UltimateDisney.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | DVDizzy.com: New & Upcoming DVD and Blu-ray Schedule | Search This Site

The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea - Special Edition DVD Review

Buy The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea - Special Edition DVD from Amazon.com The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Jim Kammerud / Writers: Elizabeth Anderson, Temple Matthews (screenplay)

Voice Cast: Jodi Benson (Ariel), Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian), Tara Charendoff Strong (Melody), Pat Carroll (Morgana), Buddy Hackett (Scuttle), Kenneth Mars (King Triton), Max Casella (Tip), Stephen Furst (Dash), Rob Paulsen (Prince Eric), Clancy Brown (Undertow), Cam Clarke (Flounder), Rene Auberjonois (Chef Louis), Kay E. Kuter (Grimsby), Edie McClurg (Carlotta), Frank Welker (Max), Justin Schulte (Handsome Boy)

Songs: "Down to the Sea", "For a Moment", "Tip & Dash", "Here on the Land and Sea", "Part of Your World"

Running Time: 75 Minutes / Rating: G / Video Debut: September 19, 2000

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
DVD Release Date: December 16, 2008 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase with Embossed, Holographic Slipcover

Buy from Amazon.com • Buy The Little Mermaid Trilogy from Amazon.com

By the end of the 1990s, Disney had already sequelized four of the decade's biggest Feature Animation hits.
A total of six follow-ups looked further into the lives of characters from Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Pocahontas. The economical movies had turned ample profit, so the studio didn't stop there. The 2000s continued to let the direct-to-video sequels pour in, starting with The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.

Eleven years had passed since the original Little Mermaid helped revive interest in theatrical animation, and ten since it had become a bestseller on VHS. Believe it or not, that made the universe loosely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen's 19th century fairy tale the most dormant one tapped for continuance in Disney's video premiere market. Of course, with easy money to be made, the company would soon and drastically surpass that record, with Part 2s coming over forty, fifty, and even sixty years after their predecessors.

Although eleven years is enough to turn many children into adults, it's not enough to make a film sacred ground or its style unreproducible. Return to the Sea has that going for it. Even so, the animation of this sequel is merely satisfactory. Like other Disney video premieres from this time, the visuals are simply a bit too clean and bland, while characters are unstable. One needn't know the exact difference in time and money spent on the original Little Mermaid versus this film to immediately feel that the latter doesn't live up to the former's artistry.

As is often the case for Disney's DTV sequels (particularly their weaker ones), this film noticeably aims for a younger audience. Many would call the first film, and nearly anything animated and G-rated, a "children's movie." Certainly, The Little Mermaid is appropriate viewing material for kids, even if Disney hadn't sanitized supposedly phallic cover art and a priest's bendy knee for the latest DVD. But if it were strictly kiddie fare, the movie wouldn't be so widely celebrated, remembered, and respected today.

Return to the Sea, on the other hand, is targeted directly at the youngest receptive members of society. The difference is clear. Watching Return, one feels the urge to have a tot nearby for justifying and no hesitation to go to another room, get some tasks accomplished, and check back later. That doesn't speak much of this sequel's holding power, but then this is one of many shortcomings that young viewers won't observe. If not previously exposed to the first film, they may also fail to notice this one's blatant lack of ingenuity and drastically reduced means.

Young mother, former mermaid, and human princess Ariel tries to cheer up her disheartened preteen daughter Melody in "The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea." Sea witch, potion, spell, contract. If you saw the first film you know how this works. Newly-introduced villain Morgana is just a slimmer version of her sister Ursula.

Adhering to a model the television animation department (later named DisneyToon Studios) seemed pretty proud of at the time, Return to the Sea takes the first film's plot and gives it one slight, simple twist. Redheaded mermaid-turned-human Ariel now has a daughter named Melody with her husband prince Eric. Baby Melody becomes a target for the nasty sea witch Morgana. I haven't misspoke; Ursula's previously unmentioned sister Morgana is introduced merely so as not to erase Ursula's demise. Aside from her svelter physique, she's identical in behavior, attitudes, and voice (Pat Carroll) to the earlier antagonist and serves the same role as unsavory, opportunistic villain.

To protect her daughter from Morgana's malice, Ariel has an ocean wall built around the coastal palace and forbids all knowledge or talk of Atlantica and merpeople. Flash forward to when Melody is a 12-year-old. The headstrong, raven-haired pre-teen uses her inherited curiosity and inquisitiveness to lead a secret life which involves exploring the sea and pretending she has fins. You see,
this new generation has her own forbidden desires, which are the very opposite of those previously felt by Ariel. That's as creative as the movie gets.

