was fortunate enough to have grown up during the so-called Disney Renaissance,
a highly creative and lucrative time in The Walt Disney Company's animation history
that began in 1989 and lasted for about a
decade. This period marked the final days when animators still drew on paper. They were the years
that continued the company's tradition of giving age-old stories new life with beautifully crafted art and
the same time, there was another renaissance of
sorts happening inside of the Music department
at my elementary school. Every May, we had
the Spring Show, a three-night
dance and song recital, complete with costumes
and a band accompaniment. It was mandatory. 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 to when the volunteer moms
were fitting us into our precious waiter suits with
handkerchiefs and painting makeup on our unhappy
little faces. (Those makeup
moms were cruel; the more I fought, the harder
they laughed until I gave up and stood helpless,
pawing at my cheeks afterwards like a dog with
an endless itch.)
the tiring lessons, the embarrassing
outfits, and the endless smatterings of rouge, at the precise moment
when we lined up in a single file outside of
the gymnasium, none of us would ever be able to
remember a goddamn 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 girly junk those
horrible women put on me.
in our stomachs, as well as Doritos, M&M's,
and whatever other sugary foods that parents
fed us to keep us awake, we'd all nervously
waddle through the back doors
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 who was doing all of the choreography
offstage. She was a large woman, so her moves
couldn't be missed.
torture us more, these nightmarish kid Disney
renditions were professionally videotaped
so that copies could later be sold to our
parents, forever memorializing the horrors
until the cassette tapes magically disappeared
whenever relatives or friends came over (sometimes never
to be found again). I remember having to watch,
as the camera zoomed in on me, myself mouthing
so wordlessly that I appeared to be grazing
on air or doing my best Pac-Man impression.
I had butchered all of the songs, 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 to the car to go home.
never let those shameful performances take away from
my appreciation and love of the movies, however.
Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast,
The Lion King are
still some of my favorite movies of all time. 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 singing poorly.
Little Mermaid, the film that ushered
in the start of the Disney Renaissance, is
my favorite Disney movie. There, I said it.
always felt 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, born 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 in keeping with the ending of Hans Christian
Andersen's fairy tale. In the original story,
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, 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
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?
Ursula's hand is reaching towards the offending
spiral doesn't help any, her eyes burning
with a fiery desire for the glittering golden
Michelle Couch of Mesa, Arizona
witnessed the offending cover at 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. The following 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
final renaissance that I want to talk about
is Disney's partnership with Capcom, which was consummated
in 1988 with the publishing of a Nintendo Entertainment System game called
Mickey Mousecapade. Hudson Soft originally developed
the 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, one of my personal favorites,
had gamers going through platforming levels
cooperatively as Chip and Dale.
Fact: Capcom used
to have a tip line with game counselors available
from 8 AM to 5 PM PST (408-727-1665). I'm positive that none
of the calls concerned The Little Mermaid.
next game in the partnership was Adventures in the Magic Kingdom,
which was based on rides at the Disneyland theme park.
Little Mermaid followed in July of 1991.
It's considered to be the first Disney Princess
game, a distinction that you would think might conflict
with a genuinely well-made gaming experience.
Miraculously, this game does not look
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 of the Hollywood advertising hype machine.
two years after the movie, you could say that
the game doesn't rely on any of that media
hype at all, actually. 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 is about to
get hitched to her lover boy, Eric. She finds
out that evil bloated sea hag Ursula is
mucking things up again, so Ariel bails the
sailor and dives back under the sea once again.
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
intuitive and what we've come to expect from
a Capcom Nintendo Entertainment System title.
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
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. The fishermen at the pier will
try to offer you free booze. 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: Same as above, except they're
allowed to tell jokes and say words that
the light green seahorses can't.
Seahorse: The most common of the seahorses,
they can be spotted 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. Here's a 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 commence.
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.
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 whimsical 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 sometimes reveal 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 win
a prize. Don't overanalyze 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: Strengthens Ariel's butt bubble
to more easily ensnare fishies or even
Pearls: Expands Ariel's rump 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 mermaids?
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 them 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, you imposter!
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 everything that 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. They
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 at 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!
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 gum with aspartame) 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 straight-to-video sequels.
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 two dissected UPCs
from 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.
game's score 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've been my choice as well.
hard to believe that I once thought you could get good prototype deals on Yahoo!
Japan Auctions. That all
changed the summer after I witnessed a Monster
Party Family Computer prototype reach $6,000.
really, I'm no better. In that same summer I
saw a Family Computer 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 will automatically add minutes 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.
I kid you not, 45
bids later, 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 Family Computer
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 and traveled to
Chiba, then picked up rice in Shanghai, shot
a moose in Anchorage, AL, and got robbed in
Newark. Such exotic locales! And Newark!
Finally, the game arrived to me in Philadelphia. Hey, at least it's a step up from Newark.
white cartridge has a matching white label that is slowly
browning with age. The label shows the
printed logo of the Japanese game title with
a mysterious "T-30" handwritten
in the corner.
aren't any labels or writing on the back of
the prototype, just the cartridge's belly button.
Family Computer prototypes typically have official
company stickers either on the top or on the sides. I suppose
the stickers were designed to deter people from
opening up the games. Family Computer cartridges are
a pain to open, anyway, with their tab-locking
shells, so I don't need stickers 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 nerds. She's
If you thought the game offered little challenge
before, wait until you get a load of this: The prototype has the option
of making Ariel completely invincible. Pressing
Start on the prototype's 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 at this point.
can enable the same cheat in both the retail
and the 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 the option
only difference is that 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.)
Me Some Space
It's the first cutscene 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 Family Computer
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 Family Computer retail version; the
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 can be noticed in the cutscene
after the walrus boss. There's less of a
gap between the words in the prototype version.
I bet you didn't see that one coming!
Me Some Space #6
Same as before: Beat the shipwreck boss,
and the cutscene has less spacing between
Me Some Space #7
You'll encounter more spatial differences
in the cutscene 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 appears as King
Triton's zapping Ariel back to human form
again. The cutscene quickly goes on to
the next screen so you only catch a fleeting
glimpse of Ariel stretched out 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
the peep show. (That's your grown daughter,
man. At least wait until she's waist up
in the water.)
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 cutscene.
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. They, in turn, make the cutscenes
feel 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.