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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 37: "The Little Mermaid"

(Originally posted on 9/16/22)


The Little Mermaid

Run time: 83 min.

Release Date: November 17, 1989.

Where/when I first saw it: Randhurst Cinema, 1989 (most likely, November 19, 1989, the Sunday after its release)

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, Sunday evening

Part of the joy in watching “The Little Mermaid” comes in knowing this was the film in which the Disney artists of the late ‘80s pulled out all the stops and delivered something that hadn’t been seen from the studio in many decades. Every scene is infused with this collective desire from all involved to deliver an irresistible story with memorable, infectious musical numbers, the most memorable villain since Cruella DeVille, scene-stealing side characters and a huge, romantic heart. Exactly a year prior (a year and a day apart), “Oliver & Company” laid the foundation for what an animated musical sequence could look like if approached in the same manner as a Broadway production or a Busby Berkeley number. “The Little Mermaid” takes that approach many steps further and basically reinvents the Disney musical fairy tale in just 80 minutes.

One of the keys to its success is Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman’s impeccable songwriting and score, which deservedly won Oscars. These are not songs used to just fill time or to express an attitude. These are carefully constructed stories and lessons that ring true for many young viewers. They are also frequently funny when they need to be. There is an elegance to them that had been missing from the Disney Studio’s work for so long, people almost forgot what a new Disney movie was supposed to be. Menkin and Ashman played a pivotal role in lifting the studio out of the doldrums of the past two decades at a point where it was sink-or-swim (no pun intended).

I remember working at Randhurst Cinema when the film came out. It stayed there for at least seven months. People kept coming back to it. Maybe it was akin to the success of “Star Wars,” to be able to watch a story again that brought back a kind of magic that had been gone for a while, just as Lucas’ space saga reminded people of the old heroes and the simplicity of good vs evil. Perhaps it was also Sebastian (lovingly voiced by Samuel E. Wright), the loveable crab caught between his loyalty toward King Triton and keeping Aerial out of trouble. For me, the stand-out sequence is “Kiss The Girl,” the moment when I knew how special this movie was and why it continues to endure. It binds everything great about this movie (and many other great Disney movies of yesteryear) into one very funny, suspenseful, romantic and gorgeously animated sequence.

The songs have a way of staying in your head, of course, and that’s part of its charm and magic. The animation remains wondrous. Even though some may gripe about the overcooked simplicity of the Classic Disney Fairy Tale and all its implications, it doesn’t matter. “The Little Mermaid” hasn’t aged a day.


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