The Little Mermaid returns to Hollywood

Burbank, California—The Little Mermaid's premiere at Disney's El Capitan Theatre was tops. Opening nights for these animated feature limited engagements are typically well done, and Disney again treated guests to a stimulating cast and crew discussion before the movie—which becomes available on a new DVD next week—but this time they hit a grand slam.

The panel, moderated by Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame producer Don Hahn, incorporated several DVD features, which were excerpted on the screen above the stage. The audience, filled with fans, families, and studio brass, included Roy E. Disney, son of company founder Roy O. Disney and nephew to Walt Disney. He looked very pleased to be among authentic animation admirers.

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Key creators seated on stage included composer Alan Menken, co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements, singer Jodi Benson (who provided Ariel's voice), Ariel's lead animation artist Glen Keane and Sherri Stoner, who modeled for Ariel's movements. Hahn was a fine host, preparing fans for the rare opportunity to see a classic on the big screen while stoking the backstories.

Musker and Clements talked about Hans Christian Andersen's story—the mermaid dies in the original—Menken commented on the music and Keane gave an interesting take on the development of Ariel's look and movements and how somebody made a blonde Ariel doll that's still out there somewhere. They paid tribute to the late Howard Ashman, who produced the movie and co-wrote the songs, and the event definitely recalled late 1980s Disney, when The Little Mermaid's success put feature animation back on track.

Jodi Benson, voice of Ariel, performs

As the panel left the stage, Hahn introduced a surprise rendition of "Part of Your World" by Jodi Benson, accompanied on piano by Alan Menken, who also composed Beauty and the Beast, and Ariel's voice is still clear as a bell. As the lights faded for the movie, there was a hushed, palpable excitement, with a lone child calling out: "Ariel!" in anticipation.

Afterwards, the crowd moved next door to Disney's Soda Fountain and Studio Store, where they lapped up the exclusive Little Mermaid cotton candy ice cream sundae and collector's pin. The Flounder plush and remastered soundtrack quickly sold out and the two-week engagement, which ended on Sunday, gave The Little Mermaid the fabulous first pitch it deserved.

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