grew up during the so-called Disney Renaissance,
a highly lucrative time in Disney animation
that began in 1989 and lasted for about a
decade. This period marked the final days
of when animators still sketched on paper,
an intimate technique that arguably gives
everything a warmer quality than drawing on
an impersonal computer. These were the years
that carried on the legacy of past Disney
classics with beautifully crafted art and
unforgettable music, giving new life to age-old
stories. These were the years before the traditional
animation studios closed down and corporate
greed took over.
that same time, there was a renaissance of
sorts happening inside of the Music department
at my elementary school. Every May, we had
the Spring Show, a three-night (mandatory)
dance and song recital, complete with costumes
and a band accompaniment. Thanks to these
wonderful Disney songs coming from the minds
of musical geniuses like Alan Menken, Howard
Ashman, and Tim Rice, we now had to sing/dutifully
recite the lyrics to whatever hit Disney animated
movie was playing in theaters. I remember
"Be Our Guest" from Beauty and
the Beast was one number that we practiced
every week for two straight months, right
up until the time when the volunteer moms
were fitting our little waiter suits with
handkerchiefs. They then turned their attention
to us and painted cheek make-up on our unhappy
faces. Yes, even the boys! (Those make-up
moms were cruel; the more I fought, the harder
they laughed until I gave up and stood helpless,
pawing at my face afterwards like a dog with
an endless itch.)
the tiring lessons, the embarrassing waiter
outfits, and the unhealthy smattering of rouge,
it was inevitable that at the precise moment
when we lined up in single-file outside of
the gymnasium, none of us could make our minds
remember a goddamned word past the chorus.
Some shrugged and went back to caring for
their Tamagotchis, while others just confused
each other more with their own take on how
they thought Lumiere, the candelabra, sang
to Chip, the teacup. As for myself, I was
still trying to rub off the make-up those
horrible women put on me.
in our stomach, as well as Dorrito's, M&M's
and whatever other toxic sugar the parents
brought into the classroom, we'd all nervously
waddle through the backdoors of the night
and into the hot white spotlight of the stage,
murmuring the verses and belting out the chorus,
mimicking the dance routine of the person
in front of us because they had a better view
of our Music teacher doing the choreography
offstage. (She was a large lady, so her moves
couldn't be missed.)
torture us more, these nightmarish kid Disney
renditions were all professionally videotaped
so that copies could later be sold to our
parents, forever memorializing the horrors
until the roll of tape magically disappeared
whenever relatives came over (sometimes never
to be found again). I remember having to watch
as the camera zoomed in on me, and I'm mouthing
so wordlessly that I appear to be grazing
on air, or impersonating Pac-Man.
the act was over and the song butchered until
the final painful dying note, I'd be so drained
that when I returned to the classroom, I'd
fall fast asleep with my friend's Game Gear
still in my hands. I would stay that way until
a teacher woke me up to take me to the final
curtain call or my parents gave up, cut their
professional video tape loses, and just carried
me into the car.
never let those performances take away from
my appreciation and love of the movies, however.
Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast,
The Lion King
these are not only
still some of my favorite animated movies,
they are some of my favorite movies of all-time
from any genre. But there's one film from
this era that I love the most, one in particular
that I never grow tired of, one that I'll
never stop (poorly) singing.
Little Mermaid, the film that ushered
in the start of the Disney Renaissance, is
my favorite Disney movie. There, I said it.
always had a connection to the sea; there's
just something romantic and soothing about
watching waves lap up against a rocky jetty,
about the spraying salt air that makes your
eyes heavier and your heart lighter. It was
that relationship, borne from long Jersey
Shore summers, which first piqued my interest
in the movie. As much as Ariel wanted to walk
on land, I wanted to swim in the sea and join
in a crustacean conga line already in progress.
(The farther off coast from Atlantic City's
floating brown foam, the better the conga.)
Little Mermaid was an idea that began
a long time ago at Disney. In fact, Walt Disney,
himself, worked on the project for a while
before it was put on hold. According to the
documentary on the Special Edition DVD, the
original idea for the film was darker and
more fitting to the ending of Hans Christian
Anderson's fairytale. In the original tale,
the Prince does not marry the Little Mermaid,
so the sea witch's curse cannot be lifted,
and the only way for her to survive is by
killing him. When she refuses to do this,
she dissolves into sea foam.
is one change that I'm glad Disney made. I
would've seen Ariel's body drifting along
every time I vacationed down the shore, and
then I probably wouldn't be writing this article
cannot possibly bring up The Little Mermaid
without dredging up its whole phallic controversy.
