Disney's 28th feature-length cartoon, very loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and featuring an Oscar-winning score by Alan Menkin, was a box-office smash that helped usher in a new era of top-flight feature animation.
Princess Ariel lives in Mermaid City with her father, King Triton. Ariel is fascinated by human beings. Attracted by a fireworks display on a ship, Ariel sneaks aboard and falls in love at first sight with the handsome Prince Eric. When a violent storm destroys the ship, Ariel saves Eric's life,
and he is smitten with her beautiful singing voice. Mermaid City's court composer, a crab named Sebastian, accidentally tells King Triton that Ariel is in love with a human, and Triton destroys all of her human possessions and forbids her to see Eric again. An evil sea witch named Ursula, who has
been banished by Triton, lures Ariel into a deal whereby she will be given human form, but will have to give Ursula her voice in return. If, after three days, Ariel cannot get Eric to bestow upon her a kiss, she will belong to Ursula.
THE LITTLE MERMAID was the first of Disney's new generation of animated musical features (which would be quickly followed by BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and others) that marked a return to the studio's former glory days, at least in the eyes of the public and most critics. The film features some
undeniably impressive animation, particularly in the frightening scenes at which Disney artists have always excelled at--the violent storms filled with swirling winds, lightning, and crashing waves. But just as undeniably, it also suffers from overly broad and juvenile humor, some sappy songs, and
the "wide-eyed human" syndrome, wherein all the humans have huge saucer-eyes and the same constantly startled expression. Eric looks like a hunky fashion model, while Ariel is drawn as a big-haired, denatured Barbie doll, despite her hourglass figure and skimpy seashell brassiere. As usual with
Disney, the nonhumans are much more interesting, and the various undersea creatures are quite amusing and very well-drawn, as is the whole underwater milieu. Overall, it's an enjoyable film, thankfully free of the computerized look of later Disney cartoons, but it really can't compare to the real
Disney classics (which appealed equally to both kids and adults).
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