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The Little Mermaid – Anniversary Edition / The Signature Collection (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Many outstanding blockbuster films will hit their 30 year milestone this year. I’ve long talked about how 1989 was an important year to me, in which my passion and love for film took to brand new heights that summer, primarily with the release of Tim Burton’s Batman. Disney also found itself refreshed when The Little Mermaid arrived in theaters and paved way to a resurgence of fairy tale animated features for them, complete with some of the most memorable songs in their catalog. With that 30 year milestone, The Little Mermaid is not only getting a Signature Collection release, its also making the jump to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray for the very first time. Make sure you grab this one before those pesky vault keepers lock up all the dingle-hoppers for good. You’ll be able to own it on February 26th, and you can pre-order below.

Film 

In Disney’s beguiling animated romp, rebellious 16-year-old mermaid Ariel (Jodi Benson) is fascinated with life on land. On one of her visits to the surface, which are forbidden by her controlling father, King Triton, she falls for a human prince. Determined to be with her new love, Ariel makes a dangerous deal with the sea witch Ursula (Pat Carroll) to become human for three days. But when plans go awry for the star-crossed lovers, the king must make the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter.

The Little Mermaid feels very much like that irresistible pop song in a movie form. The animation (Even today) is as impressive as it was back in 1989, the adventure is pretty fun and the songs…well, that’s most of the pop. There is a vast imagination on display that comes across that seamlessly merges the fantastic with reality. The film offers up a field of many genres; swashbuckling sea adventure, Greek mythological fantasy, supernatural horror, suspense, slapstick comedy and of course…romance! On its surface level, The Little Mermaid is just a bit of everything.

I enjoyed The Little Mermaid back in 1989, then as a young boy was “too cool” for it. But I’ve since grown. And while I don’t deny the deconstruction of “everything wrong with” the film, I think its looking too deeply into some fluffy story and something that comes from very old lore and a movie made at a very different time. Overall, to me, it feels pretty harmless and I think Ursuala is one of the coolest most vile, badass villains in Disney history. The highlight of the whole damn thing. She genuinely scared me as a kid. There’s a lot of stuff with this movie (And all of the fairy tales) deconstructed in modern times that I don’t disagree with and its rather fascinating, but I’m not touching it here. I just think this is a fluff fantasy movie for kids/families at the end of the day.

While it may be fun to psychologically pick apart classic fairy tales nowadays as they aren’t “modern enough”, The Little Mermaid still stands as a fun bit of fantasy with memorable characters and some of the catchiest of songs. Its Disney firing on all cylinders in this brief venture beneath the sea. Surprisingly, the movie features some genuinely well done suspense and a feel of hopelessness before a great triumph. Its a quick film that feels over just as it started and from the songs to the animation to the characters, the movie is just a fun time for all.

Video 

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: The Little Mermaid debuts on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with a very lovely and cinematic looking picture. It looks more like a film transfer than some modernized restoration. Its a pretty stark difference between the 4K and standard Blu-ray images. One might easily be more drawn to the standard Blu-ray’s more vivid and popping feeling, but it seems the 4K one is more close to home and its natural look. Its a darker image overall, but there is a lot more color and black saturation happening and the image movement feels much more naturally animated. Ursuala’s layer is no longer super bright and is now a much more haunting menace, ditta much of the storm at sea sequences. This is a much more fine and less soft or edge enhanced looking in its sharpness. I was pretty impressed with the look of it. Many have complained about Disney’s restoration methods with their classic animated films, citing that they are not restoring but changing their films and I feel The Little Mermaid looks genuine to what the original output likely was.

Depth:  While this is a 2D animated feature there are some solid moments showcases spacing with the ship or a character frolicking around in a static environment. Their movements and such are improved here and look just the more different and naturally hand animated than the standard Blu-ray counterpart.

Black Levels: Blacks are much more deep and to a natural level. There is no crushing in spots anymore and settings meant to be gloomy and haunting surround the characters more cozily. No longer are the night or underwater scenes so bright and poppy, but more the natural gloom they were always intended to be.