Return proceeds to essentially remake the first film. The action is reordered so that it moves from land to sea, but otherwise this is a pure thematic retread, if obviously not a literal or visual one. Morgana temporarily transforms Melody into a salmon-finned mermaid. If the girl can deliver Triton's magical trident to the witch, her arrangement will supposedly become permanent. Sound familiar? It better.

In addition to reconnecting with all of the likable comic relief from the original, we encounter some new supporting characters along the way. These include Morgana's shark Undertow, who replaces Flotsam and Jetsam and early miniaturization renders a persistent sight gag. There's also a pair of underachievers, Tip the penguin (voiced by "Doogie Howser" sidekick and then-Broadway actor Max Casella) and Dash the walrus (Stephen Furst), who offer Melody some wacky assistance. All three of these newly-introduced characters feature prominently in a prolonged and suspenseless climax.

Melody is essentially the film's lead and her comic companions Tip the penguin and Dash the walrus claim almost as much screentime as any other supporting character. Dang, Flounder. You got fat!

Return to the Sea is easy to take but rather forgettable. Its music is okay on its own merits, but in a completely different league than the Menken/Ashman collaborations from the first film. In fact, pretty much everything in this sequel is several grades below its equivalent aspect of the 1989 masterpiece. Perhaps that's inevitable when trying to follow an utterly satisfying fairy tale; the "happily ever after" we imagined or believed was a lot more romantic, sweet, and appropriate than the ideas conjured up by minor league writers (several of whom, according to IMDb, spent the '90s scripting erotica) and brought to life by a number of low-budget animation studios around the globe.

As a final observation, I feel compelled to note the film's strange quest for continuity. Ariel looks barely different here from her apparently teenage year in the previous film and yet she now has a 12-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, the passage of time is reflected in Flounder, who has depressingly grown from cute young guppy to plump middle-aged father. It's also curious that actor Christopher Daniel Barnes, who exuded virility beyond his 16 years in the first film, couldn't return to voice Prince Eric here.
Just two years later, he would voice Prince Charming in Cinderella II and he would subsequently reprise Eric for Disney's second Kingdom Hearts video game in 2005. The accomplished Rob Paulsen gives the character a jarringly different sound in Eric's minimal screentime.


This Special Edition DVD adds 16:9 enhancement to the feature, presenting Return to the Sea in anamorphic widescreen for the first time. That the film wasn't enhanced for widescreen displays eight years ago was quite a head-scratcher, but yesteryear's shortcoming becomes today's upgrade incentive. Though the package cites a 1.66:1 aspect ratio (which was used on the old DVD), it's actually full 1.78:1, resulting in a slight loss of height. The picture quality here is pretty terrific. On DVD-ROM or a large screen display, you may notice some rare mosquito noise, but otherwise, it's without issue and offers improved sharpness and detail over the original DVD. On a better film, one would be apt to marvel at the visuals. While such an activity here would be pretty fruitless, it is to no fault of the transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is routine, providing minimal atmosphere but absolute clarity.

Morgana and Undertow get a chance to sing in the deleted number "Gonna Get My Wish." Control Melody and her helpful fish friend with your remote control's arrows. Or don't. The game plays out pretty much the same either way. The Little Mermaid II Trivia Game: C) The answer that's just stupid enough to be right.


The extras menu here is pretty slight, especially for something dubbed a "Special Edition." First up is a deleted song, Morgana's "Gonna Get My Wish" (1:53). New to DVD, it appears letterboxed in finished film-quality animation and Dolby Surround. Without an introduction or commentary, its existence is kind of perplexing. It features some imaginative black and purple visuals, but the song is pretty unremarkable.

We get four items under the Games & Activities header. The only new inclusion, the Underwater Mer-venture Challenge Game, consists of three exercises cued in a random order. One asks you to use your remote's arrows to guide Ariel and Melody through busy waters, another has you identify character silhouettes, and the last tests your ability to repeat a gradually elongating musical sequence. These are all things encountered in many past DVD games, most displaying more inspiration than these. There's at most five minutes of entertainment for young players here and no prize.

Recycled extras start with a 16-question trivia game. The 3-choice questions aren't difficult, but they serve as a fair test of one's retention skills following an unmemorable feature. Frankly, I find turn-of-the-millennium bonuses like this more interesting than most of the flashier games Disney makes and touts today.

Ariel's reunion with Flounder and Triton forms the basis of one of 38 pages in The Little Mermaid II DVD Storybook read by Jodi Benson. Topless merbaby conducts orchestra of sea creatures. Story at 11. Ariel and Melody swim together by Atlantica in part of the animated main menu.

The Little Mermaid II DVD Storybook retells the film thoroughly in 38 pages. You're given the choice to read to yourself or have it read to you. It's worth noting that the latter (10:05) features animated page turns and is read by Ariel's voice Jodi Benson.

