Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Little Mermaid (1989)

It may seem hard to imagine now, but back in the late 80s there was considerable conjecture as to whether Disney would continue to make animated feature films.  The much touted Black Cauldron had been a major flop, and while the two films after that had done okay commercially, they were far from the cultural touch-point that Snow White or Cinderella had been.  The last film, Oliver & Company (which I have never seen) was especially derided by critics.  The magic, they declared, was gone from the Magic Kingdom.

The one group of people who weren't predicting the end were Disney themselves.  The critics might not have liked Oliver & Company, but it had still been a financially viable release, and it confirmed to them the strategy of returning to musicals.

On its release in 1989, this film showed that it never pays to bet against The Mouse.  It would launch a decade long run of hits, and give Disney confidence to press on when another lean patch hit in the early 2000s.

There's a very simple reason that The Little Mermaid restored the fortunes of Disney animation: it's a very, very good film.  The animation is good, the character designs strong, and the voice cast excellent.  The soundtrack - such a vital part of a musical - is also excellent, from the romantic anthem 'Part of Your World' to the joyful romp of 'Under the Sea' or the Calypso-inspired croon of 'Kiss the Girl', this is a film that wholeheartedly embraces its status as a musical and delivers songs that will stick with you long after the movie's final scenes.

The script is also good.  The humorous scenes consistently deliver chuckles, the dialogue is good, and the characters are as deftly drawn in words as they are on the screen.  King Triton might not get a whole lot of screen time, for instance, but we get a very good sense of who he is in the times we do see him.

All of which adds up to this being my second favorite animated film of all time (The Lion King is number one).  It's an exceptional piece of film-making, and - unless you hate joy - you should make sure to see it.  Great stuff.

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