This 1989 release was the film that brought Disney back to the forefront of producing animated features. While it's not as good as Disney's best animated effort to date, "Beauty & The Beast," nor as complex and epic as their most successful feature, "The Lion King," this film is still a joy to watch. Perhaps what makes it so is that it is fluff, a saccharin-filled feature that's light and airy, and not weighed down by the more adult-oriented themes present in many of Disney's more recent offerings. This film is meant purely to entertain, and it wonderfully succeeds at that. It also gives you the impression that those who made the film had as much fun producing it as the audience does watching it.
Featuring a wonderful score (that won an Oscar), the movie contains several great songs, chief among them "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl," both of which were nominated for 1989's Best Song of the Year ("Under the Sea" won). The first collaboration of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman on an animated film, this movie reestablished the animated musical genre, and paved the way for Disney's later, and more commercially successful films. Ashman's death in 1991 severely impacted the quality of Disney's later animated scores ("Aladdin" being the last film they worked on together). While the more recent scores & songs have been adequate and occasionally successful, hearing the work in this film again only reminds one of how good those musical artists were together.
Based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale, the story has been "Disneyfied," with the plot slightly changed and additional characters thrown into the mix. It's also interesting to see the characters of Ariel and Eric and their mannerisms showing up in several of the latter films' main characters (Belle from "Beauty" looks much like Ariel -- the now standard doe-eyed, slim in the waist and increasingly buxom women -- and we can see many of Eric's expressions and mannerisms in Aladdin from the similarly named movie). The animation, while obviously not up to par with recent standards, still looks marvelous. When released in 1989, it was a tremendous step forward in animation quality from what had been offered for decades before its release.
While some might complain that the characters are just "sketches" themselves (not in art, but in character depth), one must remember that this is a lighthearted film and that the main character is just a sixteen-year-old girl (and a mermaid at that!). The film isn't intended to be deep and probing, but instead offers a simple story that everyone can easily understand and identify with, and enjoy while watching it. "The Little Mermaid" exceeds at all of that and more. Take your kids and/or yourself to this movie while it's back in the theaters (it's there just through Nov. 30th only) and everyone in your family will have a fun time. We give this film an 8 out of 10.