Review Legacy

The Little Mermaid (1989)

The first half of The Little Mermaid, in isolation, 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 three decades later. 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 and revert to societal expectations, 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 (literally and figuratively), Ariel’s personality post-transformation is simplified to childish wonder, and the scenario just isn’t as rich. It holds back the central coming-of-age metaphor in the film: that she’s more of a guileless little kid after the orgasmic surge to the surface doesn’t quite fit.

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 even if its depiction of consent is a little bit off.)

On the whole, The Little Mermaid is definitely a great one, damn close to a masterpiece, and unequivocally so if you just look at the first half. 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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