DTV Hell: The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea (text review)

Another week, another bad Disney sequel. But, on the bright side, I’ve moved into my new apartment, so hopefully I can figure out some way to get access to more bad direct to video movies, though I did find what appears to be a good choice online recently. In any case, let’s get to this week’s movie.

In the early 1980’s, skilled Disney animator Don Bluth left the company, taking a number of other animators with him and starting his rival company. During the time shortly after that, Bluth made a handful of animation masterpieces that have inspired their own wonderful fodder for this site, but that isn’t what we’re looking at today. It took Disney a while to get back into the swing of things, but eventually they released the animated classic that would spark the famous “Disney Renaissance.” This movie? Why, The Little Mermaid, of course. After this point, many of Disney’s famous works of the 90’s followed, including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and many more. It was a time of great profits. But, to some within the company, not great enough. Many Disney movies would receive the Disney Sequel treatment, some fairing better than others. However, even one of the company’s most financially important productions would receive not one, but TWO direct to video movies to unnecessarily extend its universe. So, we’d best start with the first of these today: The Little Mermaid II:Return to the Sea.

We start our movie at sea, with Ariel singing a decent song to her baby daughter, on the way to…I guess introduce her daughter to the creatures of the sea. Makes sense. As I mentioned last time, only a few Disney female leads had children canonically, and Ariel is the only official Disney Princess to have a child. Kinda cool, in a way, but isn’t it weird considering that she effectively traded in her fins for a vagina in the first movie? I mean, I’m not a hundred percent on this, but wouldn’t a mermaid lay eggs, as she has a fish’s bottom half? So, it was more painful for her to have one child than it would have been for her to have many if she were still under the sea…

Sorry, getting off topic. The song is nice, visuals have a few hiccups, but then the crap starts to appear as a thinner Ursula shows up in the form of Morgana. She interrupts the ceremony by grabbing Melody as Sabastian introduces her as “Ursula’s crazy sister.” Yeah, that kinda doesn’t bode well. By the way, I actually love Pat Carroll’s voice work in this. She is one of the better villians of the sequel movies, though that is unsurprising as she played Ursula in the actual movie. Some of the writing for her isn’t perfect, but whatever. Ariel goes Mama Bear, and Eric swings in to help as Triton shrinks Morgana’s worthless pet shark, Undertow. Triton says they will not rest until they find her, but that gets shot in the fin about five seconds later when obviously not more than a few hours have passed, and he’s already given up. This scene sets up what we will see of Triton from this point on: gross incompetence. In any case, Ariel decides to hide the truth of Melody’s heritage from her, even returning the music box locket that Triton wanted Melody to have. He drops it and swims away.

Cut to twelve years later, and there is a huge wall between the castle and the sea. Wait, twelve years? Okay, I guess maybe Triton hasn’t gotten back to Ariel about the inevitable capture of Morgana, right? Anyway, it’s Melody’s birthday, and she is playing beyond the wall, out in the ocean. Yeah, kinda defeats the purpose of the wall if she can get out of it, but whatever. Her conversation with Sabastian here is what makes me actually kinda like this movie. Though, it is interesting that Sabastian is just NOW complaining about the job he was assigned 12 years ago… Well, anyway, Melody confides in Sabastian that she feels right in the sea, as compared to on land. He even says that sometimes, she pretends she has fins. Oh, and she finds the locket, but can’t read it’s inscription. Melody’s actions remind me of…well…

She’s transgendered. She sees herself as something physical that she isn’t, and would, if she could, become that thing. It’s not exactly the same thing, but it is a kind of body dysphoria. So, yeah, I just made a huge leap from what the creators of this movie would have ever intended, but honestly, that is the reason I can look at this in a good light. Without that, all I have is Morgana and a bunch of things that make sense in reality, but not in the context of the movie. Speaking of Morgana, we see her bicker with her mini-shark, who I could also sexualize in a completely different way, but won’t. He reminds her of how much Ursula was the favorite of the family, but in any case… Wait a sec, they’re still free? What the heck Triton? You are the worst King of the Sea EVER. They then see that Melody has the locket, and plan to be the ones willing to answer all her questions.

