The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea

The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Buddy Hackett, Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright
Extras: DVD Storybook, Trivia Game,

The quality of sequels is always questionable, but none are more hit or miss than Disney’s animated sequels. They’ve had successes such as "Lion King II" and "Pocahontas II", but of which are enjoyable and watchable. But, they’ve also had serious stinkers like "The Rescuers Down Under" and "The Return of Jafar" (the longest 68 minute movie ever made!). Over the past decade, Disney has taken to releasing their sequels directly to video, presumably to guarantee some profits. The latest addition to this group is a follow-up to the 1989 classic "The Little Mermaid", entitled "The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea". After waiting 11 years to release a sequel, Disney is taking a risk of scaring off fans of the highly-regarded original. Can a direct-to-video sequel live up to the reputation of such a beloved film?

As you may remember, "The Little Mermaid" ended with Ariel (Jodi Benson) and Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) finally becoming a couple and preparing to live happily ever after, having defeated the evil Ursula. As "The Little Mermaid II" opens, Ariel has given birth to a daughter, Melody (Tara Charendoff). The whole kingdom is celebrating this joyous occasion, as Ariel and Eric board a ship to introduce Melody to her grandfather, King Triton (Kenneth Mars). But just as the festivities are getting underway and Triton is embracing Melody for the first time, Morgana (Pat Carroll), Ursula’s evil sister arrives to spoil the fun. Ursula, with the aid of her shark, Undertow, attempts to kidnap Melody so that Triton would be forced to hand over his powerful trident. Ariel and Eric foil the kidnapping attempt and Triton shrinks Undertow, forcing Morgana to flee. However, she vows her revenge. Based on these events, Ariel decides that Melody must never go in the ocean and cannot know about Triton, the merpeople, or the undersea city of Atlantica. All of this happens in the first eight minutes!

The story then jumps ahead twelve years. Melody is now a pre-adolescent who loves to deceive her parents and leave the confines of the city walls in order to swim in the ocean. Because she is the princess and loves to spend most of her time swimming, Melody doesn’t have many friends. When she finds an artifact from Atlantica, she confronts Ariel about the merpeople, but Ariel refuses to tell Melody the truth, in order to protect her. So, Melody decides to learn the truth for herself, setting out to sea in a rowboat. Morgana sees this as her chance to get revenge and comes to Melody as someone who can be trusted. Morgana tells Melody all about Atlantica and transforms Melody into a mermaid. This sets off a chain of events that involve Melody breaking into Atlantica and luring Triton and Ariel to Morgana’s hideout. As the film races towards its conclusion, Melody must decide if her love for Ariel can overcome the fact that her mother hid the truth from her.

I was very impressed with "The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea", especially considering the fact that I’m not a huge fan of the first film. As I alluded to earlier, the film wastes no time in setting up the basic premise and it’s off and running. Of course, at only 75 minutes, you’d hope that the movie wouldn’t drag, but trust me, I’ve seen it happen. The story is very well paced and although it has the trappings of the stereotypical "this character is being deceived, when are they going to see the truth" plot, there is quite a bit of suspense towards the finale as we watch Melody learn the truth about herself and her mother. The only drawback to the movie itself is the introduction of two new characters, Tip and Dash, about half-way through the film. This penguin and walrus duo are clearly a carbon copy of Timon and Pumbaa from "The Lion King" and their sudden entry into the film is jarring and annoying. They add little to the story, and fail as comic relief. Trust me, despite the fact that they try to help Melody, she would’ve been better off on her own.

The quality of the animation in "The Little Mermaid II" lies somewhere between Disney’s theatrical releases and their Saturday morning cartoon fare. The film is certainly colorful and has a very polished and professional look. There are several multi-plane shots that add a touch of quality to the film, but the animation doesn’t have the thoroughness and attention to detail that Disney’s theatrical films do. As such, some of the character models seem very static, for example, all of King Triton’s soldiers look exactly alike. Still, in this age where seriously crappy animation is thrown at children on a daily basis, "The Little Mermaid II" comes off looking quite good. The film features five new songs, which are all short, upbeat, and clever — everything that a song in a film of this type should be. Also, they are all utterly forgettable, but that’s OK. They help tell the story and don’t slow things down. I’ll take that over a classic tune any day.

Despite the fact that "The Little Mermaid II" is not being presented as part of Disney’s "Gold Collection" of animated titles, the DVD shares many attributes with the titles in that group. The film is presented in a <$PS,widescreen> format and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.66:1. Unfortunately, the image is not <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets, although at this aspect ratio this is only a minor squibble. The image itself is crystal clear, with no grain or noise to affect the viewing experience. The colors simply leap off of the screen, as the blues of the ocean, the red of Ariel’s hair and the blacks of Ursula’s tentacles blend together perfectly with no saturation or bleeding. There is no artifacting present or any other complications due to compression. This is simply a stunning and pristine presentation, which is light years ahead of the VHS version.

The audio on "The Little Mermaid II" is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix> that works quite well. The dialogue is always clear and audible and there is no apparent hiss on the soundtrack. The songs sound particularly good and demonstrate a nice bass response. The only drawback to the audio is the lack of a wide soundfield, such as those found on Disney’s recent live-action releases and on "Pocahontas II". While the surround sound is impressive and the rear speakers are active, the sound placement is somewhat pedestrian and doesn’t seemed to have received much attention.

The DVD of "The Little Mermaid II" contains the requisite extra features of the DVDs in the "Gold Collection" which are the Trivia Game and the DVD storybook. The Trivia Game contains sixteen questions and the DVD storybook allows youngsters to read the story of the film, or have a voice read it to them. This DVD offers a new feature, a game called "What Am I?" In this game, Ariel describes a sea creature, and you must guess what she’s talking about. The final extra feature on the disc is a Disney classic short cartoon entitled "Merbabies". This old offering is presented full-frame and when compared to the main feature, looks very washed out. As usual, "The Little Mermaid II" has trailers for other Disney releases at the beginning. But, they’ve added a new feature where you can skip them and go right to the main menu. I can only assume that they finally got tired of the complaints.

While it is probably wise to always be wary of sequels, there’s no need to fear "The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea." The film is short and sweet, and a lot of fun. The story is gripping and the well-paced film will hold the interest of both adults and children alike. The DVD version brings us a breathtaking transfer of the film, offering a colorful picture and a nice soundtrack. If you’re a fan of the original "The Little Mermaid", then chances are that you’ll enjoy this one as well. It’s very nice to see someone putting some effort into a sequel.