THE LITTLE MERMAID II: RETURN TO THE SEA (SPECIAL EDITION)
Written by Mahamari Tsukitaka
December 26, 2008
The Little Mermaid II, a sequel to the beloved 1989 Disney animated feature The Little Mermaid, was released as a direct-to-video DVD in 2000 and revolves around the teenage difficulties of Ariel and Prince Eric’s human daughter Melody. In a complete role-reversal, Ariel plays the part of the concerned parent who curtails her daughter’s seaward excursions in order to protect Melody from the dangers of the sea—namely the sea witch Ursula’s scrawny sister Morgana who, like her late sister, covets King Triton’s power and has no qualms against ransoming Melody’s safety for his trident.
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea Special Edition is a December 16, 2008 re-release of the 2000 DVD with a few new bonuses, including a new game and a deleted song.
Like the original Little Mermaid, Return to the Sea’s theme is teenage uncertainty and rebellion—except, this time, Ariel (Jodi Benson) is the protective mom who bars her daughter from visiting the sea, and Melody (Tara Strong) is the spunky princess who will stop at nothing to explore the wondrous world she’s been forbidden. Sebastian the crab (Samuel E. Wright) returns as the strict but ineffectual guardian, and other familiar characters—such as Flounder (Cam Clarke), Scuttle the seagull (Buddy Hackett), Prince Eric (Rob Paulsen), and Louis the chef (Rene Auberjonois)—also return to make brief appearances.
If you or your child are a really big fan of the franchise, a rental could be worthwhile, but otherwise, you’re probably just as well off leaving Ariel’s future to your imagination.
Return to the Sea’s thorough recital of favorite characters, however, is also one of its biggest accomplishments. The old guard is passably characterized at best, and, sadly, the handful of new characters joining the original crew fail to capture the lovableness of the original cast. Melody’s newfound friends, a brash penguin named Tip (Max Casella) and an easygoing walrus named Dash (Stephen Furst), are diluted carbon copies of The Lion King’s Timon and Pumbaa; and Ursula’s overlooked sister Morgana (Pat Carroll, who also voiced Ursula) is little more than a Weight Watchers version of the portly sea witch with additional mommy issues.
In the end, despite the potential of its mirror-image premise, the plot plays out like a forced and tired retelling of the first Little Mermaid with cheesier characters and less memorable music. Maybe that’s pretty much to be expected when it comes to these direct-to-video sequels, but the Christmas sequel that followed Disney’s Beauty and the Beast proved that it can be done better. All things considered, Return to the Sea falls in at just about average for its ilk.
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea is formatted to a 1.66:1 aspect ratio (enhanced for 16x9 televisions) and the digitally mastered visuals are delivered with flawless clarity. For a direct-to-video release, the animation and art aren’t terribly bad, but the lower budget definitely shows. For instance, some of the animation frames in Little Mermaid II definitely look like they were lifted from the original and perhaps adapted to fit a different character, the characters themselves are sometimes a tad wonky looking, and some of the filler characters honestly look like cut-and-paste copies of each other. Despite that and relatively minor inconsistencies in the artwork, though, your favorite characters from the first movie are instantly recognizable in this sequel, and the art quality is still roughly on the level of most cartoon TV series. Just don’t expect the gorgeous $40 million animation of the original film.
Presented in Dolby digital 5.1 Surround Sound (English, French, and Spanish), the sound quality is pretty decent, and since many of the original actors who supplied their voices for the original movie have returned for this sequel, the voice talent is also—for the most part—pretty consistent with the original Little Mermaid.
The soundtrack is based on the Alan Menken’s stellar score from the original The Little Mermaid, but it showcases the talents of a new set of composers and is a bit hit-or-miss. Even though they don’t quite match the brilliance of the original themes, the background orchestrals in The Little Mermaid II are still fantastic and capture an adventurous and whimsical underwater feel. The songs, however, leave a bit to be desired and simply don’t have the catchiness of the original’s Broadway-worthy tunes.
Along with the 75-minute animated feature, The Little Mermaid II also includes a few bonus features:
The bonus material doesn’t really add too much to the feature film, but it could probably keep a young child busy for a time. At the time of writing, the DVD retails for $29.99, though you can find it for less.
- Deleted song (and its accompanying deleted scene) “Gonna Get My Wish” sung by Morgana and her sidekick Undertow.
- Underwater Mer-venture Challenge Game, which includes three short mini-games.
- The Little Mermaid II Trivia Game, which tests the viewer’s memory of the movie’s events.
- The Little Mermaid II DVD Storybook, which can be read to you by Jodi Benson or simply displayed as static text and pictures for you to read on your own.
- “What Am I?” Game, an educational quiz that includes some trivia regarding various marine animals.
- Bonus short “Merbabies,” a vintage Disney Silly Symphony short somewhat similar in style to the Fantasia films.
Even if you have a strong hankering to watch more Ariel, unless you’re a huge fan of the Little Mermaid franchise (or have a child who’s a mermaid fanatic) and are certain you’d love it, I’d recommend renting The Little Mermaid II before deciding to purchase it. It’s certainly passable as far as direct-to-video sequels go and would probably satiate fans craving any tidbit of new content, but I’d personally prefer to just watch the original again.