Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning
Review by Muchacha Motorista
Welcome back under the sea with Muchacha Motorista as she enlightens you about Disney's latest direct-to-video tale.

What little girl in 1989 didn’t love The Little Mermaid?  And what Disney fan wasn’t glad to see the animation studio once again create a classic, after years of such ho-hummers as The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver & Company?  The latest direct-to-DVD feature installment, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, may not be deserving of "classic" status like the original, but should be entertaining for those now-grown-up fans and their own little girls.
As the title suggests, this prequel brings us back to a time in Atlantica before Ariel met Eric, and in fact, before she ever garnered an obsession with the world above the sea.  It opens when Ariel and her sisters (who play a much larger role in this movie than the original—should we expect a “Mermaids” product line in Disney’s future?) were just little mermaids.  King Triton’s hair and beard are orange, his wife is in the picture, they are very much in love, and music fills the kingdom.  What destroys this joy is a tragic accident that kills Ariel’s mom. 
Years pass and we revisit the mermaid sisters when they are teen-aged and looking much like they did in the original Little Mermaid, though a few of the sisters have fashionably updated hair-dos.  King Triton in his grief has banned music (which he blames for his wife's death) and become a distant authority figure (gray beard and all) instead of the once-warm father the mermaids knew as girls.  Loveable Sebastian runs an anti-music task force patrolling for violations on the ban.  But when Ariel meets Flounder, she is reintroduced to music through an underground movement, and then leads the charge to slowly draw to music those around her.  This starts with her sisters, and leads up to a confrontation with King Triton.  Can she convince him that this is what their mother would have wanted?
Sounds a little cheesy--a little “if you give up your dreams, you die,”* doesn’t it?  It’s actually kinda sweet.  The loss of a parent or spouse impacts everyone involved, and can weigh heavily for years, so we can sympathize with King Triton’s despair and resulting actions.  As well, while losing music isn’t the end of the world, it would be an unnatural loss in any society (even those societies under the sea).  And of course, we know Ariel’s personality (someone’s got to nail that girl’s fins to the floor!), so we can believe her disobedience and campaign to bring back music is within the scope of her character.
Even with these praises, I might be missing the point of a direct-to-DVD Disney movie.  Essentially, is it a good movie to throw in for the kids?  Yes.  The animation is just as gorgeous as the first movie, the colors as vibrant, the fish as imaginative.  The voice acting is good, with Jodi Benson returning as Ariel and Samuel E. Wright returning as Sebastian.  Song-wise, don’t expect anything of the epic caliber of “Kiss the Girl” or “Part of Your World.”  However, the majority of the music is in the Jamaican-style we loved in “Under the Sea,” and won’t rot your brain like the songs in many other direct-to-DVD Disney movies.
That is, except the songs from the sorta-evil new villain that didn’t need to be added.  I can’t justly leave her out of this review.  The mermaids’ keeper, Marina Del Ray (yes, that's her name), is a disgruntled employee who dreams of climbing the corporate ladder, sings terrible songs, and has an adorable manatee sidekick who isn’t evil but doesn’t stop her evil actions.  Marina and her manatee also participate in activities that don’t work under the sea, such as a manicure that includes dipping her nails in a dish of water.  (Hello???)  Even worse than her songs, if that is possible, is the fact that she is entirely not needed.  The real trial of the movie is the world without music, and she has no part in this.  She’s not really bad until the very end, and even then, she just gets in the way.  The real villainy is how she slows down the plot.
The DVD has a few extras, including deleted scenes, a sing-along option, games, and two “Backstage Disney” documentaries.  The deleted scenes were deleted for a reason, but are shown in story-board format that some kids might like to see.  The documentaries were the most entertaining extras for me as an adult.  The first, “Splashdance,” discusses the choice of a dancer for the director of the film (Peggy Holmes), and how she brought the physical art of dance to the visual art of animation.  The second is a behind-the-scenes tour of the Broadway version of The Little Mermaid.  Interesting as it was, the tour made me completely uninterested in ever attending the show (and left me feeling nostalgic for the spectacular Tokyo DisneySea live-action show of The Little Mermaid instead).
Regardless of the annoying Marina Del Ray character, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning is worth a viewing for grown-up Little Mermaid fans, and for the next generation of fans who dream of life under the sea.
*From Flashdance, another cheesy-but-awesome movie.


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