Before I begin, let me explain what happened last week. I had some PC problems and I basically ended up without a working one from early Tuesday until early Saturday. Which basically translated to me missing all my usual update times. So, this week I’ll put up two anime reviews with the extra probably going up on Saturday. Now, with the elephant properly addressed, let’s move on.
When I reviewed The Black Cauldron a couple months back, one of the things I noted was that, unlike this film, it’s not one of Disney’s atrocious offerings. Well, I knew I’d have to extrapolate on that eventually. And today, is that day.
So, we know the basic story. A mermaid falls for a human, trades her voice and possibly her freedom for legs & a cloaca in order to woo him. That’s right, Ursula doesn’t give her a proper human body. That’s canon.
So, what exactly makes this film so bad? Well, let’s start by talking about the motivation problem. Say what you want about Disney’s early heroines like Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora or Maid Marian. Say they’re boring damsels with nothing better to do than wait for their respective Princes to come to their rescue. But, one thing all of them have over Ariel, is that they’re in bad situations through no fault of their own. They get cursed, kidnapped or forced to do nothing but chores by their wicked stepmother.
Ariel, in contrast, lives a charmed life. She’s a princess in a great undersea kingdom. She has family and friends who love her. Her dad even lets her go to Hominid-con with her weird fake legs provided she follows some fair boundaries. But she feels unsatisfied because she wants to go up to dry land and have free reign of thirty percent of the planet instead of seventy. Plus her dad has rules and she’s sixteen so she considers that totally bogus. Basically, she has the same issues as Blanda in the second series of SAO.
The second problem, which ties into the first, is that Ariel directly causes all of her own misfortunes. The first thing we see her do is shirk off an obligation in order to almost get eaten by a shark. After that she decides she’s totally in love with a human she spied on for five minutes and actually interacted with for thirty seconds. And by interacted with, I mean she pulled him ashore so he wouldn’t drown. And in order to chase after that human dick she’s been craving, she basically puts herself in a hugely perilous situation by taking a contract from the sea witch who everyone with multiple brain cells should know isn’t trustworthy. Ursula even gives her an advantage by taking away her voice so her stupid, vapid mouth noises won’t immediately ruin her chances. That’s sporting of her.
Then there’s the third major narrative problem. The romance is shite. Yeah, there’s not much romance for Snow White, Aurora or Cinderella either since they basically marry the boring dudes who rescue them from their lousy situations but at least these guys do something for them. Ariel just sees her boring prince and decides she’s sick of the Mermen at Hominid-con with their fake human bits, she wants a real human dick. You could seriously replace Prince Whatever Who Cares with any decent looking dude and it would all be the same. Princess Vapid would probably still totally fall for them too because this has as much in common with a love story as the Star Trek/ X-men crossover has in common with a psychological horror.
Another thing I have to bring up is messaging. Most media for children is trying to convey some kinds of messages for the audience. Usually, I don’t talk about it because it’s basic stuff like “follow your dreams” or “even if you seem small, you can make a difference if you try.” In this case, I’ll make an exception because any possible message you can take from this film is horrible when you think about it for five seconds. Is the message “When you’re a teenager you know what’s best and your parents need to acknowledge it?” Maybe it’s “If you get yourself in a serious mess, Daddy will bail you out. Don’t worry about it.” Perhaps the message is “That attractive person you’ve never spoken to but you’ve been stalking totally wants you. You just need to get close to them and make it happen.” Or how about “Shady contracts always work out for the person who signs them because if someone’s trying to trick you, they’ll get their comeuppance.”
Here’s another major issue with this film. The most likeable character, is the villain. Which shouldn’t happen since Disney villains tend to be very much evil for the evils. Then we notice who she’s up against. Ariel is a useless vapid cunt. Flounder is the obnoxious sidekick character. Although he’s probably delicious with some butter, a little lemon and pepper. Sebastian is the over-indulgent nursemaid. King Triton would be a decent enough character, since he’s just a dad trying to do what’s best for his daughter but they fuck it up at the end where he decides that he’s had enough of her shit and he just lets her go off to make the boring Prince’s life miserable.
Art & Visuals:
I do have to give the film credit in this regard. They did a good job of designing a magical underwater kingdom and a lot of the undersea scenes where they’re just showing the ocean life swimming around look good. The only serious problem with the art is that the final action sequence is pretty anti-climactic.
Acting & Music:
As a whole, the acting is basically competent. Jason Marin’s performance is annoying but that’s also a product of his character being that type. Jodi Benson is also pretty obnoxious to listen to, but that’s not so much her acting as it is the fact that every stupid thing that comes out of Ariel’s mouth makes you want to punch her. I don’t condone beating sixteen year old girls, but if I had to deal with her for an extended period of time I would be sorely tempted.
Some of the music is pretty catchy with the obvious examples being Under the Sea & Part of Your World. That being said, they are not good songs. Part of your World, in particular, has some stupid lyrics. Take this part:
Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters
Bright young women
sick of swimmin’
Ready to stand
First off, you sometimes have to reprimand your child. Even when they’re a teenager because teenagers think they know more than they actually do. Secondly, you are not bright, Ariel. Every single thing you say and do indicates that you would lose a battle of wits to a toothbrush. You’re the type of person you could keep occupied for days by handing a slip of paper with “turn over” written on both sides. Third, these last couple lines make no sense. It would be like me saying I’m sick of walking and ready to hover.
Areas of Improvement:
- Give Ariel and Prince Whatever a developed relationship. Instead of her falling for him after stalking his ship for five minutes, have them actually sneak out to meet one another as an ongoing thing. You can fix the whole Ursula thing by having Ariel trade her appearance and voice. You can even still make her pretty. You can make the impetus him saying that he has to find a bride within a short frame of time. That gives more motivation behind why Ariel would risk so much for him. And by more, I mean any.
- Make Ariel older. Seriously, a lot of Triton’s perfectly reasonable boundaries become less reasonable if she’s, say, nineteen and an actual adult. Which makes for a more interesting, nuanced discussion.
- Have Ariel display actual intelligence and gratitude for what she has. That would go a long way in making her not a horrible character.
So, that’s why The Little Mermaid is a rubbish film. It may actually be Disney’s worst big budget animated feature. If it’s not, I either haven’t seen the film that is or I can’t remember it. I’ll give it some credit for the competent acting and for having some nice visuals, but I’m not going to give it a whole lot given how egregiously terrible the writing is. I’m giving it a 2/10.