I saw this for the first time about two years ago, and I was blown away. Now that I’ve seen it for the second time, some of the flaws of the film became more apparent. For example, for about 30 minutes, the movie is your typical “parent’s just don’t understand” kind of story that we’ve seen so many times before. Typically I would count this against the movie as it does nothing to refresh that particular story, other than, of course, setting in in the ocean. After those 30 minutes, when Ariel meets Ursula, quality increases by a great margin, therefore making it one of the true Disney masterpieces, a flawed one, but a masterpiece nonetheless.
But you may ask yourselves “Why does he consider this a masterpiece when he clearly disliked the first third?” That is not entirely true. Yes, that particular story line is played out but But the thing is, after sitting through the last five or so Disney efforts that seemed to lack motivation behind the scenes, the energy that John Musker and Ron Clements put into the entire movie, from those opening minutes, override any flaw that the movie may have.
With this movie, this directing duo created the most beautiful animated movie from the company since Sleeping Beauty (it would later be surpassed by most of the upcoming movies, but more on that later). The backgrounds are beautiful, and a lot of care went to animating the characters. For example, see how when the movie takes place in the water how the hair of the merpeople is always moving, as hair does in the water. A lesser movie would have just animated them as if they were on land, and it would have made it hard to get into the movie.
The music is one of the other things that this movie is known for, and it is indeed great. Hell, my least favorite song is “Under the Sea” and it is still a fun song that I hum from time to time. My favorite has to be “Part of that World” but a lot of it has to do with Jodi Benson’s performance. Speaking of that, all of the voice performances are extremely great, especially Pat Carroll as Ursula.
And Ursula, she is the reason why the last two thirds of the movie are perfect. Her motivations are sort of similar to that of Disney’s greatest villain, Maleficient, and her plan is just as evil. She toys with the emotions of a 16-year-old girl to gain power, who does that?! Because of that plan, you want things to go right for Ariel when she turns into a human, and that makes the second third a delight. And finally, the climax is so amazing, and, again, this is due to Ursula.
Despite its flaws, The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite Disneys.