By 1989, Walt Disney Animation Studios had released 27 films in varying degrees of cultural significance. The first of their films, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, remains, to this day, a significant achievement in animation. Their 26th and 27th films, The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and Oliver & Company (1988), tend to be enjoyed, but don’t quite possess the same status as their predecessors. Then came The Little Mermaid, a film which won two Oscars (one for Original Score and one for Best Original Song: “Under The Sea”) and a Golden Globe (for Song, Score, and Motion Picture in a Comedy or Musical). Not only did it win awards from the film industry, but it continues to maintain a treasured spot deep in the hearts of audiences new and old. Now, 30 years since it released in theaters, The Little Mermaid joins the Walt Disney Signature Collection with a wealth of behind the scenes features of the making of the film, insights from Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel, and a peek inside Walt Disney’s office. This 30th anniversary edition also marks the first time The Little Mermaid is offered in 4K Ultra HD.
Considering the number of times Disney releases their films and the limited time the releases are available – looking at you, Disney Vault – there’s always a question which lingers: to buy or not to buy? The jump from VHS to DVD saw a fair improvement on the look and sound of the original releases, while all the updates from there merely seem to add new bonus features or redress them to appear new. In the case of the 30th Anniversary Edition, The Little Mermaid looks decidedly different. The colors pop, the world feels less flat, and the sound is incredible and this is just coming from the Multi-Screen Edition Blu-ray, not the Ultimate Collector’s Edition 4k. Though the narrative is unchanged, it’s absolutely clear from the moment the film begins that the experience of The Little Mermaid is upgraded. The red of Ariel’s hair stands out a bit more, the blue-green of the water is a touch more vivid, and Ursula’s song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is a cornucopia of color. Devout Disney fans, as well as the general audience, will notice the improvement from the original theatrical experience to what’s on display at home. Granted, the animation style continues to look dated by modern standards, The Little Mermaid absolutely retains its undeniable charm.
So the film looks and sound great. But what about the bonus features?
As per the new norm, the bonus features are slightly different between the physical and the digital release, and it’s worth noting that the standard DVD may not possess any features whatsoever. The physical release offers eight individual videos; an audio commentary featuring co-writers/co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker, along with composer Alan Menken; and a video advertising the 30th Anniversary Edition. Commentaries are great for finding out tidbits about the film you may not know, from personal significance of movie moments to insider knowledge of the creation of a scene. The advertising video is nice to watch if you haven’t seen it before, but beyond that, there’s nothing particularly special about its inclusion. The eight videos, however, are where the real treasure lies. In the video “Alan Menken & the Leading Ladies,” we get a chance to hear stories from Benson, Paige O’Hara (Belle in Beauty and the Beast), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas’ singing voice), Lillas White (lead muse Calliope in Hercules), and Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel in Tangled) as they swap stories with composer Alan Menken about their experiences with their respective performances, the impact the films continue to make, and the legacies of their characters. This isn’t a standard roundtable discussion from them. Since these films are musicals, you get a taste of some of their favorite moments from their respective films, including each actor offering a sample of their signature songs. For audiences who want to get a glimpse of what it was like inside the recording booth, there’s “What I Want From You…Is YOUR VOICE,” in interviews from the cast during the time of recording are presented along with scenes of them in the recording booth. A real delight is the opportunity to hear from the actors about how they each approached the performance that they created, taking what might seem like a behind the scenes gag reel and making it far more engaging and insightful.
The real treasure hidden within the bonus features is one included on previous editions, but is still worth revisiting: “Under The Scene: The Art of Live Action Reference.” In this one, Clements and Musker walk the audience through how so many of the memorable scenes in The Little Mermaid were crafted using a method first utilized in Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, and many other films before being abandoned in favor of other animation techniques: live-action references. While it may seem more-or-less standard for today’s animators to seek out real-world experiences in order to craft their images, by the time The Little Mermaid began production, the practice had stopped. Soon after Clements and Musker began working on Mermaid, they realized that the grace and elegance of previous films was missing. Through new interviews and old footage, we now get a chance to better understand how actors Sherri Stoner (Ariel) and Joshua Finkel (Prince Eric) provided the foundation from which the animation developed into the beautiful piece we know it today.
The decision to pick up the 30th Anniversary Edition of The Little Mermaid really comes down to personal preference. If you already own a copy, the bonus features aren’t likely to entice you and the idea of upgrading may not appeal. However, if you don’t own The Little Mermaid yet or the idea of digging into the process of its creation sparks interest, heck, even if the notion of seeing the film presented in greater detail and vividness is enough, then there’s little to be disappointed by in Disney’s eighth addition to their Signature Collection.
Full List of Features:
Blu-Ray & Digital:
- Sing-Along Mode – Sing along to the movie in this sing-along version of the film.
- Alan Menken & the Leading Ladies – From the voice of a mermaid to the tunes of a muse, the music of Alan Menken has scored the soundtracks for some of Disney’s most iconic leading ladies. Join Alan, Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O’Hara (Belle), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas Singing Voice), Lillias White (Calliope), and Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel) as we celebrate the music of their films in honor of the one that started it all … “The Little Mermaid.” In this discussion, the ladies will share their memories of musically creating their characters with Alan, discuss what it means to be part of the Disney Princess/leading lady legacy and create new memories as they sing with Alan around a baby grand piano.
- “What I Want From You…Is YOUR VOICE” – Enter the recording studio and get an inside look at the cast of “The Little Mermaid” in their original recording sessions.
- Stories From Walt’s Office: Gadgets & Gizmos – Like Ariel, Walt Disney was a collector of many different things from miniatures to early mechanical characters that inspired the invention of audio-animatronics. We take a look at some the collections that Walt kept in his office in the third episode of this series.
- #TreasuresUntold – Join Ruby Rose Turner and Olivia Sanabia from the Disney Channel Original Series “Coop and Cami Ask the World” as they take a deep dive to explore some hidden treasures and fun facts about Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
- DCapella “Part of Your World” Music Video
Classic Bonus Features – Revisit four exciting bonus features from previous releases including:
- Deleted Character: Harold The Merman
- Under The Scene: The Art Of Live Action Reference
- Howard’s Lecture
- Audio Commentary With Ron Clements, John Musker and Alan Menken
- Part of Your World – A 30-year retrospective – Songwriter Alan Menken and Jodi Benson, the acting and singing voice of Ariel, sing the epitome of Disney “I Want” songs “Part of Your World” and discuss its impact since it was first heard 30 years ago.
- Classic Bonus Features – Over 3 additional hours of previously released classic bonus features including Deleted Scenes, Easter Eggs, Music Videos and more!
Available on digital beginning February 12th, 2019.
Available on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD beginning February 26th, 2019.
Final (Film) Score: 4.5 out of 5.