Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning (The)
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (4th September 2008).
The Film

Prequels generally don’t work too well. There are some rare exceptions, but as a general rule the prequel just doesn’t work as it usually comes after the franchise has lost steam and needs an excuse to return to the property after the actual story has run its course. Amidst Disney’s barrage of direct to video sequels of its old franchises, comes a new prequel “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning” (2008) which does a great job of showing how prequels don’t quite work.

Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) begins the story by telling the tale of Ariel’s Mother, who looks and sounds exactly like Ariel (Jodi Benson) and is deeply in love with Triton (Jim Cummings). On their anniversary, they take a family expedition to the coast where Triton gives her a music box as a gift, but suddenly a ship interrupts their fun and in an attempt to save the new gift Ariel’s mother is killed by the ship crashing into the rocks. Triton then bans all music in his Kingdom. Many years later of course Ariel is rebellious and meets a young Flounder (Parker Goris) who loves to sing and exposes her to an underground samba club where Flounder is a server, Sebastian sings in secret, the newt play the flute, the carp play the harp and the fluke is the duke of soul (yeah). Sebastian makes Ariel promise to keep the club secret, but she is so in love with music that she exposes her family to it. The mean governess Marina del Rey (Sally Field) exposes the club which puts Sebastian in Jail and Ariel has to save the day.

For the most part the story plays out almost like “Footloose” (1984), only underwater, and instead of Kevin Bacon it’s Flounder and Sebastian. Many of the songs are ‘new,’ meaning that they haven’t been sung in the Little Mermaid, but for the post part are arrangements of samba-style music like “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora).” The addition of the governess is just an excuse to put a villain in there, but her sidekick/henchman Benjamin the Dugong (Jeff Bennett) is actually fairly funny. He’s almost a mix of Winnie the Pooh and Woody Allen, but more monotone and speaks mostly in less than 5 words. There’s also some admirable stretches on behalf of Disney in getting the original voices for Ariel and Sebastian to return so you don’t get that vocal disconnect that leaves a bad taste, Cummings does a good job imitating Triton, however Flounder is just annoying, especially when he beatboxes.

Visually though there are major problems that plague the rest of the Disney direct-to-DVD strings of old franchises. The animation is actually a step above some of their other productions in terms of style in keeping with the original, but there are some severe pixilation issues that just disturb the whole movie. That along with the abuse of CG elements for no particular reason is maybe one of the most frustrating aspects of Disney’s new trend. Rather than keep to its base where it made it’s name and really sparked animation, Disney just plays with cheap CG models like the pirate ship being unnecessarily 3D in a couple shots, the music box being 3D and just random unnecessary placement.

“Ariel’s Beginning” it isn’t too bad considering it’s peers in the direct-to-DVD prequel/sequel era, mostly because the original voice actors they had return and the fact that Bejamin the Dugong actually got me to laugh. Of course the problems seem to drastically outweigh these few bonuses, the unnecessary CG being a huge, gut-wrenching annoyance along with a throw away plot and lack of any real new songs outside of established music. It might be easier to just watch Woody Allen, Winnie the Pooh and with Harry Belafonte’s greatest hits playing in the background. Actually that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

Video

Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic ‘family-friendly widescreen’ according to the packaging, the disc transfer or original rendering may be the largest problems with the film. Not only is the unnecessary CG painful, but the nasty pixilation that will happen with some of the characters or backgrounds is nearly unforgivable considering it probably took a bit of effort in recruiting members of their original cast. The animation isn’t as flat or as churned out as many other DVD sequels and the transfer is clean outside of the pixilation, but the pixilation and CG really bring the whole film down.

Audio

Four audio tracks are included an English DTS 5.1 (half bit-rate) as well as English, French and Spanish tracks in Dolby Digital 5.1. The DTS 5.1 Surround Sound sounds good, the quality is clean and the levels are all right where they need to be. The songs and soundtrack of the film have great quality in sound, but their catchiness is usually just from either being originally from somewhere else. The original songs for this animated feature are fairly forgettable and not really worth the time. Like I said earlier, just go listen to some old Harry Belafonte, all day-o. Get it? Me neither.
Optional subtitles are also included in English.

