Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea
Review by Muchacha Motorista

Fresh on the heels of the surprisingly-decent Ariel’s Beginning comes the Special Edition DVD re-release of The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea. In my review of the former film, I’d suggested that the movie was “worth a viewing for grown-up Little Mermaid fans, and for the next generation of fans who dream of life under the sea.” While I can’t say the same for the re-release of The Little Mermaid II, I’m not ready to write it off just yet either.

So the story is essentially that of the original The Little Mermaid, but in reverse. Ariel and Eric are married, and have a new baby daughter, Melody. Upon her presentation to the merfolks—a child to join the worlds of land and sea—she is almost murdered by “Ursula’s crazy sister” Morgana. Eric saves her (in his one heroic moment of the movie), but Morgana escapes vowing that she’ll find Triton’s precious granddaughter. Ariel is now too paranoid to allow her daughter near the sea, and a high sea wall is built around their castle.

Okay, kind of makes sense, right? In the previews when Ariel says Melody can’t know about the sea or merpeople, I thought this would be the faux pas of the movie… because… why not? But I think someone in the sea trying to kill your kid and vowing never to rest until she does is a pretty darn good reason for Ariel’s change of heart.

The movie jumps to when Melody is a teeny-bopper, and she’s in love with the sea. She swims around secretly and gathers sea things the way Ariel gathered land things. Upon finding a mysterious locket and getting nothing but resistance and lies from her mother, she sets off to find the meaning. She finds the evil Morgana instead, who gives her the gift of fins, for a price (again, just backwards from the first movie).

Morgana is a character that could have promise if better thought out. She’s motivated by avenging her sister, but just as much or more-so by mommy-issues and a life-long competition with the talented Ursula. If she weren’t trying to murder a baby in the first scene, and then trying to drown a child toward the end, you could kinda see her as a villain with a past that makes sense. She’s not just evil. She’s not just doing it for fun or for glory. She just really needs some therapy. But the movie sets this up and never does anything with it, and so she just becomes the bad guy like any other bad guy.

Melody is joined by new friends while Ariel calls upon old friends. Surprisingly, the new friends, with all their character flaws are much more interesting than the old friends. Sebastian has only a very few lines, and most of them re-arrangements of his old lines. The first time he even speaks, Triton has just asked if he’ll keep an eye on Melody, and he’s already complaining about it. The next scene is the time-jump, and he’s still complaining, as if 12 or 13 years had not just passed. Other than that, he doesn’t participate in the story. Flounder is even worse, as a fish who’d seen better days than middle-age, with the front of his topfin styled as a thinning comb-over.

Melody’s “new friends,” are a seal and penguin who want to do good and daring deeds, but when the going gets tough, they get too scared. They aren’t bad, they just let fear paralyze them. And that is something most people can understand from their own lives. But, like the director says on the DVD extra of Amazing Grace, “Life is gray and complicated, but there are great things that have to be and can be done.” So these two new characters aren’t torn beyond good and evil, they are torn between doing good and doing nothing, and this is the arc they must experience in the movie.

The loveliness of the animation in the film is directly inverse to the terribleness of the songs in it. The songs are bland, forced, and (this is the best I can say for them:) easily-forgotten. Of course, the songs that made it into the film, bad as they are, are nothing compared to the horror that is “Gonna Get My Wish,” the thankfully-deleted but unfortunately-now-an-extra song on the bonus features. In fact, the extras on this “Special Edition” DVD are all pretty bad. You’ve got the obligatory Disney Direct-to-DVD game and storybook. What I thought might have promise was the old Silly Symphonies cartoon Merbabies. However, no. The not-cute nameless multitudes of merbabies are born from the sea foam, splash around, have an underwater circus, an underwater showgirls performance, then float to the surface again and… explode. That’s right, the bubbles explode at the surface, and the babies along with them. Yikes. Still, you never get too attached, since they look like the aquatic version of the Mohawk babies riding carrots at CakeWrecks.

So, if I’m not giving this quite the recommendation I did for Ariel’s Beginning, then who do I suggest this movie for? I could see a little girl getting a few rounds of enjoyment out of this movie, though she’ll have to be too young to question character depth, and she’ll have to be the kind of kid who generally gets a kick out of Disney direct-to-DVD releases. So, does your daughter have all the Princess DVDs? Why not throw this one in the mix too? But does she prefer to stick to the original movies? Then don’t put yourself or her through The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.


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