Awesome 80s: 'The Little Mermaid'
Comparing and contrasting animation and live-action is a fool's game. So, fool that I am…
Now Streaming: Disney's live-action version of The Little Mermaid, which I saw two weeks ago and reviewed last week, prompted me to revisit their animated version, which I first saw sometime in the 1990s, having skipped the theatrical release in November 1989.
The animated version revived the studio's fortunes. The decision to place greater emphasis on musical numbers created a new template, which many of Disney's subsequent animated features followed. Many modern readers have expressed their great fondness for the "original" version, which I liked but didn't love when I first saw it.
Of course, when I first saw the film, my expectations had been raised by the high praise that others had already lavished upon it, which may have diminished my enjoyment. In any event, I had other movies to see and I felt no compulsion to watch it again until last week.
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Naturally, seeing it in glorious 4K in the comfort of my own home on my decent-sized television with a decent sound system, I enjoyed it more than when I saw it on VHS on a smaller screen with the TV's tinny speakers. I relished in the experience of savoring high-quality 2D animation and enjoyed the songs more.
It is snappier than the live-action version, which leans toward a lugubrious pace, in part because it beefs up the roles of its biggest name actors, Javier Barden and Melissa McCarthy, whose performances noticeably bolster the dramatic side of the presentation. The 1989 version, however, does not need its dramatic side to be bolstered because it's a lighter story whose comic side is bolstered by the production numbers.
So we can safely conclude that the 1989 version is a comedy with mock-drama asides, while the 2023 version is a drama with mock-comic asides. The comic vibe meshes with how Disney Animation's two previous films, The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and Oliver & Company (1988), sought to appeal to younger audiences, but something about The Little Mermaid and its sensibility appealed to audiences in their 20s and 30s as well.
My similar-aged friends are the ones who enthused about The Little Mermaid to me, and piqued my interest in Disney animation, specifically. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) had sparked my rediscovery of animation as a whole, but pushed me back toward Looney Tunes and its cast of cartoon characters rather than anything Disney, which struck me as mainstream populism and therefore less interesting.
The Rescuers Down Under (1990) reinforced my perception that Disney was primarily for kids, but hearing so many good things about The Little Mermaid primed me for Beauty and the Beast (1991), with which I connected completely.
Watching The Little Mermaid impressed upon me, once again, how much more I enjoy watching 2D animation rather than 3D animation. Your experience in watching movies will always be different from someone else's reaction, of course, dependent upon the viewing conditions (in theater or at home, solo or with noisy fellow viewers) and your own situation in life, by which I mean that, personally, I avoid all supernatural themes, most horror movies, most "romantic" movies, and and all movies dealing with aging parents (been there, done that, don't wish to re-experience in any way, shape, or form).
Your mileage may vary. [Disney Plus]