The Little Mermaid appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was an appealing presentation.
Sharpness showed few concerns. The occasional wide shot appeared just a bit soft, but not to a distracting degree. Instead, the movie almost always appeared concise and well-defined. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement also seemed to be absent. Don’t look for any print flaws, as they didn’t appear.
Colors also looked solid, as the tones seemed lively and distinctive. Blacks were deep and firm, while low-light shots demonstrated good clarity and delineation. Only the smidgen of softness knocked this one below “A”-level, as it usually presented a top-notch image.
For the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack of The Little Mermaid, the soundfield offered a varied and active experience. The forward channels showed fine spread, as music demonstrated good stereo separation and presence, while effects blended neatly and moved clearly across the speakers. Localization of these elements seemed strong, and they meshed together nicely.
The surrounds added a positive layer of reinforcement to both effects and music, especially during some of the film’s showier scenes; for example, fireworks and thunder echoed convincingly from the rear. The rear speakers remained naturally integrated with the rest of the action. Overall, the soundfield created a vivid and involving piece.
Audio quality also seemed very good. Dialogue remained distinct and natural throughout the movie, as the speech integrated well with the animated action. I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects demonstrated good presence and depth, and they showed accurate and vibrant tones.
Music appeared warm and dynamic as well. Both the score and songs showed fine clarity, and low-end response was fairly deep and tight. Ultimately, The Little Mermaid provided a solid auditory experience.
How did the Blu-ray compare the Platinum Edition DVD from 2006? Audio displayed more zest, while visuals were tighter and smoother. Expect a nice step up in quality here.
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we open with an audio commentary from writer/director Ron Clement, writer/director John Musker, and composer Alan Menken. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific track. The commentary also throws in a few remarks from late composer Howard Ashman via a 1989 interview.
We find notes about visual choices and animation challenges, actors and performances, score and songs, altered/cut scenes and characters, inspirations and influences, and general trivia related to the flick. The latter element offers some fun notes like where we can find cameos from legendary Disney animated characters.
Although commentaries for animated flicks can be dry, this one never suffers from that problem. The men interact well and offer a lively little look at the movie. Music receives a lot of attention as we learn many good notes about the score and tunes. All the other elements get their due as well in this tight and enjoyable chat.
For something unusual, we go to Disney Intermission. If you activate this feature, every time you pause the movie, you’ll get “Crab-E-Oke” segments. These deliver unique Sebastian voice-over and animation and let you croon along with various Mermaid tunes. It’s a fun addition to the set. (A separate area offers the sing-along portions on their own, but they lack Sebastian’s intros.)
Next comes Disney Song Selection. This basically acts as an alternate form of chapter menu. It lets you jump to any of the film’s four song performances, and it also allows you to show on-screen lyrics. This is a staple of Disney releases, and it’s harmless if uninspired.
A music video for “Kiss the Girl” by Ashley Tisdale runs three minutes, 30 seconds. Ashley offers a lite rock take on the movie’s tune that does nothing to improve it. At least the video’s slightly more interesting than most of this genre, as it mixes movie clips with shots of Ashley at a dance. It’s predictable but still beats the usual simple lip-synch fare.
New to the Blu-ray, we find a music video for “Part of Your World” from Carly Rae Jepsen. Disney likes to focus on current pop princesses, so Jepsen gets her moment here. I’m not wild about her version of the song, but at least the video is fairly creative.
Under Backstage Disney, we get a bunch of components. The main attraction here comes from a 45-minute and 33-second documentary entitled Treasures Untold: The Making of The Little Mermaid. It mixes movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from Musker, Clements, Menken, film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, former Disney vice chairman Roy E. Disney and wife Patty, supervising animators Andreas Deja, Ruben Aquino, Duncan Marjoribanks, Mark Henn and Glen Keane, effects animator Ted Kierscey, former Disney animation chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, former feature animation VP Peter Schneider, story artist Roger Allers, co-producer/lyricist Howard Ashman (in 1989), Ashman’s sister Sarah Gillespie, Ashman’s partner Bill Lauch, Ashman’s assistant Nancy Parent, filmmakers Nora Ephron, Frank Oz and John Waters, actors Jodi Benson and Pat Carroll, visual effects supervisor Mark Dindal, and associate producer Maureen Donley.
“Untold” looks at the dire state of Disney animation at the time of Mermaid’s creation and how changes in Disney leadership altered matters. From there we go through aspects of the Mermaid production as we see Clements’ pitch of the story and its development, the work of the directors and composers, and aspects of the songs and score. We also hear about cast and performances, character design and animation, production challenges and pressures, and the movie’s success.
A lot of these kinds of programs tend to be pretty fluffy, but “Untold” usually avoids those pitfalls. We get an honest appraisal of Disney in the 80s and see the tensions associated with the production. If I had a complaint about “Untold”, I’d probably feel that it doesn’t tell us enough about the movie’s creation; it tells us a fair amount but spends so much time on the studio issues that we don’t get a tremendous view of the production. Nonetheless, we learn more than enough about how they made Mermaid and really like the notes about the film’s impact on the studio. This is a consistently fascinating program.
