It's hard to
critique DVDs. This isn't life-saving work like that of
a paramedic or doctor, and it doesn't change the world
we live in. You're reading my opinion on a movie that
you might enjoy, even if I don't. Critiquing a DVD
release is hard because I owe it to my readers to be as
fair and honest about what I've just seen. I also don't
want to alienate those people who spent years working on
a particular movie. Making movies ain't easy, whether or
not they're made for theatrical release or DVD/Blu-ray.
It's easy to sit on my comfy couch and rip holes in the
story or direction. It's not so easy to create a movie
that pleases an audience.
Which brings me to my review of "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning." The movie is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. This review is on the DVD.
I fell in in love with Ariel the first time I saw her in the original 1989 classic feature film. Here was a dynamic and beautiful character who yearned for something more. She was admirable in her determination, and lovable in that she never forgot those who loved her. Animator Glen Keane did such a wonderful job in her creation, while both Jody Benson (Ariel's voice) and Sherry Stoner (Ariel's live action reference model) gave the character life. The music and overall story of "The Little Mermaid" was the spark that re-invented Disney's animation studio at the time. Since the film was released, a television series and DVD were made based on the continuing adventures of Ariel and her friends.
The television series was a nice diversion for kids under the age of four, but beyond that, it was no more remarkable than most television cartoons. "The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea" (2000) wasn't actually as bad as some critics have pointed out. It was a bit disturbing to see Ariel with a young daughter, though that would technically be correct since she and Prince Eric got married. There were some good scenes and the animation was good for a limited budget DVD movie. It seemed that Disney mined the gold a bit too much, though. Ariel had been reduced to a secondary character, and the magic of "The Little Mermaid" wasn't there.
"Ariel's Beginning" goes back to when the spunky little mermaid was young. The story is established on why we never see Ariel's mother in the original film. To me, some things are left best unsaid. Do we need to find out what happened to Snow White after her prince takes her off into the sunset? Do we need to know what happens to Cinderella after her prince takes her off into the sunset? Do we need to find out what happened to Mogli after he returns to his village? Except for Snow White, Disney has revisited most of its classic films to find out what happened after "happily ever after." In Ariel's case, they've gone to sea and the sea is over-fished.
Ariel's mom is gone, and we discover that King Triton (Jim Cummings) has banned all music from under the sea in grief. Naturally, Ariel's upset by this and sets off to find the music again. She meets Flounder (Parker Goris) who is much more confident and not as cuddly as in the original film. Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) is back as the funny crab and moonlights as a nightclub singer. We also meet, in more detail, Ariel's other sisters. Through a series of musical numbers, and some intrusion by Marina del Rey (Sally Field), we're given the plot. [The name of Marina del Rey is soooo L.A.-centric!]
A movie like this is naturally aimed at children. The story isn't as childish as the television series, but it doesn't try to break any new ground. Director Peggy Holmes helms this adventure and does a decent job in direction. From what I understand, she's a former choreographer (much like "High School Musical" director Kenny Ortega) who took off her dance shoes for the director's chair. Her direction is fine, though working from a weak storyline doesn't help the production.
The musical numbers make up most of the story, and the songs aren't memorable or catchy. The story is diluted with some throw away jokes, minor heart tugging moments, and those big musical numbers. What isn't apparent in the story is a sense of real good conflict and danger. I'm sure the budget for this DVD sequel (or prequel) was low compaired to Disney's theatrical features. So the filmmakers didn't have a lot to work with. But that's not an excuse for creating a weak story for Ariel. The villain, Marina, isn't threatening at all. She's power hungry for Sebastian's job. Been there, done that in so many kiddie films. At least Ursula wanted everything.
Ariel is such a strong character in the first film, that in the series and these sequels, she's seen more as a marquee name. Maybe the sequels should be called "Ariel and her Friends," because the friends seem to have more screen time. As for Ariel, she has the determination to bring music back to Atlantica. But she doesn't have the charm and caring nature of her character in this film. She goes about her business and shows hardly any of the endearing qualities she had in the 1989 film. Flounder, who was a lovable and insecure sidekick in the original film, is a cocky and somewhat overconfident fish in this movie.
Disney has clearly been successful in making these direct-to-DVD sequels/prequels. On a financial level, Disney's exploited their classic animated film library with some very handsome profits. As a stock holder, I'd be happy with the company. As a Disney fan, I'm appalled. The sequels to Disney's classic library haven't been necessary. Not all of the DVD movies Disney's made have been based on the greatest of Disney classics. But some shouldn't have been tampered with. It wasn't necessary to find out what happened in "Cinderella," "Peter Pan," "Lady and the Tramp," or "The Jungle Book." They told their stories very solidly. It was up to the audience, if they wanted to, to make up for themselves what happened after the final fade.
One of the things I've found most grating about these sequels is how depressing the stories are. The air of seriouness is heavy. Most of the characters seem like they have none of the spirit that they had in the original films. We're given a bunch of side characters who don't add anything to the plot. We don't care about the sensitive evil step sister's plight of finding the right man. She's supposed to be evil! We don't care about Wendy's obnoxious daughter getting kidnapped by Captain Hook on his CGI ship. Take her. Please. And it's disheartening to see Baloo moping around the jungle remembering all the good times he and Mogli had. Get a drink of coconut milk and cheer up, dude!
Ariel, which I think is one of the strongest characters in Disney's modern classics, deserves better. Her fairy tale ending in the 1989 film was sweet and sincere. And it was honest and closed the book like any good fairy tale should. It's too late to turn back history and make sure that these direct-to-DVD movies were never made. But if Disney can revise time and history with their movies, why can't we?
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Disney. All rights reserved.
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