Toon Talk: Little Mermaid DVD
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by Kirby C. Holt
The Little Mermaid
Disney Platinum Edition DVD
MPAA Rating: G
I've Heard the Mermaid Singing
In the mid-1980s, Disney Animation was in crisis. With the new Eisner regime in place, the underperforming animation branch, once the glittering cornerstone of the Disney kingdom, was in danger of being closed for good. This was due to several factors, most glaring being the big messy flop that was The Black Cauldron. The animation staff, down to a paltry but stalwart group of 125, saw the writing on the wall when they were unceremoniously moved (banished?) off the Burbank lot and relocated to Glendale. It might as well have been Siberia ...
Fortuitously, a project emerged that rallied the animators, story people and other artists, now relegated to a ragtag collection of trailers on a vacant lot off of Flower Street, to produce what would become the first in a long run of huge successes for the Disney company, an animated fairy tale that crossed-over from the "family filmâ€? ghetto into a full-fledged mainstream phenomenon that would lead to the revitalization of the medium of animated features and elevate them to their rightful place as a true art form, not just "kid's stuffâ€?. With all due respects to those landmark films that followed (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Toy Story), it was The Little Mermaid that saved Disney animation in particular and feature animation in general, making the genre what it has become during the past 17 years.
Mermaid has previously only been available on DVD in the bare bones "Gold Collectionâ€? disc (back when "disc artâ€? was listed as a bonus), but it finally gets its just due with a brand new two-disc Platinum Edition DVD (available in stores today) with a fully restored picture and enhanced soundtrack, plus an ocean-full of bonus features that are truly unique and watchable, resulting in one of the best Platinum Editions yet.
Based on the beloved Hans Christian Andersen tale, the Disney version is a vibrant, fast-paced, slightly modernized take on the classic prince meets princess story that, in hindsight, offers one of the tightest and most accessible screenplays of any animated film before or since. This was largely due to the involvement of the late great Howard Ashman, a master storyteller who was taken from us all too soon. As reiterated numerous times throughout the supplemental material by his fellow Mermaid makers, it was Ashman's influence that inspired all, from the directors to the voice talent to the artists, to strive to do the best that they could do, to create a new animated classic that could rightfully sit "on the shelfâ€? next to such archetypes as Snow White and Pinocchio. As of now, I don't think anyone could argue that that goal was most certainly achieved.