By CAINE GARDNER
In the day and age of prequels, it's not surprising that Disney would throw their hat in the ring with The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning.
The tale is the story of how music has been banned in the underwater utopia of Atlantica and how a spirited young mermaid named Ariel brings the wonder back to her home.
The film starts a little dark for a Disney flick as we learn the fate of the beautiful Queen Athena and why music has been banned. Ariel encounters Flounder and eventually makes her way to an underwater music club, headlined by none other than Sebastian.
Shortly after this, new villainess Marina Del Rey reports to King Triton about the club and the gang is thrown in the slammer. This enables Marina to take over Sebastian's role, giving her the opportunity to oversee the actions of Ariel and her sisters.
After springing Sebastian and Flounder, they flee the kingdom and once away Ariel finds her mother's beloved music box King Triton threw away in one of the opening scenes of the film.
Ariel is convinced she can change her father's heart once he's seen the music box, but on her way back to the palace Marina confronts her. Marina sends her eels after Ariel and when it looks like they will take out Sebastian, Ariel intervenes and is knocked unconscious.
Triton discovers the music box and upon opening it he begins to sing "Athena's Song" and Ariel awakes to her father's singing.
Not as charming as the original, "Ariel's Beginning" is a great children's film. The opening musical number is Sebastian singing, "Jump in the line" and when it hits the screen, it really gets things moving.
The visuals are incredible for a straight to DVD feature, and the new characters are wonderful additions.
Back is Jodi Benson as Ariel and Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian. The movie would work on its own, but the performances of these two actors really bring it to life. Two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field voices Marina in a performance that is a hysterical as it is evil. Marina doesn't come close to the original villainess Ursula, but her laughs are a welcomed addition.
I was also happy to see voice acting heavyweights Jim Cummings and Rob Paulson. Cummings voices Triton and is the force behind character such as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. Paulsen plays Ink Spot and Swifty and is most famous for his performances as Pinky in Pinky and the Brain and Carl in Jimmy Neutron. He also was the voice of Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea.
One thing Disney knows how to do is provide some cool bonus features. On this disk, there are deleted scenes, music montages, games and some behind-the-scenes featurettes.
One game little girls will love is the Mermaid Discovery Vanity Game. The game lets you see items in each of the sisters' vanities and is a neat little feature. Once you find Flounder, you're able to play a game that let's you know which Little Mermaid character you're most like. Turns out I'm a dead ringer for Andrina -- things could be worse.
Final Cut: Ariel's Beginning is a solid film that every little girl, as well as some boys will devour. A simple story arc along with some upbeat musical numbers makes this DVD a real treat. First time director Peggy Holmes brings a lively story to the small screen and I hope we see more out of her in the future.
3 out of 4 stars
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning
Music and More: Disney Song Selection
Games and Activities: Mermaid Discovery Vanity Game
Backstage Disney: Behind the Scenes featurette and sneak peek at The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea on Broadway.