Monday, March 26, 2012

The Little Mermaid (1989)

"Have you lost your senses completely? He's a human, you're a mermaid!"

After the success of "Oliver & Company" the Disney animation world was being reborn. The 80s were a hard time for Disney animation, "The Black Cauldron" was a major disappointment and they needed something to bring them out of it. While developing this film, the producers brought in songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (famous for the Off Broadway hit "The Little Shop of Horrors", as well as the 1986 film) to write the songs for the film. And magic was born...

"The Little Mermaid" is loosely based on the fairy tale of the same name. The premise was simple, a mermaid wants to be human, simple as that. What, they did is made the story enjoyable by creating loving and unforgettable characters. The voice talents of Jodi Benson and Kenneth Mars as Ariel and her father King Triton were fantastic choices. Benson can sing like no one's business and can bring a tear to your eye singing "Part of Your World". Mars can bring down the house with his powerhouse performance as King Triton. Mars has an incredibly booming voice that you won't forget.

Now, lets not forget the villain here. We have, Ursula the sea witch, not a mermaid by a half human, half octopus who has one of the best songs in the entire film. She is diabolical and she wants to rule the sea. She coaxes Ariel into thinking she is helping her, but in reality has her sign a contract saying if she can't get a human to give her a true love's kiss, she will be able to rule the sea. Pat Carroll voices Ursula (and would go on to voice her sister Morgana in the film's direct to video sequel) and gives it a real go. Her voice, believe me, you won't forget. And her rendition of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" (which is more exposition than song) is powerful.

The cast is rounded out by the legendary Buddy Hackett. Hackett voices Scuttle, a seagull who is, for lack of a better word, dumb. But, in the end Scuttle helps to save the day. This film, much like "Beauty & the Beast", can really suck you in. There are a few moments that can give you chills (like "Part of Your World") or the ending of the film. Much of this is due to Alan Menken's wonderful score (which he would receive his first of NINE Academy Awards for). The film is very much for anyone (don't let that "mermaid" in the title turn you away, boys), I loved the movie when I was a kid, and I still love the movie to this day. It was the first film in the now called "Disney Renaissance" and it was one of the more powerful entries. With a wonderful cast, great songs and really unforgettable moments, this film goes down in history as one of the best Disney films out there!

Beauty & the Beast (1991)

"It's over, Beast! Belle is mine!"

During the 1980s, Disney animation was on rocky slopes. "The Black Cauldron" in 1985 really hurt the studio with it's dark undertones and scary imagery. The animators were moved off the Disney lot and basically forgotten about. Slowly but surely from 1986 to 1989 the studio moved back into major animation films and in 1989 they produced "The Little Mermaid" completely redeeming themselves and beginning what is now known as the "Disney Renaissance". There is a great documentary film all about this time period entitled "Waking Sleeping Beauty", I suggest you check it out!

So after the success of "The Little Mermaid", Disney continued on with their production of a story that Walt Disney himself tried to animate in the 1940s but failed to come up with a decent story for it, "Beauty & the Beast". The film is a touching love story between the odd ball (yet for beautiful) girl, Belle (voiced by Paige O'Hara) and The Beast (voiced by Robby Benson). After being cursed, The Beast is changed from a Prince to his hideous beast form as well as all his servants. He has a set amount of time to make someone fall in love with him before the curse is permanent. When Belle's father gets lost in the woods he winds up at the house of the Beast. Belle ventures into the woods looking for him only to make a deal with the Beast to let him go and take her instead.

This film is enchanting, absolutely wonderful. Needless to say, this is my personal favorite Disney film. I was 7-years-old when the film came out and remember going to the theater to see it. When the VHS came out I remember watching it over and over and over and over to the point where I could quote the movie verbatim. Everything about this film is wonderful, there really aren't any slow parts. The voice performances are great. There really aren't any really famous voice over actors in this, aside from Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts. And I think not having big stars in it really helped the film. You're not distracted by the voice of a big recognizable star in the film. The songs, written by the late Howard Ashman (who died before the film was completed) and Alan Menken are fantastic. The film begins with one of the biggest songs I've ever seen, "Belle". It's a song that begins with one person singing and by the end it has dozens of people singing and has told a complete story as well!

There are many times throughout the film that give me chills or even bring a tear to my eye. You can really get rolled up in the film and forget you're even watching a movie. I think that when a movie can do that then it works. It takes a lot to get someone to fall into a movie like that. This Disney film has tons of songs, I think it might have more songs than most other Disney movies. It's no surprise that Disney chose this to be their first Broadway musical and the musical is just as amazing as the film.

But, that aside, this film has gone down in history as the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award (losing out to "The Silence of the Lambs"). And, honestly in my opinion it's still the only one to be nominated for that (in 2009, the Disney/Pixar film "Up" was nominated for Best Picture, but I really don't think it would have been nominated if the Academy hadn't extended the number of nominations from 5 to 10 that year, and since). The film won Academy Awards for the music and it won the Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) Golden Globe. It's a film that is timeless and will continue to entertain people for years to come. I'm glad this film was part of my childhood and I still enjoy seeing the film today. I HIGHLY suggest, if you haven't seen this film, to go out now and check it out!