Blu-ray 3D Review: The Little Mermaid (Diamond Edition)

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In 1989, The Little Mermaid restored Walt Disney Animation Studios to the standards of its glory years after a very trying decade. An adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic, Mermaid’s co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker, aided immeasurably by the music of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, crafted a true Disney classic. Now available as a near-perfect Blu-ray Diamond Edition (available in both 2D-only and 3D/2D combo pack), the story of Ariel the mermaid remains as supremely entertaining as ever.

Of course, some viewers—accustomed to years of state-of-the-art digital animation—are bound to be put off by the traditional, hand-drawn animation. That’s a shame and I hope such reactions are minimal. Mermaid was the last of its kind for Disney, although the hand-painted cels were augmented by computer-generated special effects for select complex sequences. Disney’s animation team pulled out all the stops for this one. Mermaid bursts with color and visual imagination, all finely displayed in the new Blu-ray.

Little Mermaid 1 (380x215).jpgThe romantic plot may appeal primarily to girls, but also contains enough adventure to draw in boys. Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) is, of course, the title character—a mermaid who falls in love with Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) after rescuing him from near-drowning. She makes a proverbial “deal with the devil,” so to speak, when she accepts villainess Ursula’s (a human-octopus hybrid voiced by Pat Carroll) offer to become human for three days. Ursula receives Ariel’s beautiful voice in exchange. In order to avoid reverting back to her mermaid form, Ariel must inspire Prince Eric to delivery true love’s kiss during that three-day period. Of course, Ursula has no intention of standing back and letting this happen.

In addition to impeccable production values, heartfelt storytelling, and emotionally-believable voice acting, the music of Mermaid deserves special mention. Particularly iconic are the songs delivered by Sebastian the crab (voiced by Samuel E. Wright), one of King Triton’s (Ariel’s father, voiced by Kenneth Mars) minions. Both “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” were calypso-flavored hits. Insanely catchy and memorable, they stand tall in the long line of Disney standards. The score won a deserved Academy Award, as did “Under the Sea” (which competed against “Kiss the Girl”). Somewhat overshadowed by the success of those two songs, but still positively charming, is Jodi Benson’s singing as Ariel, particularly on the ballad “Part of Your World.”

Little Mermaid 2 (380x215).jpgThe Little Mermaid looks stellar on Disney’s Blu-ray, especially in 2D. For lovers of traditional animation, the 1080p transfer is a visual feast. I didn’t notice any problems; the image is sharp and detailed. In fact, it was nice to see that the transfer retains a fine layer of natural grain (most noticeable against the gorgeous backdrop of the orange sunset late in the film). Speaking of that glowing, extended sunset sequence, the varied color palette has never looked richer.

As for the 3D version, it’s a novel alternative that by no means supplants 2D as the standard. I suspect quite a few youngsters these days might initially balk at the old-fashioned look of Mermaid. If that’s the case, the presence of 3D might be just modern enough to rope them in (at which point, I doubt many will be disappointed). Some sequences definitely work better than others in 3D, notably the “Under the Sea” portion. There’s an adequate sense of depth throughout, but the extra dimension only significantly adds to the presentation during the visually busy scenes. The conversion is never bad, though the brighter daylight scenes generally look best.

Little Mermaid 3 (380x215).jpgRest easy, any who feared that expanding Mermaid’s audio mix to DTS-HD MA 7.1 would lead to egregious use of surround and LFE channels. This is, if anything, a very gently expanded mix, with very judicious use of surround effects. The track sparks to joyous life during the musical numbers, with “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” providing highpoints. I don’t think the film’s original sound design has been betrayed in any way by this lightly immersive, exceedingly well-executed mix.

A mix of new and vintage features offers lots to explore, with all the new stuff presented in HD. For some reason, Disney tapped Carly Rae Jepsen to sing “Part of Your World,” resulting in a bland new video. Much more worthwhile is “@DisneyAnimation,” a ten-minute featurette that features new interviews with various members of the Disney animation team, old and young. Also very cool are “Under the Scene” (13 minutes), which explores live-action reference shooting, and “Howard’s Lecture” (15 minutes), a poignant tribute to composer Howard Ashman (who passed away in 1991). “Part of Her World” (five minutes), another new featurette, catches up with the voice of Ariel, Jodi Benson during a visit to Disney’s Animation Resort. There’s the “Crab-e-Oke Sing-Along,” also accessible as an “intermission” when pausing the feature film itself, that includes five tunes.

Little Mermaid 4 (380x214).jpgUnder the menu selection “Classic DVD Bonus Features” there’s a slew of additional featurettes (the best of which being “The Making of The Little Mermaid”), deleted scenes, and a terrific commentary track by co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker with composer Alan Menken. These features will be familiar to anyone with the previous DVD edition, but are nice have included here.

Topping off The Little Mermaid Diamond Edition, in addition to 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs, are a standard DVD, digital copy redemption code, and a download code for ten songs from or “inspired by” the movie (including the new Carly Rae Jepsen version of “Part of Your World”). All in all, Disney has outdone themselves with this package.

One potential drawback should be mentioned, one that has already generated a lot of internet chatter and even cries for a recall. There were a few very minor errors made in the main feature, apparently during the film’s restoration. I almost didn’t think it was necessary to mention this, because in my humble opinion they are by no means a deal breaker. I would never have caught these changes (the main ones being a slight change in the timing of the opening credits’ appearance onscreen and a minor editing change in “Part of Your World” that results in a few seconds of mis-matched lip sync while Ariel sings), but for those concerned, this video contains side-by-side comparisons of the 2006 DVD and the new Blu-ray.

I’m generally a purist about these sorts of things, and if I knew The Little Mermaid like the back of my hand then perhaps I’d be more miffed. I can understand that fans want things exactly as they always were. However, as the above-linked video clearly shows, these are exceptionally minor alterations that aren’t worth a boycott of an otherwise stupendous release.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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