Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000)
Studio Line: Disney

Disney's amazing undersea classic lives on in an all-new story bursting with the same captivating musical style, unforgettably colorful characters and brilliant animation that made the original film an Academy Award-winning favorite.

After rejoicing over the birth of their daughter Melody, Ariel and Eric must face a new threat from Ursula's revengeful sibling Morgana -- a threat that forces them to hide Melody's true mermaid heritage. Melody, a young princess curious about her roots, ultimately ventures into the sea against her parents' wishes. There she meets new friends Tip and Dash, and in her dream to be a mermaid, becomes a pawn in Morgana's plot to gain control of the Seven Seas. Ariel must reunite with her childhood friends, Sebastian, Flounder and Scuttle, to rescue her daughter and restore harmony to her family.

An all-star cast returns, including Jodi Benson (Ariel) and Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian), for a remarkable adventure teeming with surprises and four phenomenal new songs.

Cast: Christopher Daniel Barnes-Eric, Jodi Benson-Ariel, Pat Carroll-Morgana, Tara Charendoff-Melody, Buddy Hackett-Scuttle, Kenneth Mars-Triton, Samuel E. Wright-Sebastian
DVD: Widescreen 1.66:1; audio English DD 5.1, Spanish & French Digital Stereo; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 19 chapters; rated G; 75 min.; $29.99; street date 9/19/00.
Supplements: The Little Mermaid II Trivia Game; The Little Mermaid II DVD Storybook, Narrated By Jodi Benson -- The Voice Of Ariel; "What Am I!" Game; Merbabies: A Classic Disney Cartoon
Purchase: DVD | Book - Catherine McCafferty | Music soundtrack - Various Artists | Disney Interactive - PC software

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/B+/C-

Time for some more Disney "direct to video" (DTV) fun. Actually, I suppose "fun" should be used lightly, since most of their DTV movies haven't offered a whole lot of excitement or pleasure; Buzz Lightyear of Star Command was moderately interesting, but the others have been mild duds.

Add to that pile another sacrifice: The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea. I get the feeling the story conferences at Disney's TV animation department - the crew who usually create the DTV pictures - go like this: "Let's take what happened in the first movie - and reverse it!"

For other examples of this notion in action, look at Pocahontas and its DTV sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World. In the original, English explorers came to America and learned about Indians. In the sequel, an Indian - Pokey herself, plus a guardian - go to Britain to learn about the English. How creative!

LM II shows similar imagination. 1989's The Little Mermaid told of Ariel (Jodi Benson), a fishy babe who wanted to know more about the world of humans. In the sequel, her daughter Melody (Tara Charendoff) is a legged pre-teen who loves the ocean and wants to spend more time under the sea. For this we had to wait 11 years?

In reality, LM II is more "remake" than "sequel". Other than the reverse water-land direction, the plots are quite similar. We have another sea witch. This one's named Morgana, and she's the sister of the first film 's Ursula. Pat Carroll voiced Ursula, and by some incredible coincidence, she also provides the pipes for Morgana. The new character is less self-assured than the old one, but otherwise they're virtually the same personality.

Quite a lot of the rest of the original cast returns as well. There's Samuel Wright as Sebastian, Kenneth Mars as Triton, Buddy Hackett as Scuttle, Rene Auberjonois as Louis, and Edie McClurg as Carlotta. Of the first film's main voices, only Jason Marin (Flounder) and Christopher Daniel Barnes (Prince Eric) are AWOL; Marin certainly couldn't repeat since one would hope his voice has changed since the Eighties, but I have no idea why Barnes doesn't reappear. In any case, one nice thing about Disney DTV projects is that they do seem to wrangle as many original participants as possible, which adds credibility to these films.

One bad thing about the DTV movies, however, is the fact that they're universally produced on the cheap by Disney's television animation unit. Sometimes this results in simply poor filmwork - as was the case with Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - but we usually just find acceptable but lackluster animation.

That's definitely the case with LM II. Honestly, it's one of the prettier DTV programs, as it offers some lovely colors and more lively-than-usual movement, but it still doesn't remotely compare with the standards we'd expect from a theatrical offering. The film maintains too much of a stiff attitude and it lacks the "believability" I desire.

Ultimately, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea is just another bland but mildly-watchable Disney home video offering. As with others from this division, I didn't mind the time I spent with it, but since I want more from Disney animation, that made the result fairly uninteresting; just "okay" doesn't cut it for their work, but "decent" is as good as this uninspired film gets.

The DVD:

The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the film looked absolutely gorgeous, with almost no problems in sight.

Sharpness seemed crisp and well-detailed from start to finish, without the slightest hints of softness or fuzziness. Moiré effects appeared absent, and I noticed only one or two examples of jagged edges. The print was happily devoid of flaws; I saw no signs of grain, scratches, speckles, grit or other defects.

Colors looked beautifully vibrant and rich. Throughout the film, the hues were absolutely lovely, as they presented delightfully lush tones. Black levels were terrifically deep and dense, and shadow detail seemed appropriately opaque without any excessive heaviness. All in all, it's a fantastic image.

Also strong is the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Little Mermaid II. The soundfield favored the forward speakers but it seemed well-balanced nonetheless. The front channels displayed a nicely broad mix that featured an appropriate level of activity between those speakers. The surrounds also contributed some useful ambiance to the presentation, as they tossed in nice usage of music and some effects. The soundtrack enveloped me in a satisfying manner and it created a nicely dimensional feel.

Audio quality also seemed excellent. Dialogue was clear and distinct, with terrific intelligibility and no signs of dullness or edginess. Effects were bold and clean and they packed a solid punch. The music seemed bright and lively, and it often offered taut bass. The mix sounded very good, and the overall presentation was very nice.

The Little Mermaid II includes a few minor supplemental features. Most interesting is "Merbabies", an eight-minute and 35-second short from the "Silly Symphony" line. I love the fact Disney have started to include these old shorts on some DVDs; even when the cartoon in question is a bit of a dud - which is the case with this obscenely-cutesy offering from 1938 - it's still a cool addition and a nice historical artifact.

We also find some other Disney DVD staples. There's the traditional 16-question trivia game that should be easy for anyone who's seen the film, and we get a second contest as well: "Who Am I?" offers a few details about various sea critters and requires you to choose one of three options as to the beast's identity. If correct, you're rewarded with some brief but interesting educational material about the species.

Finally, the DVD presents the standard "DVD Storybook". This retells the tale of LM II and it allows you to either read the story on your own or have it read to you by a female narrator.

Yes, LM II includes the standard complement of pre-movie advertisements. I've mentioned these with every Disney DVD review for the last six months and I'm sick of it! However, duty calls, so I'll continue to inform readers of their presence as long as they continue to be present.

LM II features promos for The Tigger Movie, 102 Dalmatians, Fantasia 2000, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure, plus the Disney Cruise Line and a LM II CD soundtrack. If one wants to skip these, this is easily done either by pressing the "skip" button on your remote or just through the use of the "menu" button.

The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea offers another mildly entertaining but fairly limp direct-to-video movie from Disney. The story provides a virtual remake of the original but lacks the 1989 film's charm or quality; it's watchable but not anything special. The DVD presents terrific picture and sound plus a few minor extras. Like most of the Disney "DTV" programs, this one is best left to the die-hard fans.

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