The Little Mermaid appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not one of Disney’s strongest efforts, the transfer of Mermaid was consistently quite good.
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. A slight amount of grain popped up early but not to a significant degree. Overall, the image was quite clean.
Colors also looked pretty solid. Reds demonstrated a little noise at times – usually via Ariel’s hair – but I thought the tones usually seemed lively and distinctive. Blacks were deep and firm, while low-light shots demonstrated good clarity and delineation. Mermaid showed a little room for improvement but I felt the transfer satisfied in most ways.
For the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Little Mermaid, Disney created a new “Enhanced Home Theater Mix”. This supplanted the 5.1 track from the original 1999 DVD, though I thought both were pretty similar. The soundfield offered a surprisingly 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 2006 mix used the surrounds in a moderately more active way when compared to the prior 5.1 track, but don’t expect them to go overboard. The rear speakers remained naturally integrated with the rest of the action. Overall, the soundfield created a reasonably 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 picture and audio of this “Platinum Edition” compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? I thought the two soundtracks were a wash and neither seemed noticeably superior to the other. However, the 2006 transfer was significantly stronger than its predecessor. Cleaner, tighter and better defined, it was a clear improvement.
While that old disc included no extras, the Platinum Edition adds a slew of extras across its two platters. On DVD One, we open with an audio commentary for 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.
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 DVDs, and it’s harmless if uninspired.
A music video for “Kiss the Girl” by Ashley Tisdale runs three minutes, 30 seconds. Ashley is one of the many Disney pop princess Hilary Duff wannabes, though she actually looks a little like Paris Hilton. She 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.
An 80-second musical sneak peek for the upcoming Little Mermaid III allows us a glimpse of that production. This simply offers a brief excerpt of a tune from that flick. I guess this will interest folks who look forward to that release.
Disc One opens with a few ads. We get clips for The Little Mermaid III, Meet the Robinsons, Cars, The Fox and the Hound and Cinderella III: A Twist in Time. All of these also appear in the disc’s Sneak Peeks area along with additional trailers for Robin Hood, Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, Enchanted Tales and a spot for the Disney Cruise Line.
Now we head to DVD Two and its goodies. These come in three areas, and we start with Backstage Disney. The main attraction here comes from a 45-minute and 35-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 kind 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, 30-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, 13 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.
A collection of Art Galleries offers many stills. These break into six areas: “Visual Development” (46 frames), “Kay Nielsen Artwork (1940)” (26), “Character Design” (176 across six sections), “Storyboard Art” (47), “Backgrounds” (25) and “Production Photos” (25). A lot of good material shows up here. I particularly like the Nielsen pieces, and we find some interesting alternate concepts in the character area.
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.
Deleted Scenes includes… deleted scenes. We get seven of these with a total running time of 26 minutes and 15 seconds. That includes introductions from Clements and Musker. We see “Fathoms Below (Alternate Version)” (2:31), “Backstage with Sebastian” (1:43), “Poor Unfortunate Souls (Alternate Version)” (8:35), “Sebastian Lost in the Castle” (1:52), “Advice from Sebastian” (1:30), “Fight with Ursula/Alternate Ending” (6:55), and “’Silence Is Golden’ Song Demo (Audio Only)” (3:01). 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.
Two elements appear under Games & Activities. 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.
We can take the trip with or without commentary from Disney Imagineering Senior VP Tony Baxter. He gives us some insights into the ride’s design. Ride with Disney Imagineers gives us a mix of options. We can go through the attraction in the same way already seen, and Baxter’s commentary comes again. However, it also allows us to looks at storyboards for the ride, take a trip through the attraction’s original model, and occasionally “turn on the lights” to see it without the effects. These are all fun ways to get a feel for the attraction’s creation.
Finally, Behind “The Ride That Almost Was” gives us a five-minute and 56-second featurette. We hear from 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.
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.
As remains the case for The Little Mermaid itself. The movie isn’t as good as some later Disney works, but it seems generally entertaining and compelling. It also deserves a warm spot in the hearts of Disney fans because it helped return the studio’s animated department to prominence. The DVD presents very good picture and audio as well as many interesting extras. I heartily recommend Mermaid, and that goes for folks who already own the original DVD; this Platinum Edition is the one for fans to own.
To rate this film visit the original review of THE LITTLE MERMAID