A concerned parent at the time complained
that one of King Triton's castle spirals seen
in the background of the theatrical poster
and VHS cover looked startlingly similar to
that of a penis. Why is it always the mothers
who find the hidden dicks? Why can't they
be looking for hidden Mickeys with their children?
What would Freud say?
Ursula's hand is reaching towards the offending
spiral doesn't help any, her eyes burning
with a fiery desire for glittering golden
cock. At least, I'm sure that's how some stay-at-home
moms interpreted it.
woman, Michelle Couch of Mesa, Arizona, complained
about the VHS cover to a grocery store chain
called Bashas. The LA Times reported
the story on July 27, 1990.
supermarket chain has pulled copies of the
animated movie "The Little Mermaid"
off its shelves because a customer complained
that artwork on the cover contains an offensive
of the complaint, we've pulled the tape pending
investigation," said Becca Anderson,
a spokeswoman for Bashas' grocery stores.
The tape remained off the shelves Thursday
and it was uncertain when it would return,
second woman, this time from Arkansas, named
Janet Gilmer actually filed a lawsuit against
Disney several years later. This is an excerpt
taken from the court documents: "Specifically,
plaintiff alleges that the front cover of
the plastic case in which "The Little
Mermaid" was distributed in 1989 &
1990 contains a depiction of an erect penis
on one of the spires of the castle drawn between
the two main characters." The case was
a result of the complaints, Disney circumcised
the castle's controversial undersea architecture,
while the DVD re-release removed the castle
third and final renaissance to talk about
is Disney's partnership with Capcom, consummated
in 1988 with the publishing of a game called
Mickey Mousecapade. Primitive and plain
not fun, Hudson Soft originally developed
this adventure game in Japan.
first in-house developed Disney game came
in 1990 with DuckTales,
a classic pogo stick platformer that many
players still hold dear to this day.
in 1990, Rescue
Rangers, my personal favorite game
to come out of the Disney/Capcom partnership,
had gamers going through platforming levels
cooperatively as Chip or Dale.
Fact: Capcom used
to have a tip line with game counselors available
from 8 AM to 5 PM PST (408-727-1665). None
of those calls were about The Little Mermaid.
next game, Adventures in the Magic Kingdom,
based on rides in the Disneyland theme park
(even though the cart/box artwork clearly
shows Cinderella's Castle at Disney World),
covered more than anyone on the Internet has
or ever will, including two
prototypes. The less said, the less said.
Little Mermaid followed in July of 1991.
It's considered to be the first Disney Princess
game, recognition that you would think conflicts
with a genuinely well-made gaming experience.
Miraculously, there's nothing here that looks
down on girl gamers or make boys never want
to play. The Little Mermaid does the
unthinkable, and proves that movie-based games
don't have to be entirely empty exploitative
capsules for which to market aggressively
until the Hollywood advertising hype dies
two years after the movie, you could say that
this game doesn't rely on any of that media
hype at all; The Little Mermaid is
simply a fun game that anyone can really pick
up and enjoy. What a concept!
game does not follow the events of the movie,
but rather picks up before Ariel's about to
get hitched to her lover boy, Eric. She finds
out that evil bloated sea bitch, Ursula, is
mucking things up again, so Ariel bails the
sailor and dives back under the sea.
place of platforming elements, the player
maneuvers Ariel around the ocean's obstacles,
through coral reefs and haunted shipwrecks,
and the relaxed controls give off the impression
of gliding through the water. (Holding down
B will make Ariel swim faster.)
times, Ariel can hop out of the sea to reach
items on dry land, and the controls appropriately
change to feeling as if she's flopping around
the deck of a boat like a fish. It's all rather
initiative and what we've come to demand from
a Capcom NES game.
attacks by throwing air bubbles at enemies
to trap them. She can then go underwater bowling
using other incoming fishy baddies as her
pins. Fish-trapped bubbles can be thrown not
only horizontally, but also vertically and
diagonally, sort of like the bouncy balls
you pick up in Rescue Rangers. (Where
this endless supply of air bubbles comes from,
I cannot say with any certainty. My only hope
is that Prince Eric takes full advantage of
Ariel's time away to head to a seaside pharmacy
and stock up on Gas-X. Girl's got serious
gastro problems, and that honey's moon is
going to make the honeymoon real nasty if
he doesn't take some serious precautions.)
has plenty problems of her own. It seems that
Ursula has taken control over all of the ocean's
inhabitants, and so they're all out to get
her. Fish are fickle creatures.
