Fresh on 4K: ‘THE LITTLE MERMAID’ makes a splash on HD disc

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989)

Rated G, 73 minutes.
Director(s): Ron Clements and John Musker
Cast: Ron ClementsJohn Musker, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Samuel E. Wright, Rene Auberjonois, Pat Carroll, Paddi Edwards, Buddy Hackett, Jason Marin and Ben Wright

With the 4K UHD market growing ever stronger, Disney is once again making the rounds with re-releasing their greatest hits on the latest home video format. The latest animated classic to receive the 4K is none other than of the first entries that began the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s, THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989). But how well can a 30-year-old animated film hold up in 4K? In short, very well.

Movie Grade: A

If you haven’t seen this movie before, you should probably see this movie. It’s a classic work of animation, even if some of its themes haven’t aged particularly well for a 2019 audience. Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) is the titular mermaid who longs to live outside of the sea with the humans – a dream strictly forbidden by the laws of her father, King Triton (Kenneth Mars). After Ariel catches a glimpse of a human prince out at sea, Ariel decides to follow her heart no matter the cost.

Courtesy of Blu-ray.com.

Video/Audio Grade: A-

While THE LITTLE MERMAID arrives on 4K UHD from a native 4K source, and largely improves upon it’s previous Blu-ray release, the increase in details at a glance are incredibly subtle. Only after directly comparing this new release with the 2013 2D version of the film (Yes, there was a 3D version of THE LITTLE MERMAID), did I begin to appreciate the little details offered with the upgrade. To put it simply, this is likely going to be the best this film will ever look. Edges on both characters and objects are slightly less jagged and the matte painting backgrounds appear to have greater textures, but the real reason to pick up this disc is undoubtedly the added HDR10.

Ariel’s four primary colors (red hair, peach skin, green tail, and purple seashells) contrast beautifully on screen. Additionally, characters with only one primary color like Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) and Flounder (Jason Marin) are able to remain vibrant as ever with clever uses of shading and secondary colors made all the more vivid with the increased color pallet. Dark scenes under the ocean surface like the opening shark attack scene in a sunken ship do sometimes feel a little desaturated, but are then contrasted with scenes above the surface that appear far more vibrant as if the sun was a factor in how the colors would look. For an animated picture released in 1989, this is a wonderful detail that I’ve only just now come to appreciate.

The new Dolby Atmos audio track is a welcome improvement as well. Little details like hearing the water move across the room as Ariel swims over the camera on her way to see Ursula (Pat Carroll) are a very nice touch indeed. Thundering sounds of the hurricane scene are also likely to tempt viewers to reach for the volume button. As expected, the audio is crystal clear when it comes to dialogue and musical numbers as well. Overall, the improvements on this release while minor, more than justify a repurchase.

Extras Grade: B+

While none of the special features both new and old make their way onto the 4K disc, there is a plethora of bonus content to be found in this package. Most of the brand new content can be found on the included 1080p Blu-ray Disc, while the archival content from previously released versions of the film are exclusively available through the digital version which is also included with the purchase.

Check out the extensive breakdown of the special features below:

Full List of Special Features:

  • NEW! Alan Menken and the Leading Ladies (1080p, 15:45): Broadway stars Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O’Hara (Belle from Beauty and the Beast), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas’ singing voice), Lillias White (Muse from Hercules), and Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel from Tangled) discuss their animated film collaborations with Alan Menken. Discussions cover acting styles, animating the characters based on the voice actors, and working with Menken and Howard Ashman on the films. This supplement also includes live performance excerpts from their most famous songs. Also available digitally.
  • NEW! “What I Want From You Is…Your Voice” (1080p, 5:47): The voice actors who portrayed Sebastian, Scuttle, Urusla, and Ariel discuss their characters, rehearse their lines, and share their stories from working on the film. Also available digitally.

  • NEW! Stories From Walt’s Office: Gadgets and Gizmos (1080p, 6:01): This supplement takes viewers inside Walt Disney’s office and explores his various collectibles — mostly miniatures — that people gave to him after discovering he collected them. It also explores some of the ones he made himself. Also available digitally.

  • #Treasuresuntold (1080p, 5:40): Coop and Cami Ask the World actors Olivia Sanabia and Ruby Rose Turner reveal some little known facts about the movie. Also available digitally.

  • “Part of Your World” Music Video featuring Dcapella (1080p, 3:01). Also available digitally.

  • Deleted Character: Harold the Merman (1080p, 2:05). Also available digitally.

  • Under the Scene: The Art of Live Action Reference (1080p, 13:13). Also available digitally.

  • Howard’s Lecture (1080p, 16:27). Also available digitally.
    Audio Commentary: Writers/Directors Ron Clements and John Musker and composer Alan Menken. Also available digitally.

  • NEW! Classic Bonus Previews (1080p, 1:09): A highlight reel promoting additional extra content.

    Exclusive Digital Extra:

  • “Part of Your World” – A Look Back (HD, 5:50): Alan Menken and Jodi Benson discuss the impact of “Part of Your World:” nearly cutting the song from the film and its legacy. They also discuss the film’s impact on Disney animation.

  • Fathoms Below – Alternate Version

  • Backstage with Sebastian

  • Advice from Sebastian

  • Fight with Ursula – Alternate Ending

  • THE LITTLE MERMAID – The Story Behind the Story
    @ Disney Animation

  • Part of Her World: Jodi Benson’s Voyage to New Fantasyland

  • Storm Warning: THE LITTLE MERMAID Special Effects Unit

  • “Part of Your World”: Listed under “Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along” on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • Ride the Attraction: Listed as Under the Sea Adventure: A Virtual Ride Inspired by Disney Imagineers: Ride the Attraction on the Diamond Blu-ray. This supplement is also available digitally with a commentary track, which was not included on the previous Blu-ray.

  • Under the Sea Early Presentation Reel

  • Disneypedia: Life Under the Sea

  • Kiss the Girl Music Video Performed by Ashley Tisdale

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

  • “Les Poissons”: Listed under “Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along” on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • Sebastian Lost in the Castle

  • Behind “The Ride that Almost Was”

  • Prologue: Flower Street: Listed as “Treasures Untold: The Making of THE LITTLE MERMAID” on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • “Silence is Golden” Song Demo

  • “Poor Unfortunate Souls” Extended

  • “Under the Sea”: Listed under “Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along” on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • “Poor Unfortunate Souls”: Listed under “Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along” on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • “Kiss the Girl”: Listed under “Crab-E-Oke Sing-Along” on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • Act I: Renaissance Men: Listed as Treasures Untold: The Making of THE LITTLE MERMAID on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • Act II: A Symphony of Talent: Listed as Treasures Untold: The Making of THE LITTLE MERMAID on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • Act III: Broadway Comes to Burbank: Listed as Treasures Untold: The Making of THE LITTLE MERMAID on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • Act IV: Setting Sail: Listed as Treasures Untold: The Making of THE LITTLE MERMAID on the Diamond Blu-ray.

  • Act V: A Mermaid Sings: Listed as Treasures Untold: The Making of THE LITTLE MERMAID on the Diamond Blu-ray.

Final Grade: A-

There has never been a better time to add this film to your collection if you have somehow haven’t done so already. While the improvements in visual clarity are certainly more on the subtle side, this is by far and away the best way to watch THE LITTLE MERMAID.

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