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The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

The Little Mermaid (1989) movie poster The Little Mermaid

Theatrical Release: November 17, 1989 / Running Time: 83 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: John Musker, Ron Clements / Writers: John Musker, Ron Clements (screenplay); Hans Christian Andersen (fairy tale)

Voice Cast: Renι Auberjonois (Chef Louis), Christopher Daniel Barnes (Prince Eric), Jodi Benson (Ariel, Vanessa), Pat Carroll (Ursula), Paddi Edwards (Flotsam & Jetsam), Buddy Hackett (Scuttle), Jason Marin (Flounder), Kenneth Mars (King Triton), Edie McClurg (Carlotta), Will Ryan (Seahorse), Ben Wright (Grimsby), Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian)

Songs: "Fathoms Below", "Daughters of Triton", "Part of Your World", "Under the Sea", "Part of Your World (Reprise)", "Poor Unfortunate Souls", "Les Poissons", "Kiss the Girl"

Buy The Little Mermaid from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + DC • Blu-ray 3D Combo • Blu-ray + DVD • DVD + DC • Instant Video
Past DVDs: 2-Disc Platinum Edition • 3-Movie Collection • Limited Issue

CHANGES TO THE FILM

Regrettably but unsurprisingly, even in this 2D presentation, the film is preceded by the current Disney logo (did any film embody the light blue castle logo better?!) and includes a patch of 3D conversion credits in the closing scroll.
Those are the most prominent changes, but someone with an eye for detail and access to Europe's earlier release has spotted some other minor revisions, including altered timing of the opening titles and, most bafflingly, the swapping of two brief shots from the end of Ariel's initial "Part of Your World." They've detailed the differences better than I could describe with this split-screen YouTube video. It's nit-picky, I can't even tell what we're supposed to notice in some of the clips (changed colors?), and I'm not about to join those demanding a recall. But it's also strange and unnecessary, as is the presumably final 2006 modification designed to squash a legend about the priest presiding over Eric and Vanessa's wedding. His knobby knee is nowhere to be seen, because that's how Disney can combat easily disputed urban legends, by changing the movies to make the original claim look legit.

Carly Rae Jepsen lets her reflection do the singing in her "Part of Your World" music video. Disney animator Brittney Lee showed an appreciation for Ariel from a young age in this old Disney Channel clip featured in "@DisneyAnimation."

BONUS FEATURES

The Blu-ray's all-new HD bonus features begin with the obligatory "Part of Your World" cover (3:39), this one performed by "Call Me Maybe" singer Carly Rae Jepsen. While the new interpretation of the song doesn't do much for me, it's at least presented in a polished and creative music video that stays out of the recording studio and pays homage to The Little Mermaid without resorting to clips. In other words, it shouldn't leave you longing for the Disney Channel Circle of Stars.

The title "@DisneyAnimation" elicits a groan, but this artfully-shot featurette (10:45) collects remarks from a number of young Disney animators who cite The Little Mermaid as directing them to their calling. Their comments are complemented by reflections from the old-timers like Ron Clements and John Musker. What could play as a company promo instead puts human faces on the storied division and gives a sense of the workplace atmosphere, along with some looks at current productions.

Sherri Stoner and Joshua Finkel's live-action reference is compared to the corresponding Ariel and Eric embrace in "Under the Scene." Howard Ashman's lunchtime lecture to the crew of "The Little Mermaid" is excerpted at length and given context.

"Deleted Character: Harold the Merman" (2:05) has Clements and Musker discuss a character they regretted losing, whose cut foreshadowing scene is presented out of storyboards and new recordings. There's not much to it and obviously his loss didn't harm the film, but it's obviously cool to see.

Watch a clip from "Deleted Character: Harold the Merman":

"Under the Scene: The Art of Live-Action Reference" (13:13) reveals how Disney revived a valuable technique from Walt's day for Mermaid with input from Alice (in Wonderland) voice/model Kathryn Beaumont. We get a historical perspective on the practice and several looks at the fascinating live-action reference performed by comedian/"Animaniacs" writer/Slappy Squirrel voice Sherri Stoner as Ariel and Joshua Finkel as Prince Eric. The two actors reflect on their work, which is compared to the corresponding scene from the final film.

