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Legacy Review

The Little Mermaid (1989)

The first half of The Little Mermaid might be my favorite Walt Disney Animation Studios film. The underwater animation — a zillion little bubbles, murky lights, swimming bodies, weightless floating hair — remains intoxicating. And the soundtrack is certainly one of Disney’s best, with two of my top five Disney songs appearing in the film’s first half (“Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea”).

Ariel, for all that her motivations revolve around falling in love with a man, is nonetheless a great protagonist and believable as hormonal teenager who wants to escape her sleepy hometown. Her character design and animation or so expressive.

If you want to talk Disney chills moments, cinematic perfection, The Little Mermaid has a bunch of them, with Ariel swimming towards the light singing “up where they walk / up where they run…” at the top of the list.

I’ve read numerous takes on Howard Ashman’s queer identity informing Beauty and the Beast, but not as many on The Little Mermaid. It’s definitely there, though: Ariel is attracted to a culturally forbidden “otherness”; an exiled sexual deviant gives her conduit to that world; despite her family and culture wanting her to change, they must learn to accept her for what she is.

I agree with the consensus movie gets a lot less interesting once Ariel arrives on land. Beyond loss of voice, Ariel’s personality is simplified to childish wonder, and the scenario just isn’t as rich.

Perhaps the most charming post-transformation moment is “Les Poisson,” which is great but so detached from the story proper it could just as well be a Looney Tunes short. (And then there’s “Kiss the Girl,” which absolutely slaps.)

On the whole, The Little Mermaid is definitely a great one, though. It’s magical and vibrant animation near-perfection.

Is It Good?

Exceptionally Good (7/8)

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.


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