During our recent visit to Disney World, Dan from At Disney Again and I spent a night under the stars, watching The Little Mermaid poolside with drinks from The Gurgling Suitcase. Pretty much heaven, right?
Seeing the movie sparked some conversation about the relationship between Ursula and Triton—were they lovers at some point? Spouses? What’s their back story? And why is Triton such a tight ass, anyway? So when we got home, to help fend off the post-Disney blues, we sat down to watch The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, which had pretty decent animation for a straight-to-VHS movie and promised to offer up the back story of Atlantica and its royals.
When the story starts, King Triton (with a red beard!) is already a dad seven times over and towering over his slight, musically-inclined wife, Queen Adina. Unfortunately, Adina is made dead pretty quickly by some pirates while the merfolk are lounging on the rocks above the water. And suddenly Triton’s anger about Ariel’s trips to the surface makes sense.
Fast forward ten years, and a bitter old Triton (now with grey hair) is seriously butting heads with an adventurous Ariel. A big, big change from the cuddly relationship they had when she was a kid. Triton doesn’t get it. But he also doesn’t seem to realize how closed off he is.
But the real interesting part is the girls’ nanny, Marina (voiced by Sally flippin Fields). She’s at war with Sebastian (she wants his job) and she’s basically a lady drag queen. That’s fun. But what I really love is her incredible sidekick. He’s a friggin manatee. A sarcastic friggin manatee. Named Benjamin.
We also see how Flounder and Ariel meet and make friends, which is super adorable … and sort of confusing because Flounder is one daring dude in this prequel. He blatantly ignores Triton’s ban on music in the kingdom and has the secret passcode to get into an illicit watery speakeasy. Could this possibly be the same Flounder?
Once we’ve got the lay of the land, the plot runs its course pretty quickly. Basically, the mersisters break their father’s heart by insisting on honoring their mother’s memory. (All he wants to do is forget her … which, of course, is breaking his daughters’ hearts.) Dan said he only has one way to describe it:
It gets dark there for a second (though not nearly as dark as the scenes with Ursula) … but the music is fun (Jodi Benson is on point, as always), and Sebastian’s sparring with the nanny keeps it light. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it!
What’s your favorite straight-to-DVD Disney film? Let us know in the comments!