"Howard's Lecture" (16:27) preserves, contextualizes, and reflects on lunchtime remarks, briefly excerpted in the past, that Howard Ashman made early on in The Little Mermaid's production to explain to the crew his background, his interest in animation, music's role in musicals, his visions for the movie's developing numbers, and the varied storytelling roles they play.

Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel, takes a promotional visit to Disneyland's Art of Animation Resort. Crab-e-oke Sing-Along brings the lyrics of "Under the Sea" and other songs to life in creative and stylish ways.

"Part of Her World: Jodi Benson's Voyage to New Fantasyland" (4:45) brings the voice of Ariel and her children to the newly-opened Art of Animation Resort and the recently redone section of Disneyland including the Little Mermaid ride.
It's basically an extended Disney Parks commercial, but one with some substance and of value to Benson fans.

"Crab-e-oke Sing-Along" (15:35) treats five songs from the film ("Part of Your World", "Under the Sea", "Poor Unfortunate Souls", "Les Poissons" and "Kiss the Girl") to appealing, fitting animation of their lyrics. An advance over the scenes with plain old lyrics, this feature unveiled for The Muppet Movie has potential to become a Blu-ray staple, which is exciting news for Disney-loving graphic designers. It's already planned for Mary Poppins at least as "Mary-oke." As on Muppet Movie, the songs are also employed via "Disney Intermission", a by-default activated feature that starts playing one of these at random after a Sebastian audio introduction when you pause the movie, which can annoy greatly depending on your reason for pausing.

Recycled extras fall under the heading Classic DVD Bonus Features and are mostly presented in standard definition and generally windowboxed.

Ariel sees herself with the legs she wants in this extended version of "Poor Unfortunate Souls." He can laugh about it now. Former Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg recalls how he wanted to cut "Part of Your World." Four effects animators reunite and revisit their work in "Storm Warning."

First up there is a long section of deleted scenes (26:29), presented in a rough mix of pencil tests and story reels introduced by Clements and Musker. It includes alternate, longer versions of "Fathoms Below" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls", an alternate ending, and a demo of unused number "Silence is Golden."

Much substantial material falls under Backstage Disney, starting with "Treasures Untold: The Making of The Little Mermaid" (45:33), a big six-part documentary. It interviews virtually anyone important with something to say, including Clements, Musker, Menken, former executives Roy Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Peter Schneider, filmmakers John Waters, Frank Oz, and Nora Ephron, Leonard Maltin, and the voice cast. It's one of Disney's more comprehensive and candid retrospectives, which admits the doldrums out of which this film came, acknowledges unlikely sources of inspiration, and shares much behind-the-scenes video and drama.

"Storm Warning: The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit" (8:40) pays notice to the film's effects animation with interviews and a reunion of four of the men behind it, Mark Dindal, Randy Fullmer, Dorse Lanpher, and Ted Kierscey.

Hans Christian Andersen, painted telling his daughter a bedtime story, gets his due in "The Story Behind the Story." With the loss of an art gallery, this early presentation reel now provides our only glimpses of Little Mermaid concept art. The animated short "The Little Matchgirl" adapts another Hans Christian Andersen story more faithfully and depressingly.

"The Little Mermaid: The Story Behind the Story" (11:29) informs us on Hans Christian Andersen, with looks at Denmark's Hans Christian Andersen Museum and comments from its curator Ejnar Stig Askgaard. It also tells us about an unrealized 1941 attempt for Disney to develop the story into a featurette and gives us insight into Clements and Musker's adaptation process.

The nifty "Under the Sea Early Presentation Reel" (2:35) teases the film far in advance using a Menken performance of the Oscar-winning song over concept art and story sketches.

Introduced by director Roger Allers (0:33), The Little Matchgirl (6:39) is an Academy Award-nominated short conceived for an unrealized Fantasia sequel that wasn't widely seen until its inclusion on The Little Mermaid's DVD. Adapting a different Hans Christian Andersen story silently to Alexander Borodin's Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major, its connection is obvious and its inclusion -- in HD, no less --is valuable.

