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Movie Rewind: Disney’s return to glory in ‘The Little Mermaid’

Maija Gustin | Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” is an awesome movie. It is often forgotten, shadowed by greats such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Finding Nemo.” However, it stands as a classic piece of animation with its all-too catchy soundtrack, exotic locales, hilariously memorable characters and backdrop of star-crossed love. Now that you’ve finished singing “Under the Sea” in your head, here are a few more reasons why you know you love “The Little Mermaid.”

Ariel is totally loveable. Though she lacks the bookish smarts and strong-willed independence of our darling Belle, Ariel’s curiosity, determination and red hair more than make up for it. Every little girl wanted to be her for Halloween because she’s just the coolest. And she saved Prince Eric’s life! She’s no damsel in distress, that’s for sure.
She’s also headstrong, but in the best possible way. And everyone digs a rebellious streak. While most never went behind their father’s back to turn from mermaid to human, Ariel is easily the most realistic princess in the Disney repertoire. Yes, Jasmine is way cool, but everyone sees a little of herself in the ginger princess of the sea.

The other characters of “The Little Mermaid” are just as appealing. Ursula is easily one of the best villains in the Disney universe. She’s as scary as the evil queen in “Snow White,” as funny as Captain Hook and looks like a cross between Medusa, Joan Rivers and RuPaul. Her big song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” steals the show and lets the busty baddie primp and parade herself into Ariel’s good graces, nabbing her beautiful voice along the way.

While Flounder is a great sidekick, insofar as crazy-cool animal friends go, Sebastian is just the tops. He’s witty, cynical and makes beautiful music (hello, “Kiss the Girl”) to boot. And while one might easily see him as nothing more than a wet blanket, those with a funny bone know that there’s more to this crustacean than a perfect meal (Scuttle the seagull is pretty great, too).

Disney movies are chock full of Prince Charmings. But are any as charming as Prince Eric? He’s tall, dark and handsome, he loves his dog and he wants to find true love. Oh, and he’s not afraid to run a broken mast into a giant sea witch in order to save said true love. He really is a true Renaissance man.

“The Little Mermaid,” released in 1989, straddles that awkward barrier between the 80s and 90s. But it does it with style. It keeps the well-coifed hair of the 80s, but combines it with the brilliance that is children’s entertainment of the 90s.

“The Little Mermaid” is considered a renaissance for Disney Studios, which, until its release, had failed to create a true classic since “Sleeping Beauty” in 1958. While “Robin Hood,” “The Aristocats” and “The Great Mouse Detective” are beloved by many, most Disney films from this stagnant period fall by the wayside compared to their predecessors and successors.

“The Little Mermaid” revitalized the brand, paving the way for brilliant films from “Aladdin” to “Wall-E.” The new Disney of the90s also proved that princesses don’t have to wait for Prince Charming to save the day, and that pop music goes just as well with animation as do the more classical songs of Disney’s past.

Where would we children of the 80s and 90s be without “The Little Mermaid”? Lost in a sea (pun definitely intended) of mediocre children’s animation, like that rubbish your little brother watches on Nickelodeon — that’s where we’d be. So take a few minutes out of your weekend to sit down and appreciate one of Disney’s finest. In this fine weather, it’s basically like being at the beach. Basically.

The views expressed in this Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Maija Gustin at [email protected]