DENIZENS OF THE DEEP
Mine: Momentarily stall them with your
bubble attack, or put them out of commission
with a conch shell. Just don't get spiked,
Ariel. Horny fishermen at the pier will
supply you with all the free alcohol you
could ever want. But if they ask you to
hold their fishing poles, don't do it! It's
an old seaman's trick!
Underwater Mine: Comes reigning down
at you from Ursula's cauldron.
Fish: The tamest of the fish, these
guys swim along in a straight path, minding
their own business. Tell these pacifists
where to shove their aquatic Amnesty International
Fish: Watch out! Some blues will attack
if you approach them. A fast bubble trap
will do the trick.
Fish: Green fish appear during the shark
boss fight. These greens aren't aggressive,
making them easy to pick up and murder.
Blue Fish: Ursula's fish minions; these
guys do nothing out of the ordinary but
move to and fro with the changing tides.
Fish: This fiery fish will charge when
you swim nearby. Blow out his flame with
a splash, and chow down if you like your
Fish: Approach, and they'll speed ahead.
Block Fish: Fresh, never frozen, they
ain'twait until the ice thaws to wrap
them up with a bubble for a speedy shipment
back to the frozen section.
It's not a total fluke that your attacks
will only freeze this flathead for a few
seconds. Cool Hand Fluke can take a beating
and keep on ticking.
These shrimp will dash at you. Trap them
in a bubble to fry 'em, and then dip 'em
in some cocktail sauce.
Crab: You've heard of hermit crabs.
Well, these are helmet crabs. You can't
Bubble Bobble these guys and send
them off to the fish market; all you can
hope to do is stop them for a bit with your
tail attack. A conch shell, though, will
permanently knock their blocks off.
Exorcise these haunted halibut by splashing
off their disguise and bubbling the blubber
butts beneath the bed sheets.
This sucker will shoot pellets at you. If
you have two red power pearls, you can wrap
this squid up for bait with a splash from
your mer-tail. I wish I had a mer-tail.
Fatty: While this big fatty sweetly
dreams about his next meal, he'll breathe
out tiny fishies from his mouth. Come too
close, and the cause of his sleep apnea
will attack. Kiss him goodnight with a charged
bubble or two conch hits, and then take
care of the little ones. Better yet, stay
far back and shoot a charged bubble to be
done with them all. They gotta learn, and
Ariel's gonna teach 'em!
Green Seahorse: Get too close and you'll
spook this horsy. Giddy up!
Green Seahorse: See above, except they're
allowed to tell jokes and say words that
are forbidden to the light green seahorses.
Seahorse: The most abundant seahorse,
seen in a number of levels and during the
first fight against Ursula.
Starfish: Starfish will shoot for the
stars, then come falling down all around
you. Your tail attack can slow their rise
and fall, and a fish bubble will send them
crashing. Sadistic thing to try out: Hold
a conch over the area where the starfish
come out of, and wait for the
great starfish genocide to begin.
Starfish: Also seen during your first
fight against Ursula. She's got a whole
blue theme going on. I admire that.
Urchin: Growing right out of the sand,
these bottom feeders don't bother anyone,
but a few contain little fishies that'll
go to town on poor Ariel if she's not careful.
Sadistic thing to try out #2: Pick up a
conch shell, hold it directly above a sea
urchin's opening, and wait. Instant fish
Mouth Ass: This fish will do a swim-by,
scattering four tiny fishies from his mouth.
I'm positive that he, in conjunction with
Suge Knight, killed Tupac.
These freaky fish could learn a thing or
two about manners. Somebody needs to explain
the concept behind "swapping spit"
to them, because Ariel's not impressed.
Make them drool permanently with a splash
from a fish bubble or conch shell.