Two featurettes follow. Storm Warning: The Little Mermaid Special Effects Unit goes for eight minutes, 40 seconds and includes Dindal, Kierscey, and effects animators Dorse Lanpher and Randy Fullmer. They tell us what “effects animation” encompasses and then focus on their work for Mermaid. We mostly watch them as they have a reunion to view and discuss the flick. They offer notes about influences on their work and some specifics. Although I wouldn’t call this a deep program, it offers a reasonable examination of the movie’s effects animation.
During the 11-minute, 29-second The Story Behind the Story, we hear from Clements, Musker, and Hans Christian Andersen Museum curator Ejnar Stig Askgaard. We get information about the original Andersen Mermaid story and its aborted early 40s pre-production at Disney. We also learn about the tale’s adaptation for the movie. “Behind” seems a bit disjointed and doesn’t follow a tremendously coherent path, but I like its emphasis nonetheless. We get a nice view of the original story and its connection to the movie in this enjoyable piece.
The Little Match Girl runs seven minutes, 12 seconds. Allers introduces this short that he directed. Also inspired by an Andersen tale, it offers a dialogue-free story of a poor Russian girl. It’s surprisingly somber and bleak, with a “happy ending” that isn’t traditional.
The next three bits come in the Blu-ray’s “Classic DVD Features” area, but since I didn’t mention them in my original review, either they were hidden “Easter eggs” or I was drunk when I wrote it – or both! Anyway, we find John and Ron Make Caricatures of Each Other” (1:05), “Animators Comment on Their Characters” (1:42), and “Clements and Musker Demonstrating ‘The Little Mermaid Handshake’” (0:32).
Clement and Musker are the only participants in “Caricatures” and “Handshake”, while Aquino, Keane, Stoner and Henn appear in “Characters”. It’s the best of the bunch, as it provides behind the scenes info, but the other two entertain as well.
In addition to the film’s original theatrical trailer, we find an Early Presentation Reel. This goes for two minutes, 35 seconds and shows the original visual pitch for Mermaid. It plays a demo of “Under the Sea” accompanied by conceptual art and storyboards. It gives us a nice look at the movie’s early stages.
Seven deleted scenes come with a total running time of 26 minutes and 29 seconds. That includes introductions from Clements and Musker. We see “Fathoms Below (Alternate Version)” (2:30), “Backstage with Sebastian” (1:43), “Poor Unfortunate Souls (Alternate Version)” (8:33), “Sebastian Lost in the Castle” (1:52), “Advice from Sebastian” (1:30), “Fight with Ursula/Alternate Ending” (6:53), and “’Silence Is Golden’ Song Demo (Audio Only)” (2:58). Except for that last one, we view these via storyreels that show storyboards accompanied by rough audio; a little preliminary animation occasionally appears, but not much.
Should you expect any lost gold here? Not really, but Mermaid fans will definitely enjoy these glimpses of alternate options. “Below” and “Souls” give us interesting exposition, while “Backstage” allows us a little more with our crab buddy and Ariel’s sisters. Music fans will be happy to hear the unused “Silence” performed by Menken. Others offer fun but extraneous bits. Across the board, these are interesting to see. Clements and Musker offer good information about the segments and why they didn’t make the final cut.
We also find Disneypedia: Life Under the Sea. Oriented toward little ones, this eight-minute and 25-second program teaches about various aquatic creatures featured in Mermaid. It’s a light but reasonably informative view that should be fun for kids.
We start with Under the Sea Adventure, a “virtual ride inspired by Disney Imagineers”. This splits into three options. “Ride the Attraction” takes us on a four-minute and 15-second first-person CG voyage through the proposed Disneyland attraction. It gives us a good feel for what the ride would have been like if they’d built it. If you’re curious, it’s very much like other FantasyLand attractions such as the Peter Pan ride; it takes us through segments from the movie in a fairly passive manner.
Finally, Behind “The Ride That Almost Was” gives us a five-minute and 54-second featurette. We hear from Disney Imagineering Senior VP Tony Baxter, Imagineering Creative VP Joe Lanzisero, Director of Sculpting and Chief Sculptor Valerie Edwards, Senior Show Designer Don Carson, and Model Maker Joe Stone. They discuss the challenges that come with the design of an attraction and methods they use to make the rides fun. From there we learn specifics of “Sea” and get glimpses of its elements. Although no one ever tells us why “Sea” didn’t get built, this feature presents a lot of good info about the creation of a Disneyland attraction.
The rest of the set’s extras are new to the Blu-ray. @DisneyAnimation runs 10 minutes, 45 seconds and involves Musker, Clements, Henn, Aquino, visual development artist Brittney Lee, director John Kahrs, animators Kira Lehtomaki, Hyun-Min Lee, and Chad Sellers. We learn what brought these folks to Disney and hear about their experiences. This is an extremely happy-happy take on life at Disney, but it’s still moderately charming to hear how flicks like
Does the Blu-ray lose anything from the DVD? Yup, but not a ton. It drops some material from the Disneyland ride area, and it axes art galleries.