. Ursula convinces Ariel to sign a contract whereby the witch makes her human, in exchange for her voice. Also according to the contract, Ariel has three days to get Prince Eric to kiss her- with true love's kiss, of course- or else the spell will be broken, and Ariel will belong to Ursula forever.

Ariel soon finds Eric, who has been constantly trying to find the girl who rescued him. When he sees Ariel, at first he thinks it's her, but when he finds she has no voice, he figures it can't be her. Still, he spends some time with her, and I guess he likes her. And Sebastian does his best to help speed up the romance, when he's not running away from Chef Louis (Rene Auberjonois). (That whole subplot reminds me of an episode of Raw Toonage, which I saw before I ever saw this movie.) Incidentally, while Ariel never eats any fish or crabs or anything, I find it disturbing that she's not horrified by the fact that Eric and pretty much all humans do eat sea creatures. Not that I'm blaming them, because there's no way they could know such creatures are intelligent, which nevertheless kind of horrifies me. In real life of course that's not true, but within the context of this movie... fish are apparently as intelligent as humans. (Oddly enough, Eric has a dog that just seems to be a dog, so I don't know why fish and birds would be special, but I'm overthinking things.) The point is, Ariel knows, so you'd think she'd be horrified, too. Humans eating sea creatures would seem to lend credence to her father's prejudice against humans. But no. (Also incidentally, it's kind of standard practice for me to mention that I don't believe in love at first sight, and that I always have to suspend disbelief for the purposes of a good story. But in this case, that really seems secondary to the fish-eating thing.)

Whatever. Ursula does her best to interfere with the developing relationship between Ariel and Eric. And I don't want to say anything more specific about the plot. But things do get very dark, before there's finally a happy ending. It really is scary for awhile, and profoundly touching and sad when Triton makes a sacrifice to save his daughter... though it still may not be enough. But um... I already said there's a happy ending. I guess that's a spoiler, but hey, it's a Disney movie. Of course there's a happy ending. The important points are: it's a good story, there are some amazing songs, there's good humor and drama and romance, and... I've always had a mad crush on Ariel, since long before I ever saw the movie. And doubtless I'm forgetting things I wanted to say, but that's the gist of it. It's just an awesome movie.

The film inspired a prequel TV series from 1992-94, which I must have seen before I ever saw the movie. Which I suppose is kind of appropriate, for a prequel. And in 2019, there was a TV special called The Little Mermaid Live!, made up partly of this movie and partly of live performances of the songs. There was a live-action adaptation in 2023.

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