As a rule to live by, stay away from all
crabs not on a seafood restaurant's menu.
Speaking of, I love those seafood rolls.
You know, the bread with the stuff inside?
I'd make a meal out of those alone.
Gill: These tiny fish fellows travel
in schools and can't be picked up as bubbles.
Unfortunate Soul: These sea creatures
make for good foreshadowing in the room
before your battle with Ursula. You can't
hurt them, but they can hurt you. Lose,
and you may just join their numbers.
dinglehoppers and snarfblatts give you bonus
points at the end of the level, and the hearts
let you take extra bumps." -from The
Little Mermaid instruction manual, or why
my new dream is to find a writing job where
I can put together such wonderful sentences.
bubbling, Ariel can also use her tail as a shovel
to dig up more shells and hidden items on the
seafloor. Exploring sandy bottoms or nooks and
crannies by throwing fish bubbles can result
in finding hearts for extra health or forks
and pipes for bonus points. Essentially, if
there's sand or a squarish hole somewhere in
the environment, dig with your tail or throw
a fish-trapped bubble in the hole to reveal
a prize. Don't overthink it; this is a Disney
love pearls, but in the case of Ariel, they
give her power and special abilities! I don't
know if that's the best message to be sending
to little girls, that jewelry will make them
better people. Then again, I'm a guy, and
maybe I'm only trying to look out for what
I love: my wallet. Unlike this redheaded mermaid,
I don't come across too many treasure chests
in my day-to-day life. Although there was
that one time they found a guy's body chopped
up in a chest in the Schuylkill River. No
are two kinds of pearls to be found: red and
green. There's a maximum upgrade of three
per color type.
Pearls: Strengthen Ariel's butt bubble
to more easily ensnare fishies or even
Pearls: Expand dat ass radius.
Ariel dies, she loses all of her collected
pearl powers. This should be incentive enough
to keep both eyes open while you're playing.
are a total of five levels in the game,
each one relatively short: Sea of Coral,
Sunken Ship, Sea of Ice, Undersea Volcano,
and Ursula's Castle.
don't know about you, but I love myself
a good ghost level. Unfortunately, Sunken
Ship doesn't so much deliver the boos as
it makes me thoroughly depressed. Are fish
with white bed sheets ghosts or the byproducts
of offshore dumping? If I were Ariel, and
these things were floating around me, would
I call the Ghostbusters, the EPA, or both?
If nothing else, these "ghosts"
remind me of the poor fish that become stuck
in plastic six-pack holes. There's no mouth
hole! They cannot possibly survive! We all
benefit from clean water, no more than fake
ghost fish. What I'm trying to say is, support
the EPA, and boycott the corporate white
bed sheet dumpers.
you know that Japan is an volcanic island
arc? Duck between the hot balls of magma
in the Undersea Volcano stage or become
fried mermaid. Did you know that in Japan
they eat mermaid?
levels are all fairly basic and don't require
much discussion, except maybe for the final
stage. Inside of Ursula's Castle, keep going
until you see a doorway with flashing eyes.
Enter by pressing A. When you're in the next
room, press A again. You're now under a block
of ice. Press A once more to go into the room
where you'll be able to move forward. The
rest of this level is, like the ones before
it, pretty straightforward.
the end of each level is a boss, one of the
game's high points.
the Shark: (4 hits) The bigger they
are, the more delicious they taste. Shark
meat is expensive. Throw some fish-trapped
bubbles his way, and take your meal to
and Jetsam: (6 hits, 3 hits each) These
slippery morays pop in and out of portholes.
Sometimes they'll psych you out and hide
before you can get to them, and other times
they'll be brazen enough to charge across
the screen. Wait for their eyes to appear,
and get to a safe distance. Bubble the falling
critters, and serve up some crab cakes.
Show those bastards that Ariel knows how
to do the underwater electric slide. Boogie
Brimley : (4 hits) The only land-bound
boss in the game, this isn't the Seal who
sings "Kiss From a Rose" and is
married to Heidi Klum. No, this one kicks
conch shells and ice block fish into arctic
waters. Totally different. You weren't on
the Batman Forever soundtrack, asshole!
Give it up! Toss the shells back at him
to win. Actually, the more I look at the
sprite, the more I think he's a walrus.
If so, I take back what I said, Wilford.