Extras

Disney of course pumps even their single disc sets full of extras that may or may not be necessary, but “Ariel’s Beginning” has deleted scenes, some sing-along options, an interactive game, some featurettes and bonus trailers, all of which are reviewed below.

First up are the deleted scenes which are really more of storyboards set to voice acting and some soundtrack and feature introductions by director Peggy Holmes who is far too peppy and happy for her own good. The scenes included are:

- “Sebastian Waking The Girls” runs for 1 minute 43 seconds, Sebastian wakes up Triton’s daughters, Holmes explains that Sebastian is too nice and happy in the beginning to really make it surprising that he runs the club later on.
- “Ariel Follows Flounder” runs for 3 minutes and 58 seconds, Ariel and Sebastian visit Flounder after he got jailed and Ariel kind of catches on to their secret and follows Flounder back to the club.

Next are the selectable sing-along songs from the movie, which have sing along lyrics presented as subtitles. The four original songs are available to select individually, can be played all together or there’s also an option to watch the entire film with lyrics appearing for the songs. Songs individually selectable are:

- “Athena’s Song” runs for 47 seconds.
- “Just One Mistake” runs for 2 minutes and 5 seconds.
- “I Remember” runs for 2 minutes and 24 seconds.
- “I Will Sing” runs for 40 seconds.

Next is the interactive game “Mermaid Discovery Vanity Game” which gives the option to view the vanity of one of the seven daughters of Triton: Ariel, Adella, Andrina, Attina, Aquata, and Arista. Each daughter has some items on their vanity that play a clip in the mirror or do something special. There’s no runtime on this game since it’s just an amalgam of 5 to 10 second clips in the mirrors.

The first featurette is “Splashdance: A Dancer’s Adventure Under the Sea” which runs for 7 minutes and 22 seconds. Holmes talks about coming in to animation and becoming a director of an animated film, she makes some connections between choreography and animation. I really like that they actually talked about the director and how her coming in to animation, there’s some good behind the scenes footage of her and other dancers choreographing the movements and animation for the film for the animators which is fairly interesting. Holmes is fairly awkward and stares directly at the camera, but when it cuts to voiceover and

“The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea And Behind The Scenes On Broadway” featurette runs for 10 minutes and 26 seconds, just when you thought they couldn’t use Under the Sea in titles anymore. This featurette is a behind the scenes look at the Broadway production of “The Little Mermaid” based off of the original Disney movie, following the woman who plays Ariel behind the scenes in going through costumes and talking with the other actors who play in the stage show. This is an interesting featurette that has nothing to do with the film, but still worth putting on the disc.

And how could I forget the bonus trailers available for whatever else Disney is putting out:

- “Sleeping Beauty” runs for 1 minute 57 seconds.
- “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea” runs for 1 minute and 15 seconds.
- “TinkerBell” runs for 1 minute 38 seconds.
- “The Secret of the Magic Gourd” runs for 2 minutes and 12 seconds.
- “Disney Movie Rewards” advertisement runs for 20 seconds.
- “101 Dalmations II: Patch’s London Adventure” runs for 1 minute and 28 seconds.
- “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” runs for 1 minute and 31 seconds.
- “Tigger & Pooh and a Musical Too” runs for 49 seconds.
- “Disney DVD Games” runs for 27 seconds.
- “Disney Cruise Lines” advertisement runs for 34 seconds.
- “Wall-E” runs for 2 minutes and 33 seconds.
- “Disney DVD and Blu-Ray” advertisement runs for 52 seconds.

Packaging

Packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard clip-case.

Overall

The Film: D+ Video: D Audio: B+ Extras: C- Overall: C-

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.