Soon enough, we’re back inside, and we find that Melody is an awkward outcast among the people of the land. They mock her for “talking to fish” and other things that actually make sense if you have the view of the audience. After a terrible experience at the party, she examines the locket again. However, Ariel, being unwittingly stupid here, continues to hide the truth from her. I go back to psychology here to explain that this will have a significant effect later in the movie, because Ariel is not being honest with her daughter. As a parent, it is important to tell your kid the truth about things, even embarrassing things like sex. And when there is an imminent danger, like a person who wants to kidnap you but can’t leave the ocean to get to you in the castle, you need to level with your child. I understand not wanting to scare your kid, but if you want their trust, you might just have to do that once in a while. It is worth noting that she did attempt to tell Ariel about her wishes and feelings, but was interrupted. Ariel realizes her mistake quickly, but not quickly enough, as Melody heads out to sea after a rather disturbing little bit of monologue from Sebastian about crab puberty. It doesn’t take long for Morgana’s manta sidekicks to find her and guide her back to the sea witch. Melody shows some concern here, but mostly she just kinda rides the boat through the terrifying ice cave to reach Morgana, who pours on the charm. This scene is actually a bit more believable than the “Poor, Unfortunate Souls” scene from the original movie, due to Melody’s younger age and more mundane background. Still, this does feel an awful lot like the first movie.

And thus, we reach the movie’s biggest problem: It feels too much like the first again. We saw this with S. Darko and we’re seeing it here too. Personally, I don’t much care for The Little Mermaid. It feels a tad sexist, to be honest, though at least Ursula knows it. This movie is more interesting to me because of my alternate interpretation of the story and my psychology education, but it really is mostly the same movie, with almost no significant sexism. An improvement to be sure, but the animation doesn’t measure up to the first, and the music is more enjoyable to me, but I know I’m in the minority.

Anyway, Melody gets her mermaid body, and sings a song that, to me, is pretty beautiful at points. Ariel has some scenes in the background of the story here, but it’s mainly just her getting her mermaid form back to go hunt for her missing daughter. The song, “For a Moment,” is, well, not the best, but it does have some great moments, particularly the exuberance of Melody as she sings about finally having a sense of belonging. Again, Ariel cuts in to interrupt, and honestly, she sounds better in the Japanese version of this movie than the English version. A strange comparison, but hey, I’ve seen both, so it’s fair. Its worth noting that the bad animation pulls me out of the experience at times, and for being a fan of 80’s anime, that says a LOT. Anyway, Morgana breaks the news that the transformation isn’t permanent, and that she could make it permanent if she got back her magic trident that Triton stole. No, that’s not a twist, that’s a lie, but honestly, she can’t be a worse King of the Sea than Triton, the guy who took 12 years to fail at finding her.

She heads off toward Atlantica, but her map is broken, forcing the introduction of the pointless sidekick characters. Due to these losers being more annoying than Timon and Pumba, we are going to promptly ignore them. No explanation of their existence, they are just very unfunny filler. I do have to mention one thing. The worst thing about the penguin Tip is that he is voiced by Max Casella, the voice of Daxter from Jak and Daxter, a series in which he is incredibly funny and perfectly written. Oh, and the walrus is Vir from another masterpiece, Babylon 5. They have an annoying song here, too. Melody eventually arrives at the castle, and gets the trident from the oh-so-observant King of the Sea. Of course, if they sidekicks had left after leading her there, Melody probably would have seen Ariel, and this movie would be over much faster, but hey, that’s the way things are sometimes. So, yeah, Ariel catches sight of the mantas and eventually finds her daughter at Morgana’s cave. There is a moment where she tries to get her daughter to hand the trident back to her, but rather realistically, Melody hands the trident to Morgana, who goes full evil instantly. This is a pretty emotionally brutal scene, with Morgana gloating and demeaning the poor girl. Eventually, backup arrives, as Eric and Triton bring their respective forces in to get stomped with no effort by Morgana. Melody is saved by the sidekicks as her mermaid time runs out, and she makes it to the surface in time to hear the loophole that will save the day: The trident only affects sea creatures, which Melody isn’t anymore. She manages to climb the sharp ice cliffs and get the trident back to Triton. In the end, Morgana is defeated by cryogenics, and Melody survives a fall that quite honestly should have killed her. The movie ends with her choosing to use the trident to destroy what must have been a very expensive wall, and bring the land and sea together. Thus, she chose the path of neutrality, not really being just a human or a mermaid, kinda. It’s a solid ending, and I actually like it.

So, how does this movie REALLY hold up? Well, I like it for my own reasons, but it really isn’t a very good movie. The animation is a bigger quality drop than the Hunchback sequel, and the plot is just a more believable rehash of the original movie. It does belong in DTV Hell, but I hate the idea of judging it harshly. I guess I will choose to send it to Limbo, the place for unnecessary movies that aren’t necessarily bad, but really aren’t good enough to be saved, either. But hey, next week is time for another good movie. Or maybe some other kind of direct to video production, perhaps?

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