The Little Mermaid's original theatrical trailer (2:15) is a valuable and somewhat rare inclusion for a Disney movie.

Directors John Musker and Ron Clements demonstrate their no-longer secret Little Mermaid handshake. Remember me? Ashley Tisdale's 2006 "Kiss the Girl" music video already feels like a Disney blast from the past. "DisneyPedia: Life Under the Sea" reveals that real moray eels aren't as devilish as Flotsam and Jetsam.

"John & Ron Make Caricatures of Each Other" (1:05) is just what its title suggests, as the directors draw one another in front of the other. Similarly short and silly, "Clements & Musker Demonstrate The Little Mermaid Handshake" (0:32) has the directors show us their secret Little Mermaid handshake. In between them, "Animators Comment on Their Characters" (1:42) collects brief recollections from Ruben Aquino, Glen Keane, Mark Henn, and Sherri Stoner, mostly about using Stoner's live-action reference. All three were previously presented as Easter eggs.

Music & More holds the music video for Ashley Tisdale's unremarkable, inoffensive pop "Kiss the Girl" cover (3:30). It also has Disney Song Selection, allowing you to play four songs from the film ("Part of Your World", "Under the Sea", "Les Poissons", "Kiss the Girl") with lyrics displayed as italicized white subtitles. You can also watch the entire film that way, which is the only way to see less famous tunes like "Fathoms Below" get the treatment.

An audio commentary features writers/directors Clements and Musker alongside composer Alan Menken. For the sake of keeping this review timely, I didn't re-listen to it, simply recycling the pertinent portion of my DVD review. The three speakers single out efforts of all of the major crew and voice cast members, though it's thankfully not a name-dropping session. They explain how certain shots and effects were achieved, though also avoiding the dry, technical "this is what we did" approach. Among more interesting topics touched upon are production obstacles, Sebastian's development, the influence of drag queen Divine, management's requests for "more Die Hard"-type action, and how Menken's Oscar success dictated a change to the Academy's music award process. The trio also points out neat little tidbits, like Flounder's three-frame morph to Scuttle, the fact that Ben Wright (Grimsby) voiced Roger in 101 Dalmatians, minute continuity errors, things that they would do differently given another chance, and the challenges experienced in the first shot achieved with Disney's CAPS (Computer Animation Production System). Scattered throughout the track, there are some excerpts of a release-time interview with Menken and his late musical collaborator Howard Ashman.

"DisneyPedia: Life Under the Sea" (8:25) is a kid-oriented short about the real life versions of sea creatures featured in the film, including fish, crabs, sea horses, sharks, octopi, and moray eels, all of which appear in nature footage.

Disney's Senior VP of Imagineering Tony Bancroft discusses the ride that almost was and now is. This Little Mermaid virtual ride may seem a bit quaint now that there's a real world alternative. Still, this 2006 feature seems to have inspired the project's realization.

"Behind the Ride That Almost Was" (5:54) discusses the long-unrealized Little Mermaid
theme park ride that finally materialized not that long after this featurette was released in 2006. Imagineers and executives share concept art, the dashed plans, and considerations. It sort of needs a follow-up epilogue beyond the Benson family's promotional outing.

That's followed by the computer-animated virtual ride (4:15), which undoubtedly feels a little quaint compared to the real thing. Still, it's one of Disney's most notable bonus features, especially given that it seems to have led to an actual ride opening. It's kind of tough to believe it wasn't created in high definition. At least it fills the 16:9 screen and features the film's original voice talent.

Adding to the format's constant devaluing, the DVD in this combo pack only includes "Jodi Benson's Voyage to New Fantasyland" and two deleted scenes that add up to 9 minutes and change with Ron & John intros. What a letdown this set will be for those who missed out on the Platinum Edition and haven't upgraded to Blu-ray, but enjoy bonus features. That's probably not a huge audience to worry about, but that discontinued 2-disc set is far preferable this one for households with no immediate interest in Blu-ray. Well under capacity, the disc could have at least been an easy way to hang onto the dropped art gallery (more on that in a moment) without the challenges of adapting it for Blu-ray.

