Written by Muchacha Motorista
What little girl in 1989 didn’t love The Little Mermaid? And what Disney fan wasn’t glad to see the animation studio once again create a classic, after years of such ho-hummers as The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver & Company? The latest direct-to-DVD feature installment, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, may not be deserving of "classic" status like the original, but should be entertaining for those now-grown-up fans and their own little girls.
As the title suggests, this prequel brings us back to a time in Atlantica before Ariel met Eric, and in fact, before she ever garnered an obsession with the world above the sea. It opens when Ariel and her sisters (who play a much larger role in this movie than the original—should we expect a “Mermaids” product line in Disney’s future?) were just little mermaids. King Triton’s hair and beard are orange, his wife is in the picture, they are very much in love, and music fills the kingdom. What destroys this joy is a tragic accident that kills Ariel’s mom.
Years pass and we revisit the mermaid sisters when they are teen-aged and looking much like they did in the original Little Mermaid, though a few of the sisters have fashionably updated hair-dos. King Triton in his grief has banned music (which he blames for his wife's death) and become a distant authority figure (gray beard and all) instead of the once-warm father the mermaids knew as girls. Loveable Sebastian runs an anti-music task force patrolling for violations on the ban. But when Ariel meets Flounder, she is reintroduced to music through an underground movement, and then leads the charge to slowly draw to music those around her. This starts with her sisters, and leads up to a confrontation with King Triton. Can she convince him that this is what their mother would have wanted?
Sounds a little cheesy--a little “if you give up your dreams, you die,”* doesn’t it? It’s actually kinda sweet. The loss of a parent or spouse impacts everyone involved, and can weigh heavily for years, so we can sympathize with King Triton’s despair and resulting actions. As well, while losing music isn’t the end of the world, it would be an unnatural loss in any society (even those societies under the sea). And of course, we know Ariel’s personality (someone’s got to nail that girl’s fins to the floor!), so we can believe her disobedience and campaign to bring back music is within the scope of her character.
Even with these praises, I might be missing the point of a direct-to-DVD Disney movie. Essentially, is it a good movie to throw in for the kids? Yes. The animation is just as gorgeous as the first movie, the colors as vibrant, the fish as imaginative. The voice acting is good, with Jodi Benson returning as Ariel and Samuel E. Wright returning as Sebastian. Song-wise, don’t expect anything of the epic caliber of “Kiss the Girl” or “Part of Your World.” However, the majority of the music is in the Jamaican-style we loved in “Under the Sea,” and won’t rot your brain like the songs in many other direct-to-DVD Disney movies.