The Little Mermaid (1989) is a good movie, but I do not care for it. I feel like I need to tread carefully here because I have too many friends that love this movie, and the last thing I want to do is upset them. But we all have those films, no? The ones that everyone acknowledges is good but for whatever reason just does not strike your fancy? That explains most Disney animated features for me, and I have discussed this in other reviews of the Mouse’s offerings. The other reason I do not like is the fact that it is a musical. Given my distaste for these elements, even though it is a quality motion picture, it is probably unsurprising that the one thing it in my opinion has going for it is that it is blessedly short.
The title character in The Little Mermaid is, obviously, one of those mythical half-human, half fish creatures living under the sea, as one of the popular songs in it goes. Her name is Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson), and she is one of the daughters of King Triton (voiced by Kenneth Mars), ruler of the oceans. She is rather unruly to boot, and she misses out on her big reveal at King Triton’s court. Instead, she is off with her Flounder (voiced by Jason Marin), searching through old wrecks for new items that belong to the human world. You see, Ariel is not satisfied with being stuck underwater, no matter how privileged is her life. When she does not appear before her father at the appointed time, he is understandably upset and assigns the composer crab (remember, this is Disney) Sebastian (voiced by Samuel E. Wright) to watch over her. However, no amount of claws are able to keep her from the surface as King Triton’s commands. Her next trip top-side is in time to see a human ship caught in a storm, and Prince Eric (voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes) is in need of rescue. In doing so, though he is mostly unconscious, he falls in living with her blurry visage and sing-songy voice. She has fallen too, but King Triton is even more angry when he learns that his daughter has feelings for a human. Monitoring the situation is the evil sea witch Ursula (voiced by Pat Carroll). She approaches Ariel in her grief and offers to make her human. There is a catch, of course. If she is not able to obtain true-love’s kiss before sunset on the third day of her transformation, she will lose her soul, and she must accomplish this without her voice. Contract signed, Ariel makes her way to Eric’s kingdom where she is found by him on the beach. Finally a part of their world (a nod to another song in the film), though voiceless, she is in wonderment of all around her, including her new beau. After a near kiss, Ursula decides that they are getting too close, and takes on human form herself (normally she is an enormous octopus being). In the process, she magics Eric loving her instead, and she gets him to agree to marry her that day. When Ariel learns that it is Ursula behind this plot, she attempts to warn Eric, but arrives just as the sun is going down on the fated day. Yet, King Triton decides to intervene, placing himself in his daughter’s place. This also gives Ursula King Triton’s powers, and she turns herself into a towering sea monster in order to take care of Eric. Eric ends up defeating her by driving a derelict ship into her torso. This frees King Triton, who then grants Ariel’s wish to be with Eric. And they live happily ever after. That is not said, but again, this is Disney.
Because The Little Mermaid was made in 1989, and thus it is dated in many ways. For instance, you would never see any Disney character smoking in their more recent productions. It is also a bit stereotypical. There are other examples, but I will leave them to your own research. What does stand the test of time, though, are the lessons contained therein. True love is true love, and aspiring to it is something I wish more movies would do. I do worry, though, about the deal Ariel makes with Ursula. It is essentially a deal with the devil, and that is never a good thing. Biblically speaking, that typically does not end well for those who attempt it, and it is about as far as one can get from God. Luckily, God’s redemptive love can bring us back from the precipice. In the film, that role is basically fulfilled by King Triton, which is problematic. Still, as I have said already, this is Disney. As such, it should not be taken too seriously, unless your children start thinking that there is such a thing as sea gods like King Triton.
If classic Disney cartoons are your thing, then you will likely have seen The Little Mermaid. As such, there is probably nothing I could say about the film one way or the other that would get you to think it is not worth watching. It is not my cup of tea, but I do recognize that it has merit despite its age.