Saturday, May 14, 2016

Movie #360: The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is the first movie in the so-called "Disney Renaissance," marking their return to making movies that were, like, good (and profitable). It stars Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Jason Marin, Buddy Hackett, Samuel E. Wright, and Kenneth Mars. It's based on the fucking horrifying story by Hans Christian Andersen.

Ariel (Benson), the titular mermaid, is the youngest daughter of King Triton (Mars). She's fascinated with surface-dwellers, whom her father fears and hates. She collects masses of stuff that sinks into the ocean (mostly misidentified by her buddy Scuttle the seagull; Hackett), and one night, in the act of watching a birthday celebration for the handsome Prince Eric (Barnes), she saves his life after his ship burns. Her father, not quite ready for his sixteen-year-old daughter to hare off after a man she's literally never spoken with, goes a little nuts and trashes her collection, so she bargains with Ursula (Carroll) the sea-witch, who apparently was once queen of the undersea-folk. She trades her voice for human legs, on the condition that she can get Eric to fall in love with her in three days. Wacky hijinks ensue.

So, watching this movie in comparison to earlier Disney fare, it's worlds better. It's faster, funnier, and I would argue a better adaptation (not "more faithful," because I don't want a faithful adaptation of Andersen's stuff, I want my children to be able to sleep at night) than, say, Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. But it's got some problems. For one thing, although the lead character is a woman, she's literally silenced for most of the movie. For another, there's Sebastian the crab (Wright), who's not the most racially sensitive of characters (the whole "Under the Sea" number has a couple of issues - "the blackfish, she sings" - what the actual hell, Disney?).

This movie came out in 1989 when I was a freshman in high school, but I didn't see it until we watched it on video at a cast party. It's cute, the music is fun, and as a teenager it's easy to identify with Ariel and how unfair she feels her father is being (and in fairness, the biggest threat to his kingdom seems to be the witch who's turning his subjects into living seaweed, like, a five-minute swim from his palace, but whatever). As I've gotten older, of course, I'm a little more down with Triton's concerns, though he expresses them in a completely piss-poor manner. So once again we find that a lot of children's movie conflicts cook down to "why don't you fuckers communicate better?"

I also really enjoy Pat Carroll's performance as Ursula, right down to her actually showing remorse for accidentally killing her two eel henchmen. Of course, she winds up getting impaled by a giant boat...by Eric, while Ariel watches helplessly, because c'mon, she's a girl.

My Grade: B (would be higher but for the sexism and racism and stuff)
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Little Shop of Horrors, unless the Amazon shipment with Deadpool gets her first