Terrible 2’s Reviews: The Little Mermaid II – Return to the Sea
*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*
By now, you’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard of, or at least seen Walt Disney Picture’s 1989 feature, The Little Mermaid. Singled out by many as the animated feature film that heralded the start of Disney’s second golden age of animated films, it would go on to break VHS sales records, and make many forget that just 5 years before, Disney had released a film with Daryl Hannah as a mermaid (aka Splash).
Of course, executives within the studio were always trying to find ways to squeeze more money out of their sea (cash) cow. That golden ticket revealed itself in the fall of 1994, when a direct-to-video sequel to Aladdin was released, titled The Return of Jafar. With inferior animation, forgettable songs, and even lacking Robin Williams as the Genie, the video release made enough money on its name and character recognition alone, to have management at The Mouse House declare that more profits could be made with these cheaply-produced sequels. And thus, the Home Video market would become the place for the studio to churn out sequels to films like Cinderella, The Lion King, and many more.
11 years after Ariel longed to walk on land, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea was released to the cries of greedy little children, who begged their parents for more Ariel, regardless of the product’s quality, and making it prime fodder for this column.
The film starts about a year after the end of The Little Mermaid, with Ariel and Eric sailing out to the ocean, to introduce their daughter Melody, to King Triton. However, no sooner does this happen, than an appearance is made by Ursula’s sister, Morgana.
After threatening to feed Melody to her hench-shark Undertow, the family manages to get their daughter back, but Morgana vows revenge, disappearing in a swirl of ink.
The thought that their daughter could now be a target, causes Ariel to suddenly go into full-on protective parent mode. Given that there is a vengeful sea witch’s sister out there, and even though her own father is the King of the Sea, Ariel cuts herself off from her former, watery way of life. As a ‘safety precaution,’ an enormous 30 foot wall is erected along the beach near Prince Eric’s castle (which I’m sure the kingdom’s people were eager to contribute to). Just like in the first film, Sebastian is put on babysitting duty, tasked with watching over Ariel’s daughter.
The story then cuts to 12 years later, where the castle is preparing to celebrate Melody’s 12th Birthday. Unknown to everyone, Melody has grown to become a younger, polar opposite of her Mother. While Ariel longed for land, Melody longs for the sea, sneaking out and swimming along the waters near the castle wall. As well, she converses regularly with Sebastian and Scuttle (though strangely enough, she doesn’t question ‘why’ she is able to do this), telling how she sometimes dreams of having fins of her own.
It just so happens that Morgana also decides to come out of hiding, and upon finding Melody’s wish to be a mermaid, decides to use the girl’s dreams, as a way to try and get back at Triton and his Kingdom.
As one can probably surmise from the information above, there’s not a whole lot to Return to the Sea. While the original Disney version of Mermaid wasn’t a perfect film, it at least had plenty going for it: from believable characters, to toe-tapping songs. So, when one compares the sequel to its predecessor, there are a lot of little things that stick out to me.
One of the strangest things is that Melody is celebrating her 12th birthday, yet every other person claims she’s becoming a teenager. Did I miss the memo or something? I thought you officially became a teenager when you turned, thir-TEEN!
One of the saddest things the film does, is try to make Ariel’s sidekicks from the first film relevant…and they rarely serve any purpose at all. Flounder is now all grown up, with children of his own. Scuttle? Well, it sounds like they recorded Buddy Hackett just spouting off gibberish, and felt that would be good enough for the scatterbrained seagull.
But Sebastian? The sequel deals the most bitter blow of all for the famed ‘court composer’ of Triton’s kingdom. Commanded once again to be a ‘royal babysitter,’ Sebastian seems able to sing well, but come on…after the events of the first film, he should have been reinstated to writing symphonies again. That was where his talents lay. Instead, his career has been put on hold indefinitely. Poor crab. With this plot set-up, he’ll die old, sad, cursing all the great symphonies he was denied because of Triton’s actions.
The film at times feels like it was ping-ponging between several story points, and the reasoning behind Morgana’s plan is a good example of this. Her first appearance makes it sound like she harbors a grudge for the death of her sister, but 10-15 minutes later, she’s in her lair changing her tune. Apparently, she was the sister that couldn’t live up to Ursula’s greatness, and she also seems bitter about this.
Then again, that is probably the only way to enjoy this film: throw what little logic you can out the window. “Don’t think so hard,” you’ll hear the average moron say. “You’re getting all worked up over a kids cartoon.”
And speaking of a ‘kids cartoon,’ that’s about as bad as the animation level gets much of the time. Don’t expect the kind of decent-animation levels put out by late 80’s Disney Feature Animation artists. You’ll see choppy animation of a ship sailing into action, numerous characters going on and off-model, and much more. There’s even some scenes that look like they traced over Glen Keane’s pencil work on Ariel from the first film!
And that brings us to Melody. The filmmakers attempt to give us a character that is meant to be a younger version of Ariel, but it just seems that the stuff Ariel did that made her endearing, just ends up making Melody that much more annoying. Of course, one funny way of looking at the trouble Melody causes Ariel, is to think of it as some form of universal payback for the hard time she gave her father when she was a teenager.
Melody is also given her own sidekicks once she is off on her own: a walrus named Tip, and a penguin named Dash. The two claim to be adventurers/explorers, but are your typical bumbling duo who rarely seem to get anything right, leading them up to some major heroic action at the end of the film.
It’s rather sad for me to say how much I dislike this film, because voice actress Tara Strong (voice of Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls, and Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony), was once quoted as saying that she loved the original film, and getting to voice and sing a character alongside Jodi Benson was a dream come true.
Song-wise, there’s nothing here that comes close to the lyrical and memorable works of Alan Menken, and Howard Ashman. The songs for the film are done by Michael and Patty Silversher, and sadly, it’s a poor blemish in their repertoire of work. Prior to Mermaid, the two had done music work for a number of episodes of the Disney Afternoon. I guess when it comes to music work, they work best in small doses, rather than in feature-length.
The film even rubs a little salt in the wounds, as over the credits, they play a new version of “Part of your World,” sung in a country twang by Chely Wright. If you’ve never heard of her, don’t worry – neither have I. In fact, it seemed that most sequels did this: attempted to quell its audience with a rehash of a popular song from the original film.
While handily not the worst of the Direct-To-Video sequels, it isn’t helped that it is a continuation of one of the most beloved films the studio has made. Following the release of Return to the Sea, Ariel would come back for one more DTV release, albeit in the form of a prequel with 2008’s The Little Mermaid: A New Beginning. As I was rather put off by the results of Return, I didn’t decide to give Beginning a look.
While some praised the animation style for the 2008 prequel, it’d be one of the last films released before the studio would finally put to rest making unnecessary sequels or prequels. Once a management shake-up occurred at Disney with John Lasseter and Ed Catmull coming to work for the studio, the Direct-to-Video production end was shut down, with its studio division now tasked with making original works, or spin-off productions (such as the Disney Fairies line, and the recent release of Planes).