1989—the year before I was born, and also when the House of Mouse dove into what is now known as their Renaissance period. So, before the live-action wand is waved over the story that is now set to star Halle Bailey, I’m going back Under the Sea to delve into why this animated feature is both a classic and favorite of mine.
Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy-tale is the loose inspiration for Ariel’s tale (tail), and it’s through delving back into past fictional writings that re-captures the magic first unearthed when Walt Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Sure, the animation company takes the original plot and sprinkles the Tinkerbell magic of family friendliness over a bleak ending originally penned by the original Danish author, but the core idea is there, and what do you expect from a distributor known for being appealing, bleeding feet and a suicide? Of course not!
There is great simplicity in following the narrative of this foray into an underwater world. The plight of teenage Ariel desiring a chance to see what life is like above the waves is the driving force, and sees us clash with a fantastically theatrical villain and ultimately have her falling in love—the age old Disney trope. However tired that model of a princess needing a man may look now, and however good the red-headed mermaid may have it in Atlantica, you sort of forgive her moaning, because there’s a fun atmosphere presented.
During the timeline of ’89 to ’99, most Disney films share the common theme of being encouraged by legends, fairy-tales, and stories already penned. This watery-based closing curtain to the 80s is a fun and fancy-free yarn which is spun with bubbles of color and charm, and it is very easy to see why, with effortless storytelling and a new musical direction, that The Little Mermaid holds up over 30 years later.
The hiring of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are two massive reasons why The Little Mermaid holds up as a buoyant, brilliant animated film. After their work on Little Shop of Horrors, Disney realized that their influence could inject a Broadway vibe into their films and this is a musical staple of pretty much every release since then. The toe-tapping sounds and memorable lyrics stand the test of time and are why, for me at least, I can’t stop singing if a track from this film comes on somewhere!
From the likes of Sebastian’s groovy, reggae inspired “Under the Sea” to Ursula’s intoxicating, dark, and campy “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” you’re submerged into a world of catchy music and if nothing else Jodi Benson belts out the famous “Part of Your World” number, which gets everyone lamenting having twenty thingamabobs in the most perfectly adolescent decree of wanting what you don’t have. And here I am not even mentioning possibly my favorite ditty; “Kiss the Girl,” which comes from the crustacean wing-man of the century and builds to a sea-life crescendo.
I share similar nerves to this 1989 gem getting the tedious live-action treatment as I did for The Lion King—there’s something so wonderfully cartoon-ish about the environment that Ariel, Flounder, and Triton roam in. Seeing it handed off-putting photo realistic imagery is just one concern, on top of them likely ruining infectious songs. The film is a classic and sometimes it’s best to leave it that way.
I grew up with a sister and my mum, so Disney movies were a primary component of my growing up and it’s possibly why to this day, however gigantic and monopolizing the company gets, I’ll still always like to see what emotions or enjoyment I’ll find in their newest animated flick. The Little Mermaid is one from their back catalog that I find a clear sailing pleasure to the eyes and ears. If you want a short, simple and sweet movie with a bright palette and insanely feel-good tunes then this movie should be Part of Your World.