On DVD: The Little Mermaid

Excuse me for a moment while I activate my clickbait voice, but: Hey, millennials! Ready to feel old?

The Little Mermaid, the animated feature that heralded the arrival of Disney’s Golden Age, turns 30 this year. Though she’s forever 16 (and married?!?) on screen, Ariel’s finally left her twenties behind, and naturally, Disney’s released a new Anniversary Edition Blu-ray / DVD / Digital combo pack to mark the occasion. Besides a fresh pair of legs, what more can a girl ask for?

In all seriousness, though, this edition does make me feel pretty old. At one year younger than The Little Mermaid, I grew up in the ’90s, forever glued to the Disney VHS tapes on my TV. One of the first pieces of technology I learned how to use by myself was the rewind machine, so I could watch and re-watch Beauty and the Beast indefinitely while my mom took care of my baby brother. The Little Mermaid actually came a bit later for me (via a bootleg tape from my uncle, I believe), but that didn’t matter so much. The Little Mermaid wasn’t just part of my childhood — it was part of me. Case in point: To this day I’m pretty sure I don’t eat seafood because “Les Poissons” is both incredibly unappetizing and shockingly traumatic.

As an adult, I can’t really watch any of the ’90s Disney films without crying at least once. Rewatching this new edition of The Little Mermaid today, I cried three times. It’s hard to pin down why — I think it’s a peculiar combination of nostalgia and the closest thing to childlike awe an adult woman can muster — but it always happens during the songs. “Part of Your World.” “Under the Sea.” “Kiss the Girl.” So many Broadway and movie musicals alike wish they were as good as those songs, and so few songs hit me in the most vulnerable part of my brain like these do. Yes, even “Under the Sea.”

Do songwriting team Howard Ashman (lyrics) and Alan Menken (music) get enough credit for completely turning Disney around and creating a phenomenon so powerful that, once it faded, Disney began to try and recreate it by remaking its own movies as live-action events? Probably not, but they should. Ashman especially. His legacy is immense considering how briefly he was able to create wonders for Disney before his untimely death; to learn more, I highly recommend the documentary Howard, released last year.

It’s a bit of a shame that, with the exception of one featurette, the special features for Mermaid’s Anniversary Edition are light on Ashman’s contribution to the film and, compared to previous editions, light in general. This release boasts three hours of content, including a Sing-a-Long mode, a commentary track from Menken and writers / directors Ron Clements and John Musker, and several featurettes (“Alan Menken and the Leading Ladies” about the various voice actresses who have sung Menken’s Disney songs, “What I Want From You…. Is Your Voice,” which shows some rare recording sessions from Mermaid, and “Harold’s Lecture” about Ashman himself), among others.

Unlike the most recent release of Peter Pan, however, this edition lacks many of the special features from previous Platinum and Diamond editions. A select few have been repackaged under a “Classic Bonus” section — but only on the digital copy, so make of that what you will. Your mileage will probably vary as to how important the lack of old features is to you based on your level of Disney devotion. Longtime obsessives will grumble and gripe about having to purchase yet another edition to complete their library while more casual buyers just looking to fill a hole in their Disney DVD collection for themselves or for their kids will be perfectly satisfied with just the movie — which, by the way, looks and sounds incredible on this release.

But then, the only thing I have to compare this edition to is that bootleg VHS copy, which was scratchy and flat in every way imaginable. Watching The Little Mermaid on Blu-ray was nothing short of revelatory this time around, even through all my tears. It was probably the closest I’ll get to feeling like I did watching the movie for the first time, almost 30 years ago. That’s worth the price tag alone.



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Aly Caviness is lifelong film obsessive, co-owner / administrator of Midwest Film Journal, and member of the Indiana Film Journalist's Association. Through Lynch, her grandmother taught her how to spot “The Girl,” and through Frankenstein, her grandfather taught her how to love in spite of fear. She blames Jack Sparrow for her MA in colonial Atlantic history and Guy Pearce for her marriage.


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