Rated: G for general audiences
Recommended fo:r ages 5 and up
Run Time: 77 minutes
Quick Take: Ariel devotees -- not to mention new fans -- will want to dive in to this origin tale again and again. (And possibly memorize the antics of the most charming manatee in Atlantica.)
When the Benjamin plush comes out, I want one.
He, of the manatee species (or so I'm told) and part of a new Little Mermaid cast, is so adorable in his roly-poliness, he's earned his rightful place on a colorfully decorated shelf, somewhere between Winnie the Pooh (from whom he seems to have been separated at birth) and Eeyore.
For now, Benjamin inhabits The Little Mermaid's lovely under-the-sea universe in the new prequel, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning. The direct-to-DVD release goes back to Atlantica, pre-Prince Eric, explaining mysteries of the deep such as how Flounder and Ariel bonded (love of music), how Sebastian became Court Composer (he gave up his job as Triton's Chief of Staff) and why Triton has white hair (he has seven teenaged daughters).
It seems Triton wasn't always a bachelor father. He once ruled and raised young Ariel with his wife, Princess Athena. Her accidental death prompted the grieving king to ban music -- and pretty much all forms of fun -- from the Kingdom until Ariel, ten years later a teen and fed up with the no-fun zone, defies dad's rule, gets into mischief, and sneaks out after curfew to attend an underground music club (see: why Triton has white hair).
With its colorful undersea universe, Ariel's Beginning reminds fans what they loved about the mermaid in the first place. Animators paid loving attention to their craft, recapturing both the colorful sub-aquatic world, and Ariel's ethereal floatiness. And, oh the sounds. Bubbly, infectious Jodi Benson is back as Ariel, and Samuel Wright returns to give Sebastian his Caribbean lilt. New characters, including musicians in the Catfish Club Band, allow producers to play with the soundtrack, which includes some jazzy new songs.
And then there's Benjamin. The kinder, gentler half of the movie's villain-ish duo, the overstuffed animal plays wry manservant to the deliciously wicked Marina Del Rey (Sally Field in what looks like a precursor to Ursula). In the tradition of happily-ever-after, Marina gets hers, which means Benjamin ... well let's just hope someone comes visiting him with a swordfish in a cake sometime soon.
Because the adorable manatee -- he deserves his place of honor immortalized in plush.
Kids Will Like:
Everything. In this incarnation, an especially young Flounder is so cute, bubbly, and yellow, they'll want to take him home. Marina Del Rey may be a villain -- but she's funny. The soundtrack includes the Harry Bellafonte classic, "Jump in the Line," with the refrain, "Shake Sonora." Count on the kids to repeat that verse and conga all night long.
Parents Will Like:
Benjamin. His low-key delivery of every line is a hoot. And, any cartoon character who can toss off words like "chutzpah" is a hero with me. Keep a sharp eye out for blink-or-you'll-miss it features, such as a little lampoon of one of Ariel's trademark moments from the first movie.