Perhaps more than any other film studio, Disney has mastered the creation of sequels. Some go direct to video and some receive theatrical release, but the studio always seems to have yet another story to tell about some of their most beloved characters. To be sure, not all the stories are told well, but one certainly has to admire the studio's tenacity (the cynical would refer to it solely as a desire to make a quick buck, but I am not among that group). One of Disney's myriad of sequels, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea is being rereleased on DVD this week as a "Special Edition."
Little Mermaid II, while having Ariel in it, mainly focuses on Ariel and Eric's daughter, Melody. The film begins with Ariel and Eric taking an infant Melody to the sea so that Ariel's father, King Triton, can meet his granddaughter. The reunion is quickly spoiled by Ursula's "crazy sister" Morgana, who is out to get Triton's trident, take over the oceans, and succeed where her sister failed. As Ursula pegged all of her hopes on Ariel, Morgana chooses to use Melody in her scheme, attempting to kidnap the baby and trade her for the trident.
Morgana fails, but the attempt leaves Ariel concerned for the safety of her daughter. Ariel tells her father that as long as Morgana is around, neither she nor Melody will be visiting the sea anymore. Ariel goes so far as to have a wall built between the sea and Eric's kingdom and even hides from Melody the truth about her family background.
The story does a good job about showing the similarities between Ariel and her daughter, as Melody grows into a teenager, she, much like Ariel before her, disobeys her parents and heads to the once place that make her happy. In Ariel's case it was the land, in Melody's the sea. Melody, as Ariel did, hides her visits from her parents, fearing that her mom won't understand. One big fight later however, Melody finds herself out alone on the sea where she meets up with Morgana who is, after all these years, still after Triton's trident. Unaware of her own history or Morgana's, Melody is fooled into making a bargain with the evil sea witch, one which she soon regrets.
As this is a Disney film, everything works out in the end, but not before new animal pals are introduced, songs are sung, and everyone learns greater truths about who they are and the world around them. It's all very pat, all very obvious, and all very boring. There is never any real sense of danger about Morgana, and every viewer that is teenaged or older will become incredibly frustrated at Ariel, her father, and Eric for their blind stupidity at letting events unravel much as they did in the original film. Where the original film was fun for young and old alike, this sequel seems to be directed solely at younger viewers.
All too often, the plot is filled with too many flaws and logic gaps, there are simply too many instances when crisis could, and should, have been averted. Melody's new animal pals, Tip and Dash, feel like little more than cheap knockoffs of Timon and Pumbaa. And, where the music in the first movie stayed with one long after the film ended, here one can't wait for it to be forgotten (a task which won't take very long).
Perhaps though the most disappointing aspect of the film is the animation itself. In most scenes in the film the characters have the oddest highlights on the top of their heads. They are, perhaps, supposed to be there to acknowledge where light is striking them, but the highlights don't seem to alter at all when the characters move their heads. Where the original film had fantastic backgrounds and settings, the ones here feel all too flat, and there are even a few scenes where everything on screen, even the main characters, seem to simply be drawings on a piece of paper (one can almost see the paper itself). Of course, they are nothing but drawings (even if they're not drawn on paper), but they still ought to appear as though they are more. The animation is far more what one would expect on a Saturday morning cartoon than from a feature length film.
This new DVD release is not without special features. Chief among these are a deleted song from the film, some brief interactive games, and a "storybook" of the film that can either be read by Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel) or by the viewer. While the storybook is the most cute, and may encourage children enthralled by the film to try their hand at reading, none of the extras however are really terribly enjoyable or interesting.
Perhaps the reason The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea is so disappointing is because Disney has regularly produced better sequels, even direct-to-video ones, than it. I don't doubt that the creative minds at Disney have more stories to tell about Ariel (indeed there are more than two films featuring the mermaid), they simply need to be presented better. It was The Little Mermaid that helped launch a resurgence in Disney animation, a new "golden age," it is a pity to see that resurgence lead to such a poor sequel.