Before Nemo got lost or Johnny Depp ruled the Caribbean, a redheaded mermaid named Ariel ruled the family film waters in "The Little Mermaid."
Now, nearly 20 years later, the classic is back, looking and sounding fresher than ever on a special 2-disc DVD set with an assortment of extra features to expand the aquatic experience.
In 1989, "Mermaid" rose from the murky Disney depths to reestablish the studio as a leader in classic animated films. Many fans who wore out their VHS copies of the film will find this remastered and redigitized version a reminder of its charms, while it woos a whole new generation of fans.
The classic tale about teenage rebellion begins when mermaid Ariel defies her father and falls for the wrong guy -- really wrong in this case since he's human and has weird appendages called legs. Out of desperation to join the prince on land, Ariel makes a deal with the evil witch Ursula: Ariel will give up her voice in exchange for legs and a chance to win her guy within three days. Her success depends on her determination and the help of her friends Flounder, Sebastian and Scuttle.
The treasure trove of bonus features is more diverse than Ariel's secret stash and quite a lot to wade through. Some are obviously more geared towards Disney Channel-loving kids, such as a cover of the film's song "Kiss the Girl" by "High School Musical" star Ashley Tisdale, complete with an effortlessly cute and unexceptional music video. Other musical features that will appeal to the small fry is the "song selection" -- which provides a karaoke experience by subtitling select songs -- and a sneak peek at "The Little Mermaid III" that shows Sebastian's fun side.
The DisneyPedia has a more educational bent, providing facts about the real-life counterparts to the underwater creatures featured in the film like Flounder (who's really a reef fish) and the villainous morays Flotsam and Jetsam. A prime opportunity was missed, however, to examine the mermaid mythology, which kids would find fascinating. I'm sure Disney would have found a way to skirt around part about leading men to their deaths.
Although there's no game on the bonus disc (despite a boast on the packaging), the're a virtual tour of a proposed "Mermaid" ride that was never realized despite a lot of hours and manpower designing it -- from sketches to actual molded pieces. It's really a shame, and hearing the people involved reminisce about it is heartbreaking.
This, and the animated short "The Little Match Girl" are a couple of the most intriguing features on the DVD. Clocking in at around seven minutes, the short directed by Roger Allers ("The Lion King") relates another Hans Christian Andersen tale, but this time retains the sad ending. The gorgeously animated story is set in pre-revolutionary Russia to Alexander Borodin's melancholy "String Quartet No. 2 in D Major" and contains no dialogue. It doesn't need it.
Lovers of animation or just "Mermaid" in general have plenty to choose from as far as the information offered about the film goes. Sitting through the 83-minute film all over again for the commentary is worth it for the co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker pointing out continuity errors or little in-jokes, such as having other Disney characters attending the mermaids' concert at the beginning of the film. Composer Alan Menken also adds his two cents about creating the Oscar-winning score and song "Under the Sea."
A word of warning about the "making of": it's a time commitment at 45 minutes and doesn't get to the juicy stuff (e.g. cross-dresser Divine was a model for Ursula) until much later. I suggest you skip to the part about singing. Similarly, the never-before-seen deleted scenes are intriguing since they provide backstory and additional plot points, but the scenes are only told through rough storyboard sketches. The best stuff here is anything to do with Ashman, such as his rendition of Ursula's vampy song "Poor Unfortunate Souls."
And if you still need more "Mermaid" in your diet, there's also a featurette about writer Andersen's original story, the behind-the-scenes special effects to create the shipwreck sequence and art/photo galleries galore.
Extras: New "Kiss the Girl" music video by Ashley Tisdale; Under the Sea virtual ride; DisneyPedia: Life Under the Sea; never-before-seen deleted scenes; "The Little Match Girl" animated short; Treasure Untold: The Making of Disney's "The Little Mermaid"; "The Little Mermaid III" musical sneak peek; art galleries; early presentation reel; original theatrical trailer; Disney song selection; audio commentary
REVIEW: 'The Little Mermaid: 2-Disc Platinum Edition'
Awash with bonus features for every member of the family
Ariel loses her voice in an early sketch for 'The Little Mermaid'