Desperate to see what life is like on dry land and hopelessly in love with a mortal, princess Ariel, the youngest royal mermaid makes a deal with the evil sea witch Ursula to trade her beautiful voice for legs. However, she must claim the prince's heart or the deal will be broken and she will lose everything.
It may be the film which kicked off the Mousedom's animation renaissance, but in the face of the higher profile, classic status of Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, The Little Mermaid tends to get overshadowed. Which is a pity, because it's a charmer of a movie, boasting all the ingredients that make a Disney experience something to treasure yet free of all the politically correct, formulaic elements that have bogged down the more recent productions.
Set in a cavernous, beautiful underwater world, Mermaid dips into Danish folklore (or Hans Christian Andersen, at least), and comes back with the flame-haired Ariel (Benson), the lippy, troublesome youngest daughter of sea king Triton (not quite how Andersen envisaged it, presumably). Desperate for a ticket to the mainland, Ariel trades her voice to Sea Witch Ursula (Pat Carroll) for a pair of legs, and heads off to win the heart of the pearly-toothed Prince Eric (Barnes), whom she rescued from a vicious storm, lest she run the risk of becoming Ursula's prisoner forever...
Made before Disney started cranking their cartoons out at an annual rate, Little Mermaid draws heavily on the old-fashioned qualities that punctuated their classic back catalogue; comedy animals, in this case a brigade of personable sea life (led by the inspired crab creation Sebastian), catchy, even memorable tunes (Under The Sea, Kiss The Girl), and a truly quake-inducing villain in the shape of Ursula.
The prince may be a bit of a wet blanket, and the inevitable happy ending just a little too hurried, but in spite of minor flaws this still delivers exactly the right quotient of laughs, sniffles, scares and songs to remain sparkling family fun.
This was the rebirth of Disney in the modern era and due to superb songs, enduring humour and a touching plot it remains an animation classic.