(5 hits) Fish-boy here thinks he's a big
shot. He'll wave his little baton to order
underwater spikes and blue fish to fire
at you from the shipwreck's canons. The
spikes will pop your fish bubbles, so avoid
them while you're aiming for Tangchaikovsky's
giant snout (and ego).
(6 hits) It's a showdown with the original
octomom! Don't get distracted by her amble
cleavage, Ariel; Ursula will summon white
sparks from her underwater cauldron. These
will turn into seahorses, blue fish, starfish,
or underwater spikes, so don't be too quick
to pick one up before seeing what you're
getting. Bubble up the seahorses or blue
fish, and send them flying upward to her
fat face. Alternatively, you can serve up
the bubbles by swimming to her mouth. Now
that's what I call service with a smile!
Red Lobster called, and they want your seaweed-loving
Final Form: (7 hits) The Sea Bitch is
back! Big Momma wants more. Time to give
it to her all over again. Ursula has King
Triton's trident (the golden staff, not
the aspartame gum) and so can now control
the tides. Watch the kelp at the bottom
of the screen to determine the change in
the direction of the water. The white fish
here only swim in straight paths, so they
won't give you much to worry about if you
keep track of the tide's movement. Pound
Ursula seven times to make her pay for The
Little Mermaid II and III. There
was no need for a straight-to-video sequel,
Disney, much less two! No need!
Fact: Inside of certain Disney/Capcom game
instruction manuals was a mail-in coupon for
a free red "hip pack" (fanny pack)
and $10 off The Disney Channel if you were a
new subscriber. All you needed were UPCs dissected
from two Disney/Capcom video game boxes and
$3.25 for postage and handling. The offer expired
January 1, 1992. Don't sweat it. Thing was ugly.
score, as is often the case with Capcom games
of this era, hits all the right notes. From
Sunken Ship's hypnotically catchy and upbeat
refrain to the frantic tune that plays during
the boss rounds, The Little Mermaid has
some marvelous melodies that do justice to the
original source material. A version of the timeless
"Under the Sea" song rounds things
out and makes for a nice nod as the only adaptation
of the brilliant, award-winning film soundtrack.
I'm a bit bummed that more tracks weren't brought
over from the movie, but if I had to only pick
one song, Sebastian's little Caribbean ditty
would be the most obvious choice.
hard to believe that I once thought of Yahoo
Japan Auctions as a more rational place than
eBay in terms of prototype pricing. That all
changed this summer after I witnessed a Monster
Party Famicom proto reach $6,000. In
this time of worldwide recession and unemployment,
one Japanese gamer sent out a bold statement:
No matter the circumstances, Nintendo nerdcore
will never die. I bow to you, Chancellor Cool.
really, I'm no better. In that same summer I
saw a Famicom Capcom prototype come up of Disney's
The Little Mermaid, or Ningyo Hime,
as the game is called in Japan. I figured none
of these Japanese collectors would be interested
in a "girl's game." I couldn't believe
that any of these collectors are, in fact, girls.
was wrong. They're girls, or very sick men.
the auction was going so well, too. The price
stayed at around 4,900 yen, about $60 bucks,
up until the last day. Everything went to Hell
after that. If you're not familiar with how
Yahoo works, unlike eBay, bidders cannot snipe
on auctions at the last minute. Instead, the
auction automatically adds on time if a new
bid comes in at the end. Three new bidders arrived
during the final hours, one of them being the
under bidder on the $6K prototype, and I broke
the first rule of Internet auctions: Don't get
into bidding wars, stupid.
bids later (I kid you not), I had won the fight,
but the Japanesethe Japanese had won the
war. You see, under the sea is where I've finally
drowned my sanity. I refuse to acknowledge the
final price, but believe you me I'm still paying
for the game in shame.
Fact: If you look closely, the Japanese
game's retail box uses the original poster art,
making this the one and only example of a Famicom
jacked these photos of the retail game's front/back
box from another Yahoo Japan auction to make
me feel a little bit better. I equate this with
going up to the bowl of complementary mints
at the end of an expensive dinner in a fancy
restaurant and filling your pockets to the brim.
In the end, it's an empty gesture that you'll
soon regret because you'll probably forget about
the mints once you get in the car, and so you'll
wind up putting your pants in the washing machine
later when you get home with them still inside.
