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When it was released in 1989, THE LITTLE MERMAID was the film that announced that Disney's animated films were once again worthy of the terms "classic" and "masterpiece." After so many years of tepid animated offerings that paled in comparison to the brilliant works of the 30's 40's and 50's, THE LITTLE MERMAID proved to be an absolute revelation. What makes THE LITTLE MERMAID stand out from Disney’s lesser animated films is the fact that this movie boasts a terrific story, features truly memorable characters and delivers delightful Broadway caliber songs.

The plot of THE LITTLE MERMAID is adapted from the classic tale Hans Christian Andersen. However, this telling features the sensibilities of the 20th century and a good dose of humor. THE LITTLE MERMAID is the story of a mermaid named Ariel, who is the youngest daughter of Triton, the Sea King. Ariel is a rebellious teenaged girl (with a tail), who has become fascinated with the human world- the one thing her father truly despises. During a violent storm at sea, Ariel rescues a handsome Prince named Eric from drowning and instantly falls in love. Triton is outraged by his daughter's actions and professed love for a human, so he teaches her a lesson by destroying all of her prized possessions from the world above.

Unfortunately, Triton's actions alienate Ariel, which drives her to strike a bargain with Ursula the Sea Witch. As part of their bargain, Ursula makes her human for a period of three days, in which she must secure a kiss from Prince Eric. If Ariel fails, her life and soul will become the property of Ursula. Of course, Ursula puts a few roadblocks in Ariel's way. However, with the help of her friends Sebastian the crab and Flounder the fish, Ariel has a better than even chance of succeeding in her quest to win Prince Eric’s heart. THE LITTLE MERMAID features the vocal talents of Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Jason Marin, Samuel E. Wright, Kenneth Mars, Buddy Hackett, Joe Alaskey, Rene Auberjonois and Edie McClurg. As fond as I am for the story of THE LITTLE MERMAID, the film would be greatly diminished without the songs of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Speaking of the songs, THE LITTLE MERMAID features a few showstoppers including Poor Unfortunate Souls, which is a showcase for the talents of Pat Carroll, the delightful Kiss The Girl and the Academy Award winning Under The Sea.

Walt Disney Home Video has made THE LITTLE MERMAID available on DVD in a somewhat disappointing/frustrating presentation. Yes, it is wonderful that THE LITTLE MERMAID is offered in its proper 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio. However, the fact that the DVD hasn't been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays means that this disc doesn't offer the extra resolution contained in an anamorphic presentation. The Letterboxed transfer seems to be the same as the one created for the Laserdisc master a couple of years ago. I do have to admit that on a 4:3 display, this older transfer still looks very good. The image is sharp and the level of detail is relatively good, which allows one to appreciate the film's beautiful animation. There are some instances where film grain becomes apparent, but it is never bothersome. Color reproduction is very good, with the vividly saturated hues being recreated with only an occasional bit of fuzziness (I am sure that a new anamorphic enhanced transfer would have taken care that). Despite that minor problem, the colors are usually rather impressive and faithful to the film's original design. Blacks are well rendered and the image provides a respectable level of shadow detail. Solid authoring and the use of dual layering to maximize the data transfer rate, eliminating all traces of compression artifacts.

THE LITTLE MERMAID has a terrific Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that favors the film’s musical component. There are directional effects in the mix, but they take a backseat to Alan Menken's Academy Award winning score and the film's wonderful songs. Personally, I love the way Under The Sea sounds on this DVD and have had to pop the disc in the player just to hear it a few more times. There are times that musical programming can sound harsh in Dolby Digital; this is not the case with THE LITTLE MERMAID. The music sounds rich and full and is quite enjoyable on its own. Dialogue reproduction is very good, with both the actors speaking and singing voices sounding warm and inviting. The bass channel kicks in when required to add substance to the music and sound effects. French and Spanish language soundtracks have also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English subtitles.

The interactive menus are very basic, supplying access to the standard scene selection and set up features.

THE LITTLE MERMAID is a great Disney animated movie given a nice presentation on DVD. Unfortunately, nice isn't quite good enough when one takes into account the disc's $39.98 asking price. THE LITTLE MERMAID really should have been made available with anamorphic enhanced video, as well as a number of supplements including an isolated musical track. Hopefully, Disney will get it right the next time around.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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