(1989)5Derek ArmstrongWelcome back, Disney. After numerous colossal missteps by its animation department during the 20 years since The Jungle Book, arguably its last unqualified hit (though some would support The Rescuers from 1977), the studio realized the key to regaining relevance would be an old-fashioned romantic fantasy that would seize the hearts of young girls. And did it ever -- the target audience looked up to Ariel so completely that numerous dolls, pets, and babies coming into being circa 1990 were given her name. Of course, having been mired in dark and expensive misfires like The Black Cauldron for much of the previous decades, Disney didn't have all the details right just yet. For one, a number of critics carped that Ariel was little more than a weakly developed pretty face who relied too heavily on men. The characterization of Ursula, the imaginative but utterly grotesque sea monster villain, added some fuel to the fire. But gender bias has been a knock on Disney for years, and The Little Mermaid boasts enough other strengths for this complaint to fade into the background. Chief among them is the odyssey of aquatic colors that brings bursting life to Ariel's underwater family of happy fish and crustaceans. The two Oscar-nominated songs, "Under the Sea" (which won) and "Kiss the Girl," became the standard bearers for the grand-scale production numbers in numerous Disney films to come. In fact, the delightfully accented lead vocals by Sam Wright (as Sebastian the crab) are so intoxicating, and the corresponding visuals so rich, that these evolve beyond classic soundtrack songs to the level of classic songs, period. They alone justify a viewing of the film that revived one of the 20th century's most powerful enterprises.