That's how I feel. My pants have mint stuck
to them now, and I never even got to eat one.
prototype left from Tokyo, JP and traveled to
Chiba, JP then got rice in Shanghai, CN, shot
a moose in Anchorage, AL, and got robbed in
Newark, NJ. Such exotic locales! And Newark!
Finally the game arrived to me in Philadelphia,
PA. Hey, it's a step up from Newark, at least.
white cartridge has a matching white label,
sadly browning with age. The label shows the
printed logo of the Japanese game title and
a mysterious "T-30" is handwritten
in the corner.
aren't any labels or writing on the back of
the prototype, just the cartridge's bellybutton.
Famicom prototypes tend to have these official
company stickers either on the top (as is pictured
above) or on the sides of the cartridge. I suppose
the stickers are meant to deter people from
opening up the cart. Famicom cartridges are
a pain to open, anyway, with their tab-locking
shells, so I didn't need a sticker to keep my
fingers away. After breaking the bank, the last
thing I want to do is break the plastic.
pic. Blow on it, Japanese collectors. She's
the video to watch a quick and dirty playthrough
of the prototype.
Several changes can be found in the tile
graphics. What you're seeing are only a
few examples. I would list more but my eyes
were starting to cross.
If you thought the game offered little challenge
before, now the prototype has the option
of making Ariel completely invincible. Pressing
Start on the prototype title screen will
bring up Normal and No Damage modes. I've
heard of debug menus in prototypes before,
but, come on! The Little Mermaid?!
You could beat this game with your eyes
submerged in an aquarium full of saltwater,
burning, blurry sensation and all. I almost
feel bad for Ursula.
can access this same cheat in both the retail
and North American
versions, but only after inputting a special
code. Press and hold Right, B, and A on
the second controller and then push Start
on the first controller to have these options
only difference? The cursor arrow is positioned
closer to the text in the final retail game.
(In the prototype, the arrow "becomes
adjusted" to normal positioning once
you push the Right button on the D-pad.)
The Sea Ad Finem
The "Under the Sea" title screen
melody continues for the entire duration
of the opening cut-scene. An entirely different
song plays in the final retail version.
Me Some Space
First cut-scene of the game, and already
we have issues. Spacing issues.
Me Some Space #2
For some reason, the prototype text isn't
spaced out as much as the final Famicom
game. This is another example of that.
Me Some Space #3/In A Hurry
This last scene in the opening shows more
of the same spatial irregularities, and
in the prototype, the game doesn't wait
for you to push a button to start the first
level as in the final Famicom retail versionthe
prototype automatically begins without waiting
for the player's prompt. In the immortal
words of Stephanie Tanner, "How rude!"
Me Some Space #4
More changes in text space. Not exciting
stuff, I know, but I have to report these
findings. As a geek, it's my sworn duty.
I took a pledge.
Me Some Space #5
A small difference exists in the cut-scene
after the walrus boss. There's less of a
gap between the words in the prototype version.
Bet you didn't see that coming!
Me Some Space #6
Same as before: Beat the shipwreck boss,
and the cut-scene has less spacing between
Me Some Space #7
You'll encounter more spatial differences
in the cut-scene after your first run-in
Me Some Space #8
During the ending, there's, yet again, more
strange spacing, with some words fitting
on other screens.
A Hurry #2
In the prototype, the text comes in as King
Triton's zapping Ariel back to human form
again. The cut-scene quickly goes on to
the next screen so you only catch a fleeting
glimpse of Ariel naked on the rock.
the final retail game, more of the text
appears in the same scene, but the player
has to push a button in order to trigger
Triton's perviness. (That's your grown daughter,
man. At least wait until she's waist-up
in the water. King Creeper right there.)
A Hurry #3
During the next part of the ending sequence,
in addition to yet even more changes in
the spacing, the prototype doesn't wait
for the player's input to go on to the next
scene; just as before, the game zips right
through the cut-scene.
must have realized that little kids wouldn't
possibly be able to read that fast, so they
added button prompts in the final retail
game. These, in turn, make the cut-scenes
a lot like reading a child's storybook,
with the arrows telling you to turn the
page when you're done.
Me Some Space #9
Oh, for the love of! I'm ending this.