Review: 'The Little Mermaid' is finally part of the 4K world
Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at 4:32 PM Central
by John Couture
What could I possibly say about The Little Mermaid that hasn't been said before? The massively successful animated film is a signpost in modern animation that literally paved the way to today's animated blockbusters. This year, the film celebrates its 30 year anniversary and Disney is gifting the classic with a proper 4K UHD Blu-ray release.
Disney made its name early on with animation, but a shift occurred in the 1970s and 1980s away from animation and toward live-action films. To wit, The Little Mermaid became the first animated film to break the coveted $100 million box office barrier. In doing so, the 1989 film also trumpeted a return of Disney to its animation roots.
In the years that followed, animated heavyweights such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King would propel Disney to the top of the modern renaissance of animation films that still has not abated to this day. Before The Little Mermaid, animated films rarely, if ever, broke into the top 25 box office films of the year. In 2018, five animated films made it into the top 20 box office films and that was considered a "down year" for animation.
No, there's really nothing that I could add to the conversation other than I remember seeing The Little Mermaid as a kid and the feeling of awe I had as I left the theater. As I sat down to revisit the film 30 years later, I had a bit of trepidation that somehow the film wouldn't hold up to the ravages of time and I would sully a purely joyful childhood memory.
Thankfully, the film holds up and I was able to forge new memories with my children.
If there's one problem living in a post-Little Mermaid world, it's that the proliferation of quality animation choices presents us with a bit of an overload when it comes to entertainment choices. I always dreamed that I would one day sit down with my kids and watch all of the Disney films of my youth. Heck, I even used to collect Disney VHS tapes with the sole purpose of doing just that, but then I did have kids and I came to realize that there's not enough time in the day.
While the many different animated options have been a lifesaver numerous times, my kids quickly made it apparent that they would rather watch the latest Disney film such as Frozen for the one-hundredth time than to sit through an "old movie." Let me tell you, nothing makes you feel older than having your kids tell you that The Iron Giant is such an old movie.
So, I relish these review opportunities because it forces us to sit down as a family and to watch one of these "really, really old" movies that they would otherwise dismiss. I'm happy to report that not only did they watch The Little Mermaid, but they demanded a re-watch as soon as it ended. And for a couple of youngsters, there is no higher accolade than that.
Not only does the film hold up well to the test of time, but you also get a fresh perspective of the film as an adult that you were too young to understand as a kid. My kids likewise, loved the music and the story but gave little thought to the story and its implications. Meanwhile, I was captivated by Ursula's machinations and the film's critique of the male-centric world at a time when feminism was just starting to break out into the mainstream.
While sure, the young and naive Ariel still requires her white knight father to swoop in and fix her mess at the end, go back and really listen to the song "Poor Unfortunate Souls." Or better yet, check out the lyric video below.
Sure, everyone remembers "Part of Your World," but this little subversive number was the one that caught my ear on the revisit and is quite forward-thinking for 1989. There's a lot more going on in The Little Mermaid and it was fun to go back and discover these things a few decades on.
The Little Mermaid was one of the last films to use painted cels in their backgrounds. The CGI revolution was right around the corner, so I was curious how this would look on the latest format. I can say that the film has never looked better and yet, Disney wisely made the decision not to go back and color correct the various goofs that make the film memorable.
The temptation with these new re-releases is to go back and correct the mistakes, but I find it refreshing that they let the vestiges of the past remain. Of course, it remains to be seen if Disney will go back and correct some of the more egregious mistakes such as the naked lady in the window in The Rescuers Down Under but we will have to wait and see.
The new Dolby Atmos soundtrack on the 4K UHD is spectacular. The iconic songs have never sounded as good and as rich as they do here. Not only do the songs get a boost, but it seems to me that the Atmos track also punches up the non-song parts as well with added background detail that I didn't immediately notice on the Blu-ray version.
In terms of new special features, there is a couple of nice 30th-anniversary retrospective pieces that truly help to cement this classic film in its place in history. The kiddos enjoyed the Coop and Cami bit, although to be honest, I had no clue who they were, but the kids loved it.
Interestingly, Disney included the legacy bonus features from previous editions as digital exclusives. The 4K UHD Blu-ray includes a digital copy, so there's no worry in losing these older features with the new incarnation. I don't recall them doing this in the past, but I may have just missed it. So, the 4K UHD instantly becomes the version of the film that you must own.
The Little Mermaid is a timeless film that finally gets its chance to shine on 4K UHD and Disney gives the film a truly collectible edition that every fan should add to their collection. Not only is it a great film that entertains an audience of all ages, but it's an important animation milestone that continues to echo to this day.