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Disney's Platinum Edition DVDs: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs • Beauty and the Beast
The Lion King • Aladdin • Bambi • Cinderella • Lady and the Tramp • The Little Mermaid
Peter Pan • The Jungle Book • 101 Dalmatians • Sleeping Beauty • Pinocchio

The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition DVD Review

The Little Mermaid movie poster The Little Mermaid

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

Writers/Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker / Fairy Tale Author: Hans Christian Anderson

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

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"

Awards: Academy Awards - Best Song ("Under the Sea"), Best Original Score; Golden Globes - Best Song ("Under the Sea"), Best Original Score

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Page 1: The Movie, Changes, Video and Audio, Disc 1 Bonus Features
Page 2: Disc 2 Bonus Features, Menus and Packaging, Closing Thoughts

Feature-length Disney animation began with a musical fairy tale -- 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. After a world war-induced change of pace, it was revived with a musical fairy tale -- Cinderella (1950).
Following the format's least fruitful period of twenty years, the much-loved tradition returned to widespread public admiration with -- you guessed it -- a musical fairy tale. The last film in question is The Little Mermaid, one few hesitate to label as the start of a Renaissance in the studio's animated filmmaking.

In Disney's loose, contemporary-minded adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, teenaged redhead Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) is the youngest of seven daughters of King Triton (Kenneth Mars), the stern ruler of the sea. Singing in concerts and enjoying the aquatic life is a satisfying enough existence for Ariel's briefly-seen sisters, but she longs for something more. Her passion is in learning about those above the surface, which she often does alongside faithful young friend Flounder (Jason Marin), a blue and yellow fish. Ariel maintains a diverse collection of artifacts from the human world, though her knowledge of them is spotty at best, thanks to her source, Scuttle, a well-meaning but scatterbrained seagull (comedian Buddy Hackett).

Unfortunately for Ariel, Triton is not very open-minded about human things; he forbids her to visit the surface out of a mix of overprotectiveness and prejudice. He appoints a tiny red crab named Sebastian (a Caribbean-accented Samuel Wright) to keep watch over the girl. The crab, however, is no competition for youthful curiosity; Ariel returns to the surface and takes special interest in a handsome, confident prince named Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes, of the '90s Brady Bunch films) who is seaborne on a large vessel she secretly discovers. A fierce storm demands Ariel's heroics to rescue Eric, which she does. As Eric is knocked unconscious during the save mission, the only thanks for this close call that Ariel gets is a firm punishment handed down by Triton.

Ariel and Flounder get information on the "dinglehopper" (not a fork) from their authority on human fare, Scuttle. King Triton turns to his trusted confidant Sebastian to help keep an eye on his daughter.

Triton's ensuing edict -- forbidding Ariel to visit the surface -- only makes his daughter more eager to see Eric, a response not uncommon for teenage girls. While Sebastian is skillfully singing the praises of underwater living, she is sneaking off to check out an enticing offer made by Ursula (Pat Carroll), a bulky Sea Witch whose lower torso resembles that of a squid. Seizing an opportunity to hurt Triton, Ursula offers Ariel a chance to be fully human. There are two stipulations. The first is that the mermaid's voice will now belong to Ursula (or rather, her seashell amulet). The second: if Ariel cannot receive true love's kiss by sunset on her third day of having legs, she will join the unsightly ranks of others who have done business with the witch and failed to come through on their part of the bargain.

Voiceless, unsteady on her legs and half-fish out of water, Ariel pursues Eric, with some help from Sebastian and Scuttle. A few seeds of romance blossom as Ariel finds herself a guest in Eric's castle. When it looks like love is in the air, Ursula and her pair of odd-eyed eel henchmen Flotsam and Jetsam take matters into their own. To say anything more might ruin surprises. But, more likely, it would just tell you what you already know. After all, it seems a long shot that you would go seventeen years without seeing The Little Mermaid and yet find this review on a Disney-themed website.

As such, you probably are already well aware that The Little Mermaid is a fantastic film. If not, be it now known that this movie is one of the strongest that Disney or anyone else has ever made, animated or not. Of course, not everyone would agree with that assessment. There are a number of criticisms to be taken. One of the more common ones is that Disney's film has its way with Andersen's source text. In the original story, first published in 1836, the young mermaid of the title yearns to be human so she can possess an eternal soul. In the movie, she merely thinks that "dinglehoppers" (forks) and "snarfblats" (pipes) are interesting and that Eric seems like one swell guy...based on appearance. Eternal soul? More like nice black hair.

Like any good villain, the sea witch Ursula, seen here with her henchmen eels Flotsam and Jetsam, has an evil scheme. This is why it's hotter under the water!

