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The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Beginning - animated DVD / family and children's DVD review
Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 3 1/2 stars
Actors: Jodi Benson, Sam Wright, Jim Cummings, Kari Wahlgren, Parker Goris
Creators: Peggy Holmes Distributor: Walt Disney Video
DVD release: 26 August 2008 Feature runtime: 77 minutes
(1 disc)
Format: Animated, Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio tracks (English - 5.1 DTS, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound), Subtitles (English, Spanish, French), Teaching Mermaids to Dance, Disney Song Selection, World Wide Water Webb, The Little Mermaid: The Broadway Musical, Deleted Scenes

Disney's original The Little Mermaid jump-started the studio's flagging animation program with its 1989 release. Powered by a heartwarming and engaging story, strong animation, bubbly original songs and a wide-eyed, loveable heroine, the first Mermaid set the stage for a resurgent golden age of animated films - think Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, which like The Little Mermaid were adapted as Broadway musicals - and a whole host of new and increasingly diverse Disney Princesses™: Aladdin's Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan.

So, with a pedigreed predecessor heralded as the first of the next great wave of animated films, expectations might run understandably high for the prequel. While no one expects Ariel's Beginning to measure up to the now-classic Mermaid, as a straight-to-DVD piece it easily meets the quality standards of the format.

Ariel has yet to meet her future prince as the story begins, and "under the sea" isn't the lively home to song it will later become. Triton is a stern, distant father to Ariel and her sisters; the kingdom of Atlantica and the merpeople who inhabit it are somber and subdued. Despite the best efforts of her older sisters and their ambitious governess, Marina Del Ray (the film's requisite villainess, voiced by Sally Field), Ariel is as irrepressible as we expect, if not as purely innocent as in the original. After running into her eventual steadfast pal Flounder for the first time, she discovers a hidden music club whose star is none other than King Triton's attache, Sebastian. The stage is set for misunderstandings, overreactions, assertions of independence, declarations of love, and the painful revelation of the fate of Ariel's mother - the reason for the ban on music.

The absence of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken - who put together the infectious lyrics and music for The Little Mermaid - is unfortunately obvious in Ariel's Beginning. The music underpinning the prequel is adequate but unmemorable (the song most likely to bounce around your brain after viewing is a cover of Harry Belafonte's "Jump in Line"), and the animation itself is lovely but not groundbreaking - again, par for the course with straight-to-DVD titles. The one aspect of visual characterization I found just... wrong, lies in the head-size-to-body-size proportions of Ariel and her sisters (Ariel especially) in the flashback to ten years prior, before Queen Athena was lost. While the young Ariel looks almost exactly like my daughter's "Little Princess" Ariel doll, her head in this movie isn't big enough compared to her body, making her look more like a short, chubby adult than a healthy mer-kid.

If the question is, "Does Ariel's Beginning succeed at delivering what it's meant to?" - the answer is yes, resoundingly so considering my 4-1/2-year-old mermaid-wannabe daughter's ebullient reaction. She's taken to it, as they say, like a fish to water.
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reviewed by Sharon Schulz-Elsing
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