The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review
Originally released on November 14th, 1989, The Little Mermaid has since gained legendary status in the pantheon of great Disney animated films. Based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale (which is much darker than Disney’s take), the film tells the tale of Ariel, daughter of King Triton, lord of the seas. Ariel is a rebellious girl, fascinated by the humans that live on land above her. She collects trinkets from the outside world, and becomes infatuated with a prince named Eric when she saves him from a brutal storm at sea. Against her father’s wishes, and while dragging along her friends Flounder and Sebastian, she seeks out the devilish sea witch Ursula – who promises to give her a human form. The catch? Ursula wants her voice, and Ariel will have three days to make the prince fall in love with her – or else she’ll return to her mermaid form and her soul will belong to the sea witch.
Filmmakers Ron Clements and John Musker were under a lot of pressure to deliver a good film with The Little Mermaid, as it was one of the most expensive productions Disney had undertaken in the pre-computer graphics days. Luckily, a solid script, captivating songs written by Alan Menken, and brilliant artwork came together to create a cinematic masterpiece for the ages. Of course, the film went on to win stellar reviews, earned several Oscars and Golden Globes, and ended up taking in over $200 million in box office.
There’s no denying that The Little Mermaid looks gorgeous on Blu-ray – this is overall a great 1080p AVC HD transfer – but the film is beginning to show its age a bit. I remembered it looking better than it actually does – while there are plenty of beautiful, colorful shots under the sea and in Eric’s kingdom, there’s definitely a softness to the picture. It’s the last of Disney’s films to use actually hand-painted animation cels – save for a few shots where the pioneering CAPS digital coloring system was utilized – so this is likely why it looks a bit more dated than it is. The film was only a few years behind Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, yet those films look superior on Blu-ray.
The actual hand-drawn animation looks great, and it’s obvious the lengths that Disney’s animators went to to properly emulate human emotion and movement – one of the extras goes into detail about all of the live action footage that was shot for reference. But there’s also plenty of animation that looks a bit choppy or perhaps unrefined, as if the film was under a time crunch. There’s also a few changes made from the 2006 edition – while the colors and contrast appear to be boosted to make the image pop more, there are a few alterations in colors in some scenes, and also a few issues in the remaster, such as a random bar that appears for a split second in the climactic sea battle. Overall though, the presentation is definitely a step up from the 2006 edition.
The sound mix is definitely decent, once again considering its age. The 7.1 DTS HD soundtrack comes alive during the major songs and setpieces, namely the bombastic “Under The Sea”. That said, some of the mix feels a bit uneven – dialogue seems constrained to the center channel, while music and effects are panned all over the stereo field. The soundtrack does make an impact at times though, such as in the storm at sea where Ariel saves Eric and the final battle against Ursula.
Disney has managed to cram all of the original extras from the 2006 Platinum Edition DVD onto this Diamond Edition Blu-ray, plus a host of all-new features. Here’s a list of the new stuff:
- “Part of Your World” Music Video Featuring Carly Rae Jepsen (HD, 3:39). You probably know this girl from that “Call Me Maybe” song that took over the world for a short while. This is her new version of the classic track sang by Jodi Benson, but she can’t really hold a candle to the original. Still, her voice isn’t bad by any means.
- @DisneyAnimation (HD, 10:45). This is a really cool look inside the animation studio at Disney, and has a few interviews with artists there that were inspired by seeing The Little Mermaid when they were young. A few of the older guys who actually made the film are here too, and shed some light on some interesting facts about the creation of this classic.
- Deleted Character – Harold the Merman (HD, 2:05) Ron Clements and John Musker talk about and show rough animation for a bespectacled, nerdy character that was ultimately removed from the final film. He had quite a minor role in the first place.
- Under The Scene: The Art of Live-Action Reference (HD, 13:13). This is pretty interesting. I knew that animators and artists utilize reference material, but apparently in a number of Disney films live actors were hired to essentially act out the entire movie, which was then studied and recreated in animation for a true-to-life look. There’s some funny footage here, such as the actor who played Eric rowing in a serious scene while on an office chair with oars, and the girl who played Ariel diving in a giant freezing tank so that the filmmakers could capture what hair looks like underwater. Also shows some live action footage from Alice In Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty.
- Howard’s Lecture (HD/SD, 16:27) A lecture by Howard Ashman, who was the lyricist for ‘The Little Mermaid’.
- Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland (HD, 4:45). Actress Jodi Benson, who played Ariel, taks a trip with her children to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World to check out New Fantasyland.
- Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along (HD, 15:35). Songs include “Part of Your World”, “Under the Sea”, “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, “Les Poissons”, and “Kiss the Girl”.
Overall, this is another great release from Disney, and a solid package for those anticipating The Little Mermaid‘s hi-def release on Blu-ray. The picture and sound are about as clean as they’re ever going to get, and fans of the film get a whole hour of brand-new features on top of all of the existing DVD extras on the disk.