Arguments like the ones I just made tend to miss the movie's vast appeal and
I often dismiss them when I hear them. Perhaps it is because I experienced the movie before ever knowing of the story. More likely, it's because I think a Disney animated feature and a 19th century Danish fairy tale are not cut from the same cloth. They're clearly serving different purposes. The objection that Disney's version of the tale will supplant its inspiration neglects the fact that Andersen's tale would not have reached as many people and would not have struck as many chords if not for the much-praised filming existing and delighting 20th century moviegoers (and, already, their offspring). Innovation strikes from all sorts of places, even one in which a protagonist turns into sea foam in the end. It is to Disney's credit that the studio's adaptation of Andersen's tale stands out from Tailleferre's opera, a pair of earlier Russian films, and others.

Rather than outline a plot you are already familiar with or highlight the rare negative reaction to the film any further, I might as well explain and praise some of the elements which come together and make Disney's Little Mermaid such a success. Mermaid marks a first union of Broadway and Disney animation. Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, who had collaborated on the off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors (and its 1986 big screen adaptation starring Rick Moranis), brought a distinctly theatrical sound to Mermaid. Music was the area where the film was repeatedly recognized during the award season, with both Menken's score and the pair's song "Under the Sea" (Sebastian's crowd-pleasing calypso number) winning Oscars and Golden Globes, the latter edging out the doubly-nominated "Kiss the Girl" (a doo-wop lagoon love anthem also led by Sebastian).

A third song, "Part of Your World", memorably and melodically establishes Ariel's wants; it came in at #5 (even above the two that earned the nods) in our Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown two years ago. It set a precedent for a Disney protagonist to vocalize (in song) their desires early in the film, something which was carried over to things like Beauty and the Beast ("Belle"), Aladdin ("One Jump Ahead"), and Pocahontas ("Just Around the Riverbend"). In fact, Mermaid's stage-inspired structure quickly became a hallmark of the Disney animated feature, which was suddenly returned to a pedestal as something beyond a mere movie. The Golden Age Mermaid is attributed with ringing in would be marked by record highs in box office returns and public acclaim which was corroborated by yearly recognition from critics and award shows.

Ursula gets ready to be paid. "It won't cost much, just your voice." Ariel adjusts to the human world alongside Eric.

In reality, the box office success of Mermaid was not as phenomenal as you think it might be for a film so widely seen and revered. Its domestic intake of $84 million was about 1½ times what Oliver & Company made, released exactly a year earlier. Oliver itself was considered a success, more than doubling the North American earnings of 1985's more ambitious The Black Cauldron as well as The Great Mouse Detective (1986), and outdoing the modest attendance levels for The Fox and the Hound's summer 1981 run. Mermaid definitely contributed to an upward slope which would reach unprecedented heights with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King in the falls and summer to come. But Ariel and company netted only a little more than half of what Touchstone-branded Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released the year before, had made and the same was true when worldwide box office was considered.

Where Mermaid really found its earning power was on home video, to which it was released in May of 1990. It became one of the year's top-sellers and quickly claimed long-term stays in many a family's VCR. Hearty video sales are what qualifies The Little Mermaid for Disney's Platinum Collection, a group of the studio's ten fourteen best-selling videocassettes which are treated at a rate of once twice a year to two loaded discs and a substantial digital remastering. Though many a DVD collector may not know it, The Little Mermaid was previously released on the format in December of 1999 under the short-lived "Limited Issue" banner. It came bearing no extras (unless you count "full color disc artwork" and "Film Recommendations" to the studio's eight other Limited Issue titles), no 16x9 enhancement, and, worst of all, no cardboard slipcover. (Gasp!)


Like Aladdin and The Lion King later did, The Little Mermaid inspired a few urban legends after its home video release enabled close and countless rewatchings. One of these involved Mermaid's poster artwork which was translated to the video cover. Complaints over an offensive spire -- that somehow resembled a not-to-be-exposed body part more than the other spires -- led to an artwork alteration for later versions. Obviously, that is a non-issue here, since, in the Platinum tradition, neither the poster art nor the video cover is replicated for the DVD package.

The other urban legend is along the same lines, but, like the sources of the Aladdin and Lion King "controversies", it has unfortunately been addressed and "corrected" here. Those who objected to the bent knee of the minister as Eric and Vanessa walked down the aisle to wed can rest easy knowing that even if it wasn't supposed to represent an erect version of the same body part above, no one will make that mistake again. (Unless they have the Limited Issue DVD or one of the millions of copies of videocassettes and laserdiscs that were released over the past 16½ years.) The presiding clergyman's knees remain bent in subsequent shots, where they are clearly knees. But the lone kneecap's bouncy, under-the-tunic appearance during the aisle walk has been unquestionably edited out; his tiny legs are now unbent. Extremely minor though this may be (then why do it?), it does affect continuity, as the diminutive, elderly minister (who is dressed as a bishop) now is presumed to change his posture (and height) to have his knees subsequently bent.

