THE LITTLE MERMAID: ARIEL’S BEGINNING
MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5)
Jodi Benson as ARIEL
Lorelei Hill Butters as QUEEN ATHENA
Jim Cummings as KING TRITON
Sally Field as MARINA
Parker Goris as FLOUNDER
Samuel E. Wright as SEBASTIAN
Directed by: Peggy Holmes
BY KEVIN CARR
Over the years, I’ve been somewhat critical of the direct-to-DVD sequels of Disney classics. One of the worst ones in memory is “The Little Mermaid II” which may have reunited the cast but lost all the charm of the original film. There was a dark time in direct-to-DVD sequels, which also gave us movies like “Cinderella II,” which wasn’t a movie in itself but rather a compilation of stories.
Disney has now released a prequel to “The Little Mermaid” called “Ariel’s Beginning.” The film tells the story of how music became so integral to Ariel’s family. Originally, her mother loved music. But when she was lost at the hands of the humans, King Triton not only grew hostile to people but also banned music in his kingdom. However, Ariel’s persistence, charm and love of music helps bring it back to his heart.
In a very strange way, ‘The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning” is like an underwater version of “Footloose”… only without Kevin Bacon. There’s not a whole lot of surprises with this film simply because we know what happens in “The Little Mermaid”: that Ariel is beloved for her singing voice, Sebastian is King Triton’s musical conductor and Triton has warmed up to music again in his kingdom.
Ultimately, “Ariel’s Beginning” is better than “The Little Mermaid II” because it operates at a much more even keel. It’s not as much of a forced story that we’ve seen before – that the heroine’s child wants some adventure and gets into trouble while going out on his or her own. However, it doesn’t capture the same uniqueness and freshness that “Cinderella III: A Twist in Time” did. Boiled down, it’s still just another friendly installment in the series.
The villain is a step down from Ursula in the first film, but the octopus witch is one of greatest Disney villains, so she’s hard to top. The antagonist Marina, voice by Sally Field, is more cantankerous than evil, but then again, she couldn’t be too bad in order to keep with the innocence that Ariel has in the original animated classic.
However, for young girls and die-hard Little Mermaid fans, it works. The music doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but at least they jazz up the soundtrack with some real-world tunes without forcing too many substandard original songs.
The DVD extras include two deleted scenes, a Disney song selection and a set-top activity that gives background and facts about Ariel and her sisters. Additionally, there’s a Backstage Disney feature called “Splashdance” that profiles director Peggy Holmes, who is a choreographer by trade. It gives hope to other non-animators who might be hankering to direct their own animated film. Sometimes outsiders have a chance.