Color Reproduction: Colors aren’t as striking as the standard Blu-ray as I’ve mentioned, but they are very well saturated, showcasing an impressive amount more of information and colorization. The HDR comes into play in some cool spots like the eyes of the eels or fireworks in the nighttime sky. This sounds stupid, but he difference in the amount of visible color and animation work on display here is what really makes it impressive and the difference to the more trained eye on this improvement.

Flesh Tones: N/A

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, Korean 5.1 Dolby Digital, Chinese 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified)

Dynamics: We’ve covered many classic Disney animated films that utilize a new Atmos or 7.1 mix and most of them are glorified stereo tracks that hang out in the front and don’t show a lot to have warranted all that work. The Little Mermaid is on another plain from those tracks. This this is full engulfing, loud and sprinkled in rolling motion fashion and individualized environmental ambiance contributions. It truly comes to life and encapsulates the entire viewing area and speaker radius. To boot, it doesn’t suffer from Disney’s “Atmouse” problem either. This is a terrific reimagination of the original mix and a hell of a lot of fun to experience.

Height: The ceiling helps from everything to crashing waves, ship sails overhead and instruments utilized in the score. Its quite a fun track and gets things right in the expected areas.

Low Frequency Extension: Much of the bumping comes from crashing waves, roaring waters, supernatural spells and the bass in the instrumentation.

Surround Sound Presentation: This is a fully realized track here that plays allllll around the room. A highlight being the big song numbers where drums, vocals and other instruments sweep around the room in a natural, choreographed fashion.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are impressively clear and crisp, with detailed mouth sounds captured in the recording showing up for some added depth.

Extras 

The Little Mermaid – Anniversary Edition / The Signature Collection comes with the Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film. Bonus features are found on the standard Blu-ray disc. The digital copy comes with an exclusive featurette.

Sing-Along Mode

Alan Menken & the Leading Ladies (HD, 15:45) – Composer Alan Menken along with Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O’Hara (Belle), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas Singing Voice), Lillias White (Calliope) and Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel) sit around a piano and discuss the work on their classic Disney films and bringing the movies to life with the songs.

“What I Want From You Is…Your Voice” (HD, 5:47) – Video of the original recording sessions from The Little Mermaid.

Stories From Walt’s Office: Gadgets & Gizmos (HD, 6:01) – Like Ariel, Walt Disney was a collector of many different things from miniatures to early mechanical characters that inspired the invention of audio-animatronics. We take a look at some the collections that Walt kept in his office in the third episode of this series. Also, this traces The Little Mermaid’s production history back to 1941.

#TreasuresUntold (HD, 5:40) – Join Ruby Rose Turner and Olivia Sanabia from the Disney Channel Original Series “Coop and Cami Ask the World” as they take a deep dive to explore some hidden treasures and fun facts about Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

DCapella “Part of Your World” Music Video (HD, 3:01)

Classic Bonus Features

  • Deleted Character: Harold The Merman (SD, 2:05)
  • Under The Scene: The Art Of Live-Action Reference (SD, 13:13)
  • Howard’s Lecture (SD, 16:27)
  • Audio Commentary With Ron Clements, John Musker and Alan Menken
  • Classic Bonus Preview (HD, 1:09) – Lets you know the Diamond Edition material that didn’t make it here is on your digital copy.

Digital Only

“Part of Your World”: A Look Back (HD, 5:49) – A more personal session of Alan Menken and Jodi Benson looking back on The Little Mermaid that appears to have been done during the same time as the “Leading Ladies” featurette.

Summary 

The Little Mermaid is a landmark feature in the Disney animation catalog and shot the studio’s film to A-list prestige status (One of them even got a Best Picture nomination) through the 1990s. Today, its still a bit of fun with plenty of catchy songs, quotable lines and fun adventure. It comes to 4K Ultra-HD with a terrific presentation and some rock solid extras on the disc as well as your digital copy. If you don’t own The Little Mermaid, this is the one to grab. The release also benefits from having the standard Blu-ray edition in case you prefer that image over the 4K Ultra-HD one.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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