In this still from the Limited Issue DVD, the presiding minister has a bent knee. In this still of the same frame from the Platinum Edition DVD, his legs are straight.

This obviously offends more in principle than in practice, but it's fairly mind-baffling and again implies something was wrong in the first place. I wonder if the guy whose skills were requested for this job is the same one who removed the "SEX" ("SFX") from the clouds above Simba and deleted the "Take off your clothes" ("Take off and go") part of Aladdin's hushed balcony dialogue. I'd like to think it was, for this hypothetical cover-upper sounds like one cool dude.

Buy The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Enhanced Home Theater Mix (English),
Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 3, 2006
Two Single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Dual Amaray Keepcase with Side Snaps,
Housed in an Embossed Cardboard Slipcover


Platinum Editions always boast drastic digital restoration work and have almost always delivered on the promise for an excellent feature presentation. Does The Little Mermaid continue that tradition and live up to those high expectations? Yes, absolutely. As the second Platinum title which has already been on DVD, Mermaid is personally the first for which I have a source for comparison and a clear frame of reference. The movie's first time on disc was seven years ago under the banner "Limited Issue", a very short-lived collection of skimpy platters and underwhelming presentations.

The new transfer here, which offers the film in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, is a clear improvement over the Limited Issue's 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen exhibition, which itself was one of the less objectionable debuts. The softness, grain, and occasional ringing which marked the Limited Issue are practically bid farewell to here, as the Platinum's presentation offers rich colors, a solid picture, clearer lines, and more vibrancy. The difference in aspect ratios is minute, as this new transfer loses a few pixels in height but adds a few pixels in width.

Still from the Limited Issue DVD - click to view screencap in full 720 x 480. Still from the Platinum Edition DVD - click to view screencap in full 720 x 480.

Screencap from the Limited Issue DVD

Screencap of same frame from this Platinum Edition DVD

Though the movie turns 17 this fall, that still puts it in the younger half of titles in the collection, and plenty of '80s films have come to DVD looking brand new. Being familiar with the film from its initial release, I can vouch that the vibrancy of the visuals may be a step too far; I can't recall the picture ever being so bright and unadulterated in color.
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Still, I can't qualify this as a shortcoming, since even if it may be "restored beyond its original brilliance", the results are not unsatisfying or unfaithful. Furthermore, with the directors and animators participating in this DVD, I expect and hope they would have objected if they felt the drastic digital overhaul being touted was not true to their intentions.

In the sound department, no "untweaked" Dolby 5.1 English track is offered. Instead, English speakers get merely a Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix in Dolby 5.1. Purists may object to this, for clearly DEHT does not represent the movie's original audio presentation. Most won't care or mind, but let's hope that the directors also approved this decision. In all fairness, the DEHT moniker does not indicate the type of pumped-up mix that graced Aladdin and The Lion King. In fact, I had difficulty discerning between it and the Limited Issue's 5.1 track. That is not to say it disappoints, but merely it lacks the gusto and oomph of its later-to-theaters, sooner-to-Platinum-Edition-DVD brethren. That's fine if true to Mermaid's original soundtrack and I think it is.

Don't get me wrong, the track is plenty of life to it and the songs are a treat in 5.1 channel sound. There just isn't the bass or presence of jaw-dropping showcase scenes to make this your house-rockin' demo selection. There are also French and Spanish 5.1 tracks, which are not designated as "Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix" and may be more faithful to the original soundtrack. Overall, the picture and sound on display here will dazzle all but the pickiest.

Ashley Tisdale, of "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" and "High School Musical" covers "Kiss the Girl" in the set's lone music video. A lavender lyrics bar aids singing along on four numbers in Disney Song Selection.


As is normal for Platinum Editions, the bulk of bonus features reside on Disc 2, but a few treats are still found on Disc 1. Most significant is a feature-length audio commentary by the two writer/directors Ron Clements and John Musker alongside composer Alan Menken. The first traditional Platinum audio commentary in two years, this fairly enjoyable one is very screen-specific and full of inside information and anecdotes. 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,
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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.

The set's lone music video (3:25) serves the Disney Channel demographic, as "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody"/High School Musical co-star Ashley Tisdale puts a teen pop/rock twist on the film's romantic doo-wop ditty "Kiss the Girl." Standard girl-rocking-while-hair-blowing footage is mixed with fullscreen movie clips and a dialogue-free narrative set in a high school's "Under the Sea" dance. While it's no tremendous addition, it's quite a bit better than the "round-up-the-network" Disney Channel Circle of Stars affairs on two earlier Platinum sets.

