The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning
Type: Direct to Video
Released: August 26, 2008
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|by Dan Goldwasser
on August 16th, 2008
1989's The Little Mermaid ushered in a new era in Disney animated features. With a solid story about the mermaid Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) and her desire to live like a human, the movie featured songs and score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and today is considered an animation classic. In 2000, a direct-to-video sequel was created, which followed the events of Melody, Ariel's daughter. Now a new prequel direct-to-video movie, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning takes a look at the events that took place prior to the original theatrical film.
Ariel (again voiced by Jodi Benson) and her six sisters all live in Atlantica with their father, King Triton (voiced by Jim Cummings) and their mother, Queen Athena (voiced by Lorelei Butters). But following the tragic death of Athena, unable to heal his broken heart, Triton decreed that music is forbidden in the kingdom. Now, ten years later, life in Atlantic isn't fun, and Ariel is starting to get restless and argue more and more with her father. Meanwhile, the governess Marina Del Rey (voiced by Sally Field) is trying to take over Sebastian's job as the majordomo to the King. When Ariel meets a fish named Flounder (voiced by Parker Goris), she discovers the underground music scene, where Sebastian (voiced by Samuel E. Wright) moonlights at the music club. Risking violating the law, Ariel keeps going to the club - but when Marina finds out, she now has the perfect ammunition to get Sebastian's job.
Like other direct-to-video Disney features, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning is short but to the point. In this case, it runs 77-minutes, but has a nice story that promotes the joy of music, and how it enriches our lives. Directed by Peggy Holmes, the movie balances fun musical numbers with comedy, drama, and even some chase scenes. No one gets truly hurt, and it's all good clean family entertainment.
Video presentation is clean and vibrant, with solid colors and nice detail. The movie is 16x9 enhanced, and you can see the hand-drawn lines in some areas, which gives it a nice film-like animation quality. Audio is presented in English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and English DTS - and the DST is the best way to listen to the film. It's not a punchy sound mix, but the clarity is noticibly crisper on the DTS track. The film contains four new songs by Broadway composer Jeanine Tesori, a few Harry Belafonte tracks, and an orchestral underscore by Jim Dooley. The music is all very nicely presented, never buried under sound effects, and dialogue is clearly balanced.
Extras on the DVD include the usual slate of Disney features. First up are two deleted scenes, with introductions by director Peggy Holmes. "Music and More" lets you jump right to the four Tesori song sequences, with the option to have the lyrics on-screen as it plays. Games and Activities features one item, "Mermaid Discovery Vanity Game". It's not really a game, but lets you explore a few items present on Ariel and her sisters' mirror vanities.
"Backstage Disney" is where two featurettes are presented. The first one, "Splashdance: A Dancer's Adventures Under the Sea" is a short 7-minute look at Peggy Holmes' transition from dancer to actress to animation director, and how it was making the movie. They have behind-the-scenes footage of some of the vocal recording sessions, and stuff like that, but there's nothing about the music. The other featurette is "The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea and Behind the Scenes on Broadway". Running 10-minutes long, this is a look at the Broadway stage production of The Little Mermaid, and how it was adapted from an animated film to a live performance. The various actors and actresses in the production show off their costumes and talk about what it's like to be on Broadway.
Sadly, there is nothing about the music of The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning. With award-winning Broadway composer Jeanine Tesori's involvement in the songs, you would think that there would be something. There were EPK crews at the scoring session for Jim Dooley's score, so certainly they have material; I don't know why they wouldn't give us something about the music, when the whole point of the movie is about the importance of music in our lives. It's a missed opportunity, and disappointing that they didn't cover it on the disc.
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning is a film that does a nice job imparting a positive message about the way music enriches our lives. To that end, there isn't much complexity in the film, but it's a nice way to spend some time with the kids.
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