There is a formula to the classic, “magical” Disney films. It can be boiled down to the story, the characters and the songs. Every classic Disney film, every Disney film that is a favourite from childhood and makes people’s “top ten” lists, has these key elements. What I found when I watched The Little Mermaid though, was that some of these films actually have “classic” status but aren’t as good as you remember.
The Little Mermaid isn’t actually a “classic” Disney film. It fails on a lot of the key areas that make movies such as Aladdin, The Jungle Book and The Lion King rightfully classic. The first is the story itself. The tale is based on an old Hans Christian Anderson “fairy tale” that sees a Mermaid fall in love with a human and give up her voice for a pair of legs in an attempt to share a kiss of love with the sailor. Pretty standard but unfortunately, in Christian Anderson’s version, things are darker, meaner and much more gritty, with the story actually having a much crueller and sadder ending that doesn’t work out so well for the central mermaid.
Disney were never going to go down this route and in some cases they do give a little nod to the classic tale, but what is left is an uncomplicated, straightforward, standard and uninspiring tale which never really captures the imagination. It’s telling that whole, irrelevant sections, like the crab Sebastian being chased by a manic French Chef, have to be created to flesh-out the story and make it close to movie length.
This leads us nicely to the characters that are included in The Little Mermaid. You have to have a good supporting characters because in many of the “classic” Disney movies, the Princess is a one-dimensional, uninspiring character who struggles to excite or interest the audience. Add a genie, talking teapot or comedy warthog and you add some of the sparkle and imagination that Disney movies rely on. Sebastian the Crab is as close to this sort of supporting character as they have and he isn’t up to scratch. He isn’t interesting, funny or particularly charming. He’s not enough comic relief for the amount of time he is on-screen. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact he sang the bulk of the movies most memorable songs, you would soon forget him as a major Disney character.
Where The Little Mermaid does excel is the role of the villain. Ursula is perfectly disgusting, obnoxious and in some cases scary. She is up there with Jafar, Scar and maybe even Cruella De Ville, as major Disney villain. It’s a shame she makes up so little of the movie as a whole and only gets one, pretty forgettable, song.
That’s the third weakness of the movie. The songs aren’t as good as you think they are. There are two major songs from The Little Mermaid; Under the Sea and Kiss the Girl. Both are performed by Sebastian and both are catchy enough but they are hardly Hakuna Matata or Whole New World. They are as forgettable as the character singing them and a lot shorter and uninspiring than you probably remember.
The Little Mermaid is a “classic” Disney film because it appeals to kids much more than adults, then those kids grow-up and remember the movie through “rose-tinted glasses.” It’s a rare case of revisiting a Disney film from my childhood and realising that it isn’t anywhere near the movie that I remember it being.
Overall, The Little Mermaid doesn’t have the key ingredients that it needs to be a “classic” Disney movie. The story is uninspiring and obvious, the characters are dull and the songs are poor. It doesn’t belong in the same category as The Lion King, Aladdin and Jungle Book, where many people would place it.
Rating – 2
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)