"Disney Song Selection" also shows up here, granting instant access to four musical performances from the film ("Part of Your World", "Under the Sea", "Les Poissons", and "Kiss the Girl"). Usually, all the songs of a movie are listed, so the exclusion of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" (among a few others) is strange. Nevertheless, you have the choice to watch any or all of the four numbers, with or without bubbly lavender bars of lyrics appearing on-screen. "Play All" gives you a 10-minute, 20-second version of the film, and though the ends are sometimes abruptly lopped off, this glorified scene/subtitle access feature is sort of like a "Sing Along Songs" Lite without the linking transitions, storyline, or variety.

Rounding out the first platter are two previews. A none-too-promising, 80-second musical sneak peek of The Little Mermaid III has Flounder and a surprisingly airheaded Ariel stumbling upon a concert given by Sebastian and his calypso companions. The brief excerpt of a song about a presumable love interest named Sonora is given 16x9/5.1 sound treatment like the movie itself will be when released straight-to-DVD in 2008. The second spot is a montage (0:43) merely glimpsing at the many bonuses to be found on Disc 2.

If promos are your thing, then you're in luck. Programmed to play automatically at the start of Disc 1 are ads for The Little Mermaid III (this differs from the aforementioned excerpt), Meet the Robinsons, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, Cars, and The Fox and the Hound: 25th Anniversary Edition. Still more previews tout next March's Peter Pan: Platinum Edition, Robin Hood: Special Edition (which is actually being called "Most Wanted Edition"), the repeatedly-delayed series-launcher Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: A Kingdom of Kindness, the computer-animated Tinker Bell (not given its "and the Ring of Belief" possible subtitle here), and the Disney Cruise Line. This second batch adorns page 1 of the dedicated Sneak Peeks menu and also plays automatically following the feature, via Disney's patented FastPlay system. FastPlay only recently spilled over to the world of widely-appealing animated titles, but its presence ensures the idiot-proof, hands-free playback method is here to stay.

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Page 1: The Movie, Changes, Video and Audio, Disc 1 Bonus Features
Page 2: Disc 2 Bonus Features, Menus and Packaging, Closing Thoughts

Related Reviews:
Platinum Editions:
Aladdin (1992) • Beauty and the Beast (1991) • The Lion King (1994) • Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Cinderella (1950) • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) • Bambi (1942)
101 Dalmatians (1961) • The Jungle Book (1967) • Peter Pan (1953)

1980s Animation:
Oliver & Company (1988) • My Neighbor Totoro (1988) • Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
The Great Mouse Detective (1986) • The Black Cauldron (1985) • The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
DuckTales: Volume 1 (1987) • Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers: Volume 1 (1989) • TaleSpin: Volume 1 (1990)

Recent DVD Releases:
The Wild (2006) • Twitches (2005) • Brother Bear 2 (2006) • Leroy & Stitch (2006)
Darkwing Duck: Volume 1 (1991) • Sing Along Songs: Happy Haunting - Party at Disneyland (1998)

Other Disney DVDs Featuring The Little Mermaid Voice Cast:
Jodi Benson: Toy Story 2 (1999) • Samuel E. Wright: Dinosaur (2000) • Buddy Hackett: The Love Bug (1969)
Christopher Daniel Barnes: Spider-Man: The Venom Saga • Edie McClurg: A Bug's Life (1998)
Rene Auberjonois: The Christmas Star (1986) • Kenneth Mars: The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979)

Related Pages:
Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown
(featuring "Poor Unfortunate Souls", "Kiss the Girl", "Under the Sea", and "Part of Your World")
The Little Mermaid in Disney Animated Classics Countdown (#2)
Top 50 Disney Heroes & Heroines Countdown (featuring Eric and Ariel)
Top 30 Disney Villains Countdown (featuring Ursula)

Disney's Platinum Edition DVDs
October 9, 2001 October 8, 2002 October 7, 2003 October 5, 2004 March 1, 2005 October 4, 2005
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Beauty and the Beast The Lion King Aladdin Bambi Cinderella
Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs
• DVD Review
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The Lion King
• DVD Review
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• Buy the Gift Set
• DVD Review
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• Buy the Gift Set
• DVD Review
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February 28, 2006 October 3, 2006 March 6, 2007 October 2, 2007 March 4, 2008 October 7, 2008
Lady and the Tramp The Little Mermaid Peter Pan The Jungle Book 101 Dalmatians Sleeping Beauty
Lady and the Tramp
• DVD Review
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Peter Pan
• DVD Review
• Buy
The Jungle Book
• DVD Review
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101 Dalmatians
• DVD Review
• Buy
Sleeping Beauty
• DVD Review
• Buy DVD
• Buy Blu-ray

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Reviewed October 3, 2006.