The Little Mermaid Trilogy
The Little Mermaid (February 24/14)
Loosely inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Little Mermaid follows title character Ariel (Jodi Benson) as she falls in love with a sailor named Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) and eventually agrees to give up her voice for a pair of human legs - with the film detailing Ariel's efforts at winning Eric's affection despite her inability to speak. It's certainly not surprising to note that The Little Mermaid has been hard-wired with a perfectly pleasant and consistently watchable vibe by directors Ron Clements and John Musker, as the movie, which kicked off the fabled Disney Renaissance, contains all of the elements that one has come to associate with the Mouse House's animated endeavors - with the affable atmosphere heightened by eye-catching visuals and an assortment of stand-out sequences (including a delightful performance of the Oscar-winning "Under the Sea" musical number). Despite a surfeit of positive attributes, however, The Little Mermaid never quite becomes the engrossing experience that one might've anticipated - with the movie hindered by a pervasively subdued feel that often prevents the viewer from connecting to the characters or (thin) storyline. (And it's worth noting, too, that the low-key vibe dulls the impact of the action-packed, beat-the-clock final stretch.) The lack of memorable protagonists and catchy songs - the aforementioned "Under the Sea" is really the only tune here worth mentioning - ultimately confirms The Little Mermaid's place as a passable yet somewhat forgettable Disney flick, with the movie standing as a stepping stone to bigger and better things for the venerable studio (including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King).
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea
Astonishingly bad on virtually every level, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea picks up more than 10 years after the events of the original film and follows Ariel's headstrong daughter (Tara Charendoff's Melody) as she agrees to procure King Triton's magical pitchfork for Ursula's evil sister, Morgana (Pat Caroll) - as the young girl is hoping to abandon her land-locked existence for a life under the sea as a mermaid. It's a storyline that possesses more than a few similarities to that of its predecessor, with the movie, as a result, suffering from a superfluous feel that grows more and more palpable as time (slowly) progresses (ie every inch of this thing feels utterly and hopelessly needless). Filmmakers Jim Kammerud and Brian Smith attempt to compensate for the lack of plot by suffusing the proceedings with a number of time-wasting sequences, with the best and most desperate example of this involving the two wacky characters that Melody meets and befriends on her journey. (It doesn't help that these characters, a penguin and a walrus, are uncomfortably similar in just about every way to The Lion King's Timon and Pumbaa.) It's finally impossible to envision even the most ardent of Little Mermaid fans embracing this disastrously perfunctory sequel, with the movie's place as a shameless cash-grab obvious right from the word go.
Walt Disney Pictures: The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning
An extremely slight improvement over its immediate predecessor, Walt Disney Pictures: The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning, which transpires before the events of the original, follows King Triton (Jim Cummings) as he bans music and dancing from his kingdom after the sudden death of his beloved wife (Lorelei Hill Butters' Athena). The film subsequently details the efforts of several characters, including Jodi Benson's Ariel and Samuel E. Wright's Sebastian, to change the King's mind, with their efforts continually thwarted by his scheming right-hand woman (Sally Field's Marina Del Ray). It's a familiar and hopelessly generic storyline that's employed to less-than-captivating effect by filmmaker Peggy Holmes, as the movie suffers from a pervasively pedestrian feel that prevents the viewer from working up an ounce of interest in the characters' ongoing exploits. It's clear, too, that the film has been geared exclusively towards small children, with this vibe perpetuated by a preponderance of over-the-top bits of silliness and eye-rollingly shallow characterizations. (There's exactly one scene here that manages to amuse, as classic movies like The Great Escape and Dog Day Afternoon are referenced by a group of imprisoned figures.) One ultimately can't help but be thankful that at least Walt Disney Pictures: The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning, unlike The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, boasts a new story, but it's difficult, given its lame execution, to conjure up any reasonable degree of excitement for anything that transpires over the course of the movie's padded-out 77 minutes.