The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (Special Edition)

Disney won back some of my good will by releasing Bolt. It washed out the bad taste left by Chicken Little, Home on the Range, and Brother Bear. The bad taste is back, though, with their recent decision to re-release the terrible direct-to-DVD sequel, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea as a dubious “Special Edition.” The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea is an awful follow-up to one of the most enjoyable Disney animated musicals ever, The Little Mermaid. The sequel, released in 2000, is basically a retelling of the original story, just with worse animation, worse music, and no originality. As something to keep five year olds busy on a rainy afternoon, it’s barely adequate and is eclipsed even by the The Little Mermaid television show they used to show on the Disney Channel.

The action picks up not long after former mermaid Ariel (voiced again by Jodi Benson) and Prince Eric (Rob Paulsen) have married and moved into his castle on the edge of the sea. They, as Syndrome in The Incredibles noted, “got bizzay” and have a baby daughter, Melody. While Melody is taken out on the royal ship to meet her mer-family, including her grandfather, King Triton (Kenneth Mars), she’s grabbed by Morgana (Pat Carroll), the sister of Ursula, the sea witch from the first movie.

Although Ariel is able to rescue Melody, Morgana’s promise to not stop until she gets revenge on Triton and Ariel causes everyone to agree that Melody should never be allowed in the sea. Twelve years later, Melody (Tara Charendoff), who hasn’t been told the reason why the sea is forbidden, looks at the sea in the same way that Ariel looked at land in the first movie, as something to be explored.

In fact, the whole movie is just Melody doing what Ariel did, only this time it’s Ariel taking on the role of King Triton. Morgana not only behaves like Ursula, using magic powers to give Melody fins in exchange for Melody taking King Triton’s triton, but is voiced by the same actress. Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) and a grown-up Flounder (Cam Clarke) are still around but get replaced as comedic sidekicks by Tip (Max Casella) and Dash (Stephen Furst), a penguin and walrus helping Melody steal the triton.

The un-original story likely would have been sufficient for an adequate movie if the animation and music weren’t so crappy. Oscar winners Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are replaced by kids music hacks Michael and Patty Silversher and the songs take about 40 steps downward as a result. Although songs like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” are Disney classics that will be remembered for years, no one was singing or even humming “Here on the Land and Sea” or “Tip and Dash” even six months after the original release.

The animation is cheap television quality, with simplistic characters and backgrounds and a lot of blurry and dark shapes that make the movie unpleasant to watch. The whole product is just not worth the time or effort it takes to put it into the DVD player. Wait for Bolt to be released or even go with the incrementally better Space Chimps, if you’re in the mood for something lousy that your little kids will stare at. The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea re-release in 2008 has the designation “Special Edition,” but it’s not particularly special and doesn’t seem to differ that much from the original 2000 release.

According to the press material, the only new item is a game called “The Little Mermaid II Underwarter Mer-Venture Challenge Game.” That’s one long-ass name for a pretty simplistic game that you play with your DVD remote. It’s hard to imagine anyone over the age of six finding any interest in the game and even they might think it’s a bit insulting to their intelligence. That game joins the “What Am I?” game that lets you guess what sea creature is being described. It may prompt parents to say “what am I doing watching this horrible DVD?” The last game is a trivia quiz about the movie and just for fun, I played it even before I watched the movie and still did pretty well. I guess indicating that the quiz questions are not too taxing.

There is one deleted song included. It’s fully animated, unlike most deleted scenes and songs in animated film DVD releases. Since the songs in the actual movie are lousy, it doesn’t bode well for something that even the producers didn’t feel was worthy for inclusion. Called “Gonna Get My Wish” and sung by Morgana, it’s a far, far cry from “Poor Unfortunate Soul” but isn’t really any worse than the other songs that made it to the film. That’s not really a recommendation, though.

The only extra worth noting is a Silly Symphony short from 1938 called “Merbabies.” It obviously has no connection to The Little Mermaid other than the basic subject matter but it is a cute little short about merbabies having a circus on the sea floor. This short is also available in the Disney Treasures Silly Symphony collection, so there is no need to pick up this DVD just to get it.

The DVD also includes a storybook version of the movie narrated by Jodi Benson. Since you have the actual movie, I can’t see why anyone would want to put the disc in their DVD player just to have a static storybook version play, but then again, I can’t see why anyone would put this in their DVD player for any reason.

This is a weak effort, even for a direct-to-DVD sequel pumped out of the Disney television division. The extras are mediocre at best and don’t compensate for the bad movie. Ignore this re-release and use the funds to fill other holes in your animated movie collection.