Both discs open with trailers for The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition, Frozen, and Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition, followed by a Pinocchio-themed anti-smoking PSA. Before repeating the trailers, the Sneak Peeks listing plays promos for Disney Movie Rewards, "Sofia the First", Disney Cruise Line, Radio Disney sweepstakes, Monsters University, and The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea & The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning: Two-Movie Collection.

WHAT'S MISSING?

Most of Little Mermaid's Platinum Edition DVD extras have made it to this Blu-ray, but a couple of things do not: an extensive art gallery and the "Ride with the Imagineers" mode of the virtual ride that added behind-the-scenes visuals and audio commentary by Disney Imagineering senior VP Tony Baxter. More forgivable, we've also lost an 80-second sneak peek of Ariel's Beginning.

The Little Mermaid's Diamond Edition Blu-ray and DVD menus opt for beautiful understatement.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The unusually artistic menu plays an instrumental version of "Part of Your World" alongside an animated rendering of the film's classiest poster design, placing Ariel's silhouette against the moon.
Though this would be a nice title to ring in some change, this Blu-ray is authored like most of Disney's past ones, meaning it doesn't resume playback or support bookmarks, but it does remember where you were in the movie if you didn't finish watching it.

You figured it was only a matter of time before Disney stopped printing a booklet for their Diamond Editions. Well, that time has come. The only inserts inside Little Mermaid's side-snapped blue keepcase are a Disney Movie Rewards booklet, whose unique code not only nets you points and unlocks the downloadable iTunes digital copy but also a $5 gift code to DisneyStore.com if entered by year's end. The other six-sided pamphlet promotes products and services, most notably a coupon for 50% off one regular-priced item at Jo-Ann Fabrics.

Scuttle the seagull has trouble figuring out what's different about Ariel. (She's got legs, you idiot!)

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I've seen The Little Mermaid enough times to know there isn't a significant flaw to be found here. This film that began Disney's '90s Animation Renaissance just a few weeks before the start of the '90s remains a high mark for the studio and not just for that. Full of entertainment, replay value,
and all kinds of delights, this magical piece of cinema continues to rank among the studio's (or any studio's) finest efforts.

Releasing to suitable demand, this Diamond Edition Blu-ray mostly meets one's high expectations for a highly-anticipated release of an extremely popular film. The feature presentation is great (in spite of a few minor changes), its picture staying a little truer to the film's original look than presumably many of Disney's heavily-restored older classics. The hour of new bonus features is good material, complementing the exhaustive DVD supplements that are gladly mostly retained. The Blu-ray loses the DVD's art gallery instead of upgrading it and drops a couple of virtual ride playback enhancements. The new DVD is pitifully lightweight and quite inferior to the old Platinum Edition. Still, those are minor disappointments that almost certainly won't stand in the way of you adding a such a high-caliber film and set to your collection.

Support great cinema and this site when you buy The Little Mermaid now from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + DVD + DC / Blu-ray 3D + BD + DVD + DC / Blu-ray + DVD / DVD + DC
2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD / 3-Movie Collection DVD / Limited Issue DVD

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Ron Clements & John Musker: The Princess and the Frog • Aladdin • The Great Mouse Detective • Hercules
Diamond Edition Blu-rays: Beauty and the Beast • The Lion King • Cinderella • Peter Pan • Bambi • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Disney Animation on Blu-ray: Oliver & Company • Pocahontas • The Hunchback of Notre Dame • Mulan • Tangled
More Disney Animation on Blu-ray: The Fox and the Hound • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh • Lilo & Stitch • Brother Bear • Wreck-It Ralph
Waking Sleeping Beauty • The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea • The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginnings • Enchanted
New: From Here to Eternity • The Painting • House of Wax • Slacker • A Letter to Three Wives

Disney Costumes at Halloween Express

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Reviewed October 1, 2013.