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Ariel has nothing on ‘Splash:’ The Tom Hanks rom com from 1984

Jordan Gamble | Thursday, February 18, 2010

Back in the good old days of the mid-1990s, the Disney Channel didn’t have much original programming. Before the specially made ‘tween concoctions “Hannah Montana” and even “Lizzie McGuire,” it showed Australian sci-fi shows, tapings of Billy Joel concerts from Disneyland and movies. Lots and lots of movies: cartoons and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” but also some less kiddie-centric fare, too.
One such movie was “Splash,” which is basically “The Little Mermaid” set in New York City, but without the talking tuna fish and evil sea queen. This 1984 romantic comedy was the first film released under Disney’s “grown-up” label Touchstone Pictures, because it’s PG rating was too intense for the Disney name.
It was responsible for making “Madison” a name for girls and jumpstarting Tom Hanks’ movie career. It was also directed by future Oscar winner Ron Howard and features Eugene Levy (later of “American Pie” fame) as a mermaid-obsessed marine scientist. John Candy, at the time the film’s only recognizable star, got top billing for playing Hanks’ lascivious older brother.
Daryl Hannah plays the mermaid who gets some legs so she can find the man of her dreams (she chooses the name Madison from the street sign). Hanks is the human guy, Alan, who falls in love with her. All sorts of fish-out-of-water high jinks ensue, until Levy’s mad scientist sprays water on Madison in the middle of the street. Then her legs turn into a big goldfish tail and Alan is understandably freaked out. It’s okay, though — love prevails and he rescues her from the big, bad government scientists.
I first saw “Splash” sometime in the middle of first grade, and I would stalk the Disney Channel row in TV Guide to see when it would be on again.
When I was little, I was obsessed with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” As I got older, though, I was put off by the lame ending where Ariel decides to become human for her man, giving up swimming around with all her spunky fish friends and getting to wear a purple shell bra. Not to mention the fact that she also has to leave behind her dad and all her sisters.
Eric was a hottie, sure, but what a message to send to little girls: you might find the guy of your dreams, but you’ll have to change your whole life (and in Ariel’s case, species) for him! Now that is a terrible relationship model, or at least an unfair one.
So I liked “Splash” a lot better. It was more “grown-up” and realistic when it came to relationships. Granted, the sex jokes either went right over my head or were edited out for TV, but 7 year-old me loved that Madison was smart and learned English just by watching the display TVs in Bloomingdale’s.
I also liked that Alan comes back to save her and then (spoiler alert) gives up everything he knows to stay with her forever in the sparkly city under the sea. It’s all very romantic, not to mention progressive in regards to gender roles and fun things like that.
I once told my boyfriend that he looked like Hanks circa “Splash” (it’s a compliment — Hanks was very cute in 1984), and on the next major gift giving holiday, he gave me the DVD. Now that I’m a decade and a half older and watching the original, uncut version, a lot of things stand out:
The script is clever, funny and touching (it was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay). The cast is fantastic, from Levy and Candy’s comic timing to the sweet, sexy chemistry between Hannah and Hanks. Hannah’s wardrobe is outrageously dated and kind of ugly, but that’s part of the movie’s charm.
Most of all, it’s simply a very good romantic comedy, helped along by a creative, high-concept story that wards off the formulaic mess most rom coms end up in today.