Where The Little Mermaid 2 is content to retread the original’s story, but in reverse and less coherently and uglier, Ariel’s Beginning at least tries something new. It doesn’t exactly stick the landing, but I’d still put it in the upper half of Disney’s direct-to-video sequels.
As you might guess from the title, Ariel’s Beginning serves as a true prequel. We get a backstory of Ariel’s dying mother and her love of music. Stricken with grief, King Triton has banned all music from Atlantica, setting up a Finloose situation.
Misfit youngest daughter Ariel stumbles upon a musical speakeasy and discovers her own love of the art, recruiting her sisters to join, and setting up a confrontation with Triton.
One thing I enjoyed about Ariel’s Beginning is that it gives many characters from the original film some new and interesting things to do that gives them new depth, though somehow Flounder is recast as a music-loving teen rebel, not the meek tag-along of the original.
I found the film at its strongest during that middle, promise-of-the-premise phase, where Ariel and her six sisters (given distinct, basic-typed personalities) discover the musical pleasures outside of their cloistered life. There’s something joyful about these segments, even if the songs themselves are mostly yawners.
On the catastrophically bad end of the spectrum is the movie’s villain, Marina Del Ray, who is a power-hungry middle manager in Triton’s bureaucracy. For reasons not quite clear, she imagines herself becoming promoted to a slightly more prestigious middle manager, which she projects as Broadway star-type fame and decadence for some unknowable reason. Thus, she sabotages Sebastian, the lead singer at the speakeasy.
Ariel’s Beginning is fleetingly fun and inventive, but drags in its second half. It also always looks just a little bit off — especially Ariel’s mom, who is a slightly-frumpy Ariel clone. But if you have any stomach for the cheap Disney sequels… it’s not Cinderella 3, but you could do worse.
Not Very Good (3/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.