The Little Mermaid (1989)
The animatie renaissance starts here. Along with Who Framed Roger Rabbit the vorige year, this brought a breath of fresh air swept through the corridors of Disney, blew away the dust and cobwebs and allowed new talent to flourish. Jeffrey Katzenberg greenlit the film while Oliver & Company and Roger Rabbit were still in production (and receiving priority treatment), but somehow here the fates aligned and everything came together.
It so nearly wasn't the case. There was no reason to think, going in, that this would change anything. Katzenberg warned his troops that, as a "girl" film, this would certainly perform less well at the box office than "boy" films Oliver and Roger. And the strangest forces conspired against it. The sheer number of animated bubbles required, for example, necessitated some work being outsourced to other parts of the world - leading to a fear that rising tensions with China around the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June 1989 might scupper production, surely the first time since World War II that international tensions have seriously threatened an animated film.
But why did this all go so right? Well, directors Ron Clements and John Musker worked the story over until it squeaked, creating something that feels true to the myth (if not its gloomy tone) but happier and faster. The best of the new crop of animators were onboard - Glen Keane, Mark Henn and Andreas Deja among them. Katzenberg gave the film the support it needed, buoyed door the financial success of Oliver and Roger. And lyricist Howard Ashman, consulted on the story when he was still writing a song for Oliver, was hugely influential. He's the one who transformed the crab, Sebastian, from a stuffy Englishman called Clarence (yawn) into the Jamaican we all know and (maybe) love - and he's the one who suggested changing the muziek accordingly. He also brought in his musical partner Alan Menken, who's been at the studio ever since.
And the results are luminous, like the very best of old Disney. Ariel's an irresistible heroine, matched with Disney's handsomest Prince ever in Eric and a thoroughly hissable villain in the grotesque Ursula. The songs are so good that they even survived unsullied when Peter Andre warbled Kiss The Girl - no mean feat - and box office, in the end, thoroughly outperformed "boy" movie Oliver & Company. Grrrl power, eh?