The 12-question quiz "What Am I?" has you guess which of three nautical animals a narrator describes.
Correct answers are rewarded with a short silent film clip and bit of additional information on the species told over nature footage. This too has more value than most of Disney's recent games.

Last but not likely to be deemed least is the bonus short Merbabies (8:34). This 1938 Silly Symphony has the distinction of being made by animators Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising, whose deftly-named Harman-Ising studio helped ease Disney's heavy workload while Snow White was in production. The short treats us to a series of underwater circus hijinks involving cherubic young merfolk and a variety of sea creatures. Presumably because dragging and dropping the file from the short's remastered appearance on the Walt Disney Treasures tin More Silly Symphonies would have been too grueling for the disc's producers, we instead get the more aged, non-windowbox-protected presentation from Little Mermaid II's original DVD.

Although what's here can hardly be considered groundbreaking stuff, it does add up to a decent half-hour of entertainment for those with a soft spot for quizzes and simple DVD games. One nice thing: nothing from the original DVD has been dropped besides, of course, its dated sneak peeks.

The FastPlay-enhanced disc loads with the general Disney promo and trailers for Pinocchio: Platinum Edition, The Princess and the Frog, Space Buddies, Oliver & Company: 20th Anniversary Edition, The Cheetah Girls: One World, and Disney Movie Rewards.

The main menu scores some creativity points for its animated tour of underwater locations and characters. Most of the submenus are static but score-accompanied.

The keepcase artwork is dutifully reproduced in an embossed, holographic cardboard slipcover. Inside the case are a Disney Movie Rewards insert and a booklet talking up Blu-ray, but no chapter/extras insert.

I've got the trident! It's gettin', it's gettin', it's gettin' kinda hectic. It's gettin', it's gettin', it's gettin' kinda hectic. Everyone loves a happy ending. Sebastian, Triton, Ariel, Melody, Eric, Tip, Dash, partially-cropped Flounder... everyone.


Watching The Little Mermaid II is kind of like looking into a mirror. If you expect to see something good and enter optimistically, you'll be pleased to find this is as moderately entertaining as any of Disney's direct-to-video sequels. If you expect something less sightly, you'll get that as this clearly pales next to the original and has the air of something generally inferior. Or maybe it's the opposite, and you'll be either pleasantly surprised or let down.
In any event, the movie doesn't seem to have enough substance to be more than a reflection of your own hopes or fears. Even that overestimates the impact of this diverting but forgettable follow-up.

There's not much special about this 8-year-old sequel's Special Edition return to DVD. The new material (a deleted song, a game, and requisite slipcover) doesn't decrease the value of this package, but it also doesn't thrust the release into must-own territory, at least if you don't own a widescreen TV and don't care about the new 16:9 enhancement.

Spending $20 on a movie that most won't consider worth buying once let alone twice sounds pretty foolhardy. Spending $35 on the concurrently-issued Trilogy box set and getting the classic original and its most recent sequel too, with striking poster-spawned cover art to boot, is more attractive. But that assumes you've either gone two years without owning one of Disney's best animated film DVDs or you're up for gifting or reselling (probably at a profit, especially as the entire franchise goes out of print with fanfare next year) an extra copy.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy The Little Mermaid Trilogy from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
The Little Mermaid (Platinum Edition) • The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning
"The Little Mermaid" TV series: Princess Stories, Vol. 1 ("Wish Upon a Starfish") • Princess Stories, Vol. 2 ("Ariel's Treasures")
New to DVD: Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! • Tinker Bell • Sleeping Beauty (Platinum Edition) • WALL•E • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Cinderella II: Dreams Come True • Cinderella III: A Twist in Time • Mulan II • Disney Princess: A Christmas of Enchantment
The Lion King II: Simba's Pride • Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World • The Return of Jafar & Aladdin and the King of Thieves
Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure • 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure • The Jungle Book 2 • Brother Bear 2 • Tarzan II
Return to Never Land • Disney Princess Sing Along Songs • Disney Princess Sing Along Songs, Volume 3
The Little Mermaid: 2-Disc Special Edition Soundtrack (CD) • Disney's Karaoke Series: The Little Mermaid (CD)
Early 2000s Disney: Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins • Dinosaur • The Emperor's New Groove

Related Article:
UltimateDisney.com's Video Report from The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning DVD Premiere - Catalina blue carpet interviews with the cast!

Get 4 Disney Movies for $1.99 Each, Free Shipping!

UltimateDisney.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | DVDizzy.com: New & Upcoming DVD and Blu-ray Schedule | Search This Site

Search This Site:

UltimateDisney.com/DVDizzy.com Top Stories:

Reviewed December 19, 2008.