30 years of 'The Little Mermaid': How the original animated movie changed things for Disney
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Our beloved 'Little Mermaid' is 30 years old. On November 17, 1989, the animated classic was widely recognized as the movie that overturned years of subpar Disney cartoons and formally began what became known as the 'Disney Renaissance' and debuted in theaters.
Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' has recently come under fire for being out of touch, whether for the absurd backlash that addressed the casting of a black actress for the titular role or the reasonable criticism that it praises a girl who gives up her voice to be with a guy she just met in the forthcoming live-action remake.
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'Little Mermaid' an instant box office success
Today's Disney musicals, the multi-billion dollar titans of stage, cinema, and merchandise, wouldn't exist without 'The Little Mermaid;' that genre had been inactive for decades until its debut. 'The Little Mermaid,' directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, depicted the tale of the mermaid princess Ariel, who longs to live on dry land and is given the opportunity by a deal she makes with a sea witch named Ursula.
The film was an instant box office success and has since been one of the most well-liked in Disney's history because of its beautiful animation and stunning music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, as per ScreenCrush.
Walt Disney Studios was in crisis before 'Little Mermaid'
Before 'The Little Mermaid' appeared in 1989, Walt Disney Studios was experiencing a crisis. According to Chris Pallant's account in 'Demystifying Disney: A History of Disney Feature Animation,' the business had been adrift after the deaths of Walt Disney and his brother Roy more than 10 years earlier.
Early 1980s movies like 'The Fox and the Hound' prioritized cost-cutting above innovation, which drained creativity and morale, per NBC News. Disney was no longer the industry leader in animation for the first time in 50 years. In trouble, the business pinned its hopes on 'The Little Mermaid,' a tale that was initially scheduled for release in the 1930s but was never broadcast.
How did 'Little Mermaid' change the curse of Walt Disney?
With flying colors, 'The Little Mermaid' accomplished this goal. It served as a template for future Disney movies by updating its animation technique, changing how female characters were handled, and utilizing the Broadway musical form. The outcome was a decade of box office successes that restored the company's position as the leading power in American animation.
Additionally, 'The Little Mermaid' was the first motion picture that began digitally fusing forefront characters with a backdrop landscape. This breakthrough made it possible for animators to include computer-generated imagery in their films, considerably enhancing the effectiveness and quality of the animation process. The computer animation production system that the film invented was employed for more than 10 years after that.
Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' was a major risk. It was one of the most costly animated films ever produced at the time, costing $40 million to produce. But it was a smart bet because subsequent Disney films repeated the box office success it had attracted on multiple occasions.
Live-action 'The Little Mermaid'
The hashtag #NotMyAriel became popular on Twitter as a result of the outcry against Disney's live-action 'The Little Mermaid' due to the casting of African-American actress Halle Bailey as Ariel. The main character of the 1989 animated hit was, originally, a Caucasian mermaid with red hair and a distinctive fishtail.
'The Little Mermaid's tale and ideas have nothing to do with Ariel's skin tone, but it's important to note that non-white mermaids have been a part of the Disney canon for almost three decades. The idea is that Bailey was chosen because she embodies the vision Disney has for Ariel in this live-action rendition, which is made all the more obvious by the actress's prowess as a vocalist.
The live-action adaptation of the beloved Disney 'The Little Mermaid' with Halle Bailey playing the lead part is expected to hit the theaters on May 26, 2023. It has already been adapted for Broadway and a live TV special.