The Little Mermaid

"The Little Mermaid" ... I still can't believe I am finally holding a copy of this film on DVD. It's my favourite Disney ever - and I know there are many more extreme classics in their catalogue. But somehow, "The Little Mermaid" always spoke to me in a very special way. No, I could not relate to Ariel - I have legs, thank you. I guess the beauty lies in the music, the animation, the characters, the endless replay value ...

I was 6 when "The Little Mermaid" hit Belgian cinemas in late 1990. In those days, there could be a huge gap between American and European release dates. I never actually saw it on the silver screen - at least, not to my knowledge, but I got the VHS-tape for my birthday the following year. My mom also gave me the soundtrack on cassette (yes, remember those?).

Minor detail : these were all in Dutch. Ever since "Aladdin", I have seen the original English version of Disney flicks but this was not the case with "The Little Mermaid", "Beauty And The Beast" and the classics that were already available on video in the late 1980's.

I am a defender of original language versions. I detest the French, German, Spanish etc. system of dubbing each and every movie (not just the Disney's). But when you are 6 years old, reading subtitles is hard - if not impossible.

As such, I grew up with "The Little Mermaid" in my mother tongue, called "De Kleine Zeemeermin". I have never seen the English one. Now, I can catch it on DVD. Keep in mind : Belgian versions (a nuance) of Disney movies were not made until 1995, when the Flemish version of Toy Story was released.

I like the Dutch version. I had a crush on Laura "Ariel" Vlasblom as a child, because she sings so convincing and adorable. The song "Dat Is Mijn Wens" ("Part Of Your World") remains a personal favourite and is a likely candidate for my merital song. The absolute highlight of the Dutch track is Sebastian. He's Jamaican in the original edit, but Surinamese in our version. A nice touch, because Surinam was once a colony of The Netherlands (Dutch Guiana). And my grandfather's mother was a Surinamese! What does this have to do with "The Little Mermaid", you ask?

To get back on topic : I love "The Little Mermaid". It shows the newly revived Disney at full steam, up and running, coming of age. Composers Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman : what a duo! The songs are all flat out great! Yes, again, I only know the Dutch version (how many times can I mention a language in a review? Well, sorry, there is no synonym), but the music is what makes it extra special. Some lyrics in "Diep In De Zee" ("Under The Sea") gave me a headache for 16 years because they're not very well pronounced. In the 1990's, there was no Internet to look up the lyrics and especially not the non-English lyrics, but thanks to DVD, I finally understand what that adorable crab sings!

Audio and video of the DVD is terrific. This is not a technical review - I am no member of "The Digital Bits". I could talk about the "engaging use of colour", "the greyscale that's off the wall" or "the deeply saturated red", but I'd be damned if I know/knew what that mumbo jumbo of DVD jargon actually means/meant. And D. Trull of never uses it either and he's a native speaker!

The extra's keep something special in store! In the extensive 45-minute making of "Untold Tales", former golden boy Jeffrey Katzenberg has his say! Not just archive footage, but newly recorded thoughts. Most of you know the story : he angrily left Disney and formed the competing DreamWorks with Spielberg and Geffen. Disney likes to keep thing under wraps, but here, they do what needs to be done. After all, Katzenberg revived their animation business and led the company to the so-called "second golden age of animation" ... you want to hear him speak!
I think this would never have happened when Michael Eisner was still steering the Disney-ship. I'm glad Katzenberg is present. Peter Schneider (former chairman) and Roy E. Disney (former vice chairman, who Eisner also treated with contempt) are also present in the documentary. Thumbs up to the directors of this neat special feature for including so many key-elements in the "The Little Mermaid"-history!

Further extra's include songselection, a virtual ride and deleted scenes. The extended "Demise Of Ursula" is a treat : almost no audible dialogue, just Alan Menken on the piano. And boy, he's good.

In closing : "The Little Mermaid" is a must have on DVD. Those who loved it on VHS should seriously consider shelling out again, because it's remastered for the better. Those who detest everything with the Disney-logo on it, should stay well clear of this release. But it's their loss!

Julian De Backer, 29 October 2006