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DVD Review: The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning
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 The Little Mermaid: Ariel's BeginningThe Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning
Directed by Peggy Holmes
Starring (voices) Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, Sally Field, Jim Cummings
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertaiment
Release date: August 26, 2008

In this prequel to Disney’s 1989 hit The Little Mermaid, we get to see what life was like under the sea for everyone’s favorite mermaid, Ariel, before she explored the surface. And it wasn’t all fun and games, unfortunately.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning opens with the adorable red-headed Ariel as a wee tike, playing happily with her sisters as her deeply in love parents — King Triton and Queen Athena — rule over the merry kingdom of Atlantica. Since Queen Athena doesn’t appear in The Little Mermaid, you immediately know something’s about to go awry. That’s when this happy animated feature takes a page from Disney’s Find Nemo by showing what happened to Ariel’s mommy. Since Queen Athena had a beautiful singing voice, the King can’t bear to hear music any longer, so he bans it from his sea kingdom.

Ten years later, we see the now-rebellious princess we know and love. She loves music and can’t understand why her father is so against it, because she’s too young to remember what happened with her mother. Feeling stifled, Ariel breaks away from her father’s protective overbearingness and predictable daily routines and gets into plenty of trouble.

Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in the original movie and its direct-to-DVD sequel The Little Mermaid II, as well as The Little Mermaid television series, reprises her voice role, as does Samuel E. Wright as the Caribbean-accented crab Sebastian. The Calypso-loving crustacean is King Triton’s trusted right-hand man, but Ariel’s governess Marina, who hates her job overseeing Ariel and her six sisters, is plotting to get Sebastian’s position.

The quality of this 77-minute direct-to-DVD film makes it seem more like an extended episode of the television series rather than a full-length feature, though the story does stand on its own. For this prequel, Disney hits all the key points Little Mermaid fans would expect: a precocious Ariel adventuring with her diminutive sidekicks Flounder and Sebastian much to her stubborn father’s dismay; a sea full of colorful, quirky musical creatures; a scheming villainess (voiced by Sally Field of all people!); and a bunch of fun songs to sing along to.

Though nowhere near the high standard of The Little Mermaid — which appealed to audiences of all age groups — Ariel’s Beginning is a cute film that kids will love, especially those who just want to see their beloved Ariel again. Aside from the opening with Ariel’s mom (Disney — offing Moms since 1942), the rest of the movie is perfect for smaller children, since the villain is nowhere near as evil or frightening as The Little Mermaid‘s wicked Ursula.

DVD Bonus Features

Deleted Scenes
These are two scenes that were cut from the film, one of Sebastian waking up Ariel and her sisters, the other of Ariel following Flounder to the underground club. These scenes are in rough black-and-white sketch format and are introduced with commentary by director Peggy Holmes.

Music And More
This contains the scenes from the film of the four new songs written by Jeanine Tesori. I have to admit, it didn’t take very long for these songs to grow on me; if you’re a fan of Disney tunes, you’ll definitely like these new ones. I don’t see a Soundtrack CD for the movie for sale, so it looks like this is your only way to hear the new songs on their own. Note, this section also allows you to choose the option of playing the film with the lyrics scrolling.

* Athena’s Song
* Just One Mistake
* I Remember
* I Will Sing

Games And Activities

Mermaid Discovery Vanity Game: Here you can learn a little bit more about the seven mermaids by exploring each of their personal vanity areas where they keep their diaries, beauty products, and other belongings.

Backstage Disney

– Splashdance: A Dancer’s Adventures Under The Sea
Director Peggy Holmes, whose background is in dance, talks about directing her first animated feature. This feature contains behind-the-scenes footage of the creative process of the film, and how Holmes used her dancing experience to bring the musical sea creatures alive on-screen. We also get to see the actors in the studio voicing and singing their characters’ parts (Jodi Benson as Ariel and Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian, as well as all of the singers recording their vocals for the musicians under the sea).

– The Little Mermaid: Under The Sea and Behind the Scenes on Broadway
Sierra Boggess, who performs the role of Ariel on Broadway eight times a week, introduces this backstage look at the Disney musical. For fans of The Little Mermaid who haven’t had a chance to see this musical on Broadway, this is a real treat as it also contains clips from the stage show. I’ve seen the musical, so this was a really nice feature for me, because the actors talks about their roles and Boggess and the actresses playing Ariel’s sisters show off their costumes. We also meet the beautiful young Sherie Rene Scott, who plays Ursula and we see how she is transformed into the ugly, evil sea-witch each night.

Sneak Peeks
Previews from other Disney features: Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea Special Edition, TinkerBell, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, The Secret of the Magic Gourd, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure (side note here: this was released direct-to-DVD in 2003 and is now being re-released to DVD on September 16, 2008 and judging from this teaser, I want it!), Tigger & Pooh and a Musical Too, and Wall-E, plus short promos for Disney Cruise Line, Disney DVD Games, and Disney Movie Rewards program.

Video

Check out these three video clips from the DVD.

Flounder

Remember Music

Are We There Yet

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