The Little Mermaid Anniversary Edition Is the One You've Been Waiting for!

Back in 2006 when Disney released The Little Mermaid on Platinum Edition DVD, I wrote my concerns to their marketing department about the dim colors during certain pivotal scenes of the film's restoration as well as the lack of behind-the-scenes footage in their bonus features. A few years later, the film was restored again and released on Blu-ray for the Diamond Edition. That version cleaned up the colors and contained a few behind-the-scenes bonus features. However, I did not own a Blu-ray player at that time. Today, my ship has arrived because the PlayStation 4 I purchased to play Kingdom Hearts III on also works as a Blu-ray player, allowing me to thoroughly enjoy the latest Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release of The Little Mermaid. With Disney's marketing department on overdrive this year, there are three versions available of this release. The Target edition features exclusive cover art and a gorgeous booklet containing concept art, trivia about the film, and an illustrated retelling of the story. The Best Buy Steelbook version contains original artwork of Ariel on the front and back by Disney veteran Paige O'Hara, who played Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Pre-orders of the Disney Store version came with several lithographs from the film. I went with the Target one, and I'm so glad I did!

Living in the digital age means it's rare to find fun physical packaging on movies anymore. The Target edition Blu-ray of The Little Mermaid revealed a new fun surprise under each flap. The slipcover contains exclusive artwork of Ariel resting on a rock as she gazes at the light above her from the surface. Instead of replicating the same artwork again on the inside, the case that slides out reveals a large clipart of a character on each panel over a brightly colored backdrop. The front of the case contains Ariel herself, and the back contains Ursula. It opens up to reveal Sebastian on the left inner panel and Flounder on the right. The Sebastian side doubles as a folder that holds the exclusive art book, while the Flounder panel opens once more to reveal the disks over a backdrop of Prince Eric's castle. The back of the slipcover contains a different artwork of the same castle as well.

For such a rare physical bonus, I was thoroughly impressed with the art book, small as it was. Blu-ray releases of Disney movies have shied away from digital galleries of concept art that were common on the Platinum Edition DVDs, so it was nice to still have a way to look at some of my favorite concept sketches for the film. The booklet also contained some trivia that I actually didn't know, even after thirty years of following the fandom, such as how Ariel used to have a dolphin friend named Breaker who was going to be voiced by Robin Williams before he got replaced by Flounder. I could have done without the second half of the booklet, though, as it was just an abridged storybook of the movie with simple illustrations. I would have loved for those pages to be replaced with more concept art and tidbits about the making of the film, especially since there was a lot more art in the gallery from the Platinum Edition DVD that was not included in the booklet. I love how durable the booklet is with its hard cover and beautiful Hot Topic-style sketch art of Ariel on the back.

Many of the behind-the-scenes bonus features on this edition were copied from the Diamond Edition, but they were new to me. The "Behind the Scene" feature revealed tons of interviews and footage with Sherri Stoner, the live-action reference for Ariel and lots of other tidbits about the live recording sessions they did for the movie. For instance, did you know that the producers of The Little Mermaid contacted Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Disney's Alice and Wendy, to ask her how Walt Disney handled the live-action references for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan so they could determine how to go about it? There's some impressive improvisation to create the boat during the "Kiss the Girl" scene on the soundstage using boxes and wooden planks as well as footage of Sherri Stoner swimming in an actual pool to record references for Ariel as a mermaid. "Howard's Lecture" was a touching tribute to the late Howard Ashman containing some old footage of him talking about the making of the film in front of a small audience. "Alan Menken & The Leading Ladies" is a newer feature in which Alan Menken has a brief chat with some of the most famous Disney voice actresses. There wasn't anything in it that I didn't already know, but it was nice to see that the actresses are still passionate about the roles they played after all these years. The new DCapella music video for "Part of Your World" was a refreshingly tasteful and mature remix compared to the Disney Channel star pop music videos that older releases boasted.

The Target edition of The Little Mermaid that I purchased contained two discs--a 4K Ultra HD version with the generic non-Target Blu-ray cover art printed on it, and the regular Blu-ray, which is a plain blue disc with no artwork on it. Unfortunately, I was only able to play the standard blue disc on my PlayStation 4, so I can only assume that the 4K one contains the same features. If you purchase this version and do not have a 4K Blu-ray player, you will probably not be able to access the disc with the artwork on it either. Watching such an old movie in a modern format on a modern television created some odd visual discrepancies that I never noticed on older versions. The colors were just as bright and vivid as I'd hoped, but the outlines became a little blurry during close-ups of the characters. The Little Mermaid was one of the last hand-drawn movies to be colored by hand. Only the wedding scene at the end experimented with computer coloring using the now outdated CAPS program. All of the other frames of the movie were inked and painted onto clear cels that were animated over still backgrounds. It wasn't until this edition of the movie that I noticed such a sharp contrast between the cels and the backgrounds due to a faint ghosting effect around the edges of the characters that looked almost like a small shadow being cast from the cels onto the backgrounds. Since there have been complaints about previous restorations of Disney movies, this might just be one of those unfortunate side effects of converting them to a higher resolution.

Overall, I could not be happier with my Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of The Little Mermaid. Target's packaging exceeds expectations, and the art booklet is a wonderful bonus that makes it well worth the added cost. The bonus features on the disc taught me even more about the making of the movie than I already knew, and I considered myself an expert! The film itself is pristine and bright despite a few unavoidable issues with the transfer. If you consider yourself a fan of The Little Mermaid, this one is definitely worth picking up before it goes back in the vault. Happy 30th anniversary, Ariel!


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