DirectorJohn Musker/Ron Clements
Release Date(s)1989 (February 26, 2019)
Studio(s)Walt Disney Pictures (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
The Little Mermaid began the era of what became known as the Disney Renaissance, a time when there were new people were coming into the company and the animation department was on the verge of being shut down forever. At that time, their output wasn’t drawing in the kind of box office success that they were hoping for, and their creative efforts seemed to be on a downward slope. But in 1989, The Little Mermaid changed all of that and put Disney back on top again.
For those who weren’t around for it, it’s difficult to imagine the newfound success that The Little Mermaid had at the time of its release. It was like a bolt out of the blue, crossing boundaries between both sexes and people of all ages and backgrounds. A touching story of a lovesick mermaid named Ariel who wanted nothing more than to be a part of the human world revitalized American theatrical animated films in a way that no film had in decades.
The history of the film goes back quite a ways as Walt Disney himself was actually interested in making The Little Mermaid into a vignette as part of a film showcasing stories by Hans Christian Anderson. Concept art was even drawn up for it, which still survives today. Unfortunately, the project never got off the ground and was shelved until the mid-1980s when writers/directors Ron Clements and John Musker, after making The Great Mouse Detective, became interested in turning the story into a full-length film (though they had no knowledge of Walt Disney’s prior attempt at the story at the time).
The Little Mermaid also brought composer and songwriter Howard Ashman into the limelight. He had been a mildly successful songwriter, but it was The Little Mermaid that really put his name on the map (along with Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin later on). With great classic numbers like Under the Sea, Part of Your World, and Kiss the Girl, the film was one of the great animated musicals of its time, and was subsequently nominated for three Oscars, winning two for Best Song and Best Score – a first for a Disney animated film. Sadly, it was also the last time that traditional hand-painted cels were used by Disney to create the animation, which was an art form unto itself.
Disney re-releases The Little Mermaid on Blu-ray for a second time in an Anniversary Edition package, 30 years after the film’s original theatrical release. It features a new transfer (which is also being used for the 4K-UHD release), and at first glance, there appears to be no major difference between the previous Diamond Edition Blu-ray release and this new one. An extremely light layer of grain remains throughout, giving the film an organic appearance and being faithful to its source with smooth edges along the lines of characters and objects. The key differences are in the overall color palette and levels of brightness, which has been marginally improved (and likely more pronounced on the UHD release). Colors are richer and scenes appear slightly more vivid. The same deep blacks and satisfactory contrast levels remain, and there are no digital artifacts left behind. Overall, only slight improvements, at least in 1080p.
The film’s soundtrack comes in three options: English 7.1 DTS-HD and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital with optional subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. I would have appreciated having the original 5.1 theatrical soundtrack as option, but the 7.1 track (the same as the Diamond Edition Blu-ray release) is a good option regardless. It’s simply the original soundtrack with a larger scope, so the mix of it hasn’t really changed much. It can be front-heavy but the music and score carry plenty of dynamic range. Dialogue is also clear and discernable at all times. There isn’t much in terms of LFE, but what is present is effective.
The major letdown of this re-release is the extras selection. It’s an extremely light package compared to the previous Diamond Edition release, which was packed to the nines with great bonus material. What you do get is a Sing-a-Long mode; an audio commentary with writers/directors Ron Clements and John Musker, and composer Alan Menken; Alan Menken & The Leading Ladies, a new 16-minute featurette with actresses/vocalists Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O’Hara (Beauty and the Beast), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas), Lillias White (Hercules), Donna Murphy (Tangled), and composer Alan Menken reminiscing about their work; “What I Want From You Is... Your Voice”, an all-too brief 6-minute collection of vintage footage of the voice actors performing their roles for the film, but also giving interviews as well; Stories from Walt’s Office: Gadgets & Gizmos, a 6-minute interview with director of the Disney Archives Rebecca Cline and archivist Edward Ovalle about Walt Disney’s miniatures collection; #Treasturesuntold, a 6-minute featurette with Dakota Lotus and Ruby Rose Turner from the Disney Channel show Coop & Cami Ask the World who profess their love for the film; the Part of Your World music video by DCappella; Deleted Character: Harold the Merman, a 2-minute featurette with Clements and Musker introducing a deleted storyboard sequence; Under the Scene: The Art of Live Action Reference, a 13-minute featurette with Clements, Musker, and others speaking about using live action references for the animation; Howard’s Lecture, a 17-minute featurette about composer Howard Ashman; and a Classic Bonus Preview video detailing extras that can be only be accessed by redeeming the Digital Copy (including the new Part of Your World: A Look Back featurette). Also included is a trailer for Dumbo (2019) that opens the disc, a DVD copy, and a paper insert with a code for the aforementioned Digital Copy.
Missing from the previous Diamond Edition release is the 3D version of the film; the Crab-E-Oke intermission (not necessarily missed due to its annoyance); the Part of Your World music video by Carly Rae Jepsen; the @Disneyanimation 11-minute featurette; the Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland 5-minute featurette; 7 deleted scenes with introductions by Clements and Musker; the Treasures Untold: The Making of The Little Mermaid 46-minute documentary; The Storm Warming: The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit 9-minute featurette; The Little Mermaid: The Story Behind the Story 12-minute featurette; The Little Match Girl short; a 3-minute Under the Sea Early Presentation Reel; the film’s original theatrical trailer; the 1-minute John & Ron Make Caricatures of Each Other segment; the Animators Comment on Their Characters 2-minute featurette; the 30-second Clements and Musker Demonstrating “The Little Mermaid Handshake” segment; the Disney Song Selection segment featuring four songs from the film and a music video for Kiss the Girl by Ashley Tisdale; the Disneypedia: Life Under the Sea 9-minute featurette; the Behind the Ride That Almost Was 6-minute featurette; the Under the Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride Inspired by Disney Imagineers: Ride the Attraction 4-minute segment; and a multitude of previews for other Disney films and products. Also not included from the original Platinum Special Edition DVD release is The Little Mermaid III Musical Sneak Peek and The Little Mermaid Art Galleries (Visual Development, Kay Nielsen Artwork , Character Design, Storyboard Art, Backgrounds, Productions Photos).
Needless to say, that’s a large amount of missing material, and not all of it is included in the Digital Copy version of the extras either. And just so you’re aware, if you’re planning on purchasing the 4K-UHD release, it doesn’t include any extra material other than what’s on this Blu-ray, which is also included in the package.
Sad to say, the 30th Anniversary re-release of The Little Mermaid on Blu-ray offers little for hardcore enthusiasts. I would suggest just picking up the 4K-UHD release and hanging on to those Diamond Edition and Platinum Special Edition releases a bit longer if you want everything. With a transfer that’s only marginally improved in high definition, ultra high definition is likely the way to go for now, making this a fairly skippable release if you own it already.
– Tim Salmons