ByKristin Lai, writer at
MP Staff Writer, cinephile and resident Slytherclaw // UCLA Alumna // Follow me on Twitter: kristin_lai
Kristin Lai

Today, the rumor mill continued churning after Deadline announced that Disney executives are continuing talks on a live-action version of The Little Mermaid. In the same vein as Maleficent and Cinderella, these modern remakes hope to introduce younger generations to these beloved stories, while also capitalizing on the nostalgia of older fans.

Since the 1930s, Disney has been an animation powerhouse known for churning out blockbuster after blockbuster of children's entertainment, amassing billions at the box office — and even more in merchandise revenues, while creating lasting childhood memories for generations.

Like most children of the '90s, my salad days were largely comprised of The Lion King bedsheets, Beauty and the Beast dishware, Pocahontas sing-along cassettes, and a hefty collection of Disney VHS tapes. These days, Disney's slate has become exceedingly impressive and shows little sign of diminishing. But once upon a time, Disney's fate wasn't as rocksteady as it is today.

The 1970s and 1980s — known as the Disney dark age — were a tumultuous time, when the seemingly infallible studio couldn't seem to find its footing. For the first time since the era of silent film, the company was in dire straits. And it wasn't until the 1989 release of The Little Mermaid that Disney reemerged as the filmmaking leviathan we now know it to be.

The Downfall Of Disney

In the wake of Walt Disney's death in 1966, the studio faced the end of the Disney Golden Age. People began to fear that the prolific animation powerhouse might have lost some of its trademark magic. Disney still had a back catalogue stacked to the brim with animated classics, but its new releases failed to reach the critical or commercial success of their predecessors. In short, the ailing studio was on the cusp of financial collapse.

In the late 1970s, things became so bad that the Disney board of directors was inches away from planning a takeover that would dissolve the company and sell it for parts to eager investors.

Walt Disney's nephew Roy E. Disney resigned from his executive post and saw to replacing then-CEO Ronald William Miller with Paramount execs Frank Wells and Michael Eisner, who in turn brought on Jeffrey Katzenberg to head the motion picture division. Although Disney would still endure years of cinematic flops, the bold upheaval and restructuring was a pivotal moment leading to what would become the Disney renaissance.

Heavy Competition From a Former Employee

Outside of Disney, former employee Don Bluth and nine other House of Mouse animators past were making headway with their latest undertaking, Don Bluth Productions.

The studio's first movie, The Secret of NIMH (1982), did OK at the box office, but was lauded by critics, further exacerbating Disney's pains. In the years that followed, Bluth and co. created others like An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988).

In response to Bluth's success with a darker animation style, Disney released movies like The Black Cauldron (1985) (which was, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made), The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and Oliver & Company (1988). These movies were box office flops and still represent a dark period for Disney.

Just when people thought Disney feature animations may become a thing of the past, the studio came out with their enchanting take on the Hans Christian Andersen classic The Little Mermaid.

The Birth Of A New Era Of Animation

With the addition of new animators, plus composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, Disney was eventually able to reignite its creative spark and produce a work of genius. Menken said in an interview with Yahoo! Movies that Disney had a clear objective from the start:

“They really wanted a return to the golden era of animated musicals. Our job was to give a more contemporary musical theatre spin and yet still keep that same sense of timelessness and innocence.”

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, The Little Mermaid told the story of Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson), a beguiling young mermaid who wants nothing more than to shed her tail and walk on land with her true love.

The Little Mermaid arrived in theaters on November 17, 1989 and was met with instantaneous praise. With a $40 million budget, it earned $84 million domestically and more than $211 million worldwide.

With the help of Menken and Ashman, the fantastical musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale was clearly reminiscent of Walt Disney's earlier works; it breathed new life into Disney and ushered in the studio's rebirth.

Maureen Donley, a producer and production manager for Disney, stated that the film helped the company realize its full potential and angle itself accordingly:

“Animation had the potential to reach way beyond some 'kiddie' demographic. For an animated movie to make that huge of a cultural impact and resonate for so many people on so many different levels, it moves it way out of it being just a cartoon.”

Seeing the financial success and creative benefits of The Little Mermaid, Disney was once again willing to take chances on big-scale animated musicals, thus marking the start of the Disney renaissance.

The slate that followed consisted of some of the most beloved films and characters including: Beauty and the Beast (1991) — which will be released as a live-action film in 2017 — Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996).

Today, Disney remains unrivaled in animation and now live-action ventures. After the acquisition of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, Disney has extended its reach into enough tentpole films and franchises to ensure its lasting impact on the film and entertainment industry. Many even assert that this trajectory into the upper echelon of animation and filmmaking would have never happened had it not been for The Little Mermaid.

Although some might feel wary of Disney's ambitious live-action roster, if The Little Mermaid could have a similar affect as it did in 1989, it's seems worth the risk.

What is your favorite Disney movie? Let us know in the comments section.

(Source: Yahoo UK Movies)


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