The Chronic: You’re a penguin lookin’ mother f*****

In Music, Season 2 on 2011/04/25 at 10:59 pm

They'd like you to know that although they're from different California cities, they are now together and in "full effect"

Let’s begin with a simple, known truth: I am the last person that should be writing about G-funk rap music. I grew up in the South, in the middle of the country part of the suburbs. I am fundamentally unqualified to say anything about the quality or s***ness of any rap album, much less an album that’s won multiple Grammys, been ranked #6 on the Vibe 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century, the 137th Greatest Album of All Time by Rolling Stone or won a mother f***ing Grammy. Also, I may not have been in the right state of mind to listen to this album the 10 or 11 times that I did.* Honestly, of all the things that I’ve approached as Pop Culture Blind Spots, this one has been the most f****** daunting. There are so many potential pitfalls in reviewing something that’s so revered by so many g** d*** people. It’s definitely the biggest task that I’ve taken on since I originally declared ‘Top Gun’ a s*** movie that’s one step below porn. When ‘The Chronic’ was recorded in June of 1992, LA was just coming to grips with the 1992 LA riots that brought absolute chaos to the streets of the city of Angels. The country as a whole was still trying to process what had brought Los Angeles over the f***** edge of absolute chaos (spoiler alert: you can’t let cops beat spmeone up on video tape and then escape prosecution and expect everyone to be ok with that) and that December Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ sprung into the mainstream with a vengeance. Before we talk about the actual content of the album, I feel like I need to issue a couple of disclaimers:

  • Is the album homophobic? Completely. Dre, Snoop and the others on the album constantly use implied homosexuality as a way to infer that their enemies are somehow immediately less than them. At the end of “F*** wit Dre”, Snoop actually lists out all of the people that he doesn’t like who can s*** a fat d***. I’m not in any way condoning that kind of language anymore than I’m condoning that the best way to deal with those who dis you is to shoot them in the head. Both are wrong but that’s not the point of this post.
  • Does the album constantly use a word that I’m uncomfortable with? F*** yes. And it’s not the F word. I’m not even going to say which word it is because as comedian Louis C.K. points out as soon as I call it out, I’m actually forcing your brain to say the word in your head which is actually just passing the terrible swearing baton to you instead of me. Let me just say that I’m not comfortable with anyone using the word but I support Dr. Dre and the others using the word if they’re comfortable with it.
A Brief Synopsis of ‘The Chronic': After a conflict with the other members of N.W.A. in 1991, Dr. Dre left the group and began producing his first solo album ‘The Chronic’. It’s largely considered to be the album that popularized the G-funk style of West Coast rap with it’s slowed down grooves, incorporation of P-funk (re: George Clinton) melodies and incredibly creepily off-kilter f***** synthesizers. Even now in 2011, I could play a few of the synthesizer riffs from ‘The Chronic’ and they’d be immediately recognizable as pieces of Dr. Dre hits. It’s an album that deals with everything from the party pieces of the West Coast Gangsta lifestyle. It’s an album that makes drastic swings from the comedic (on tracks like ‘ The $20 Sack Pyramid’) to the very tragic (with songs like ‘Lil’ Ghetto Boy’). It’s less a declaration of war on the status quo than a condemnation of it. The three singles ‘Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang’, ‘F*** wit Dre’ and ‘Let Me Ride’  (which all went at least Gold) speak to different aspects of life on the LA streets. One of the best descriptions of ‘The Chronic’ that I’ve read pointed out that it portrays the gangsta lifestyle as a non-stop party that’s sometimes interrupted by gunfire. There’s really no better description of what ‘The Chronic’ serves up. It’s all about the b*****s and weed until the s*** hits the fan and then somebody’s got to go all 187 on somebody else. Also, in the g** d*** middle of it all there’s more than one extended flute solo and a few comedy sketches. It’s a testament to the difficulty of life on the streets of LA at that time when everyone had to make a choice between life on the sidelines or a life that straddled the line between true honesty and crime. It’s really unlike any other album I’ve heard and that’s a very, very good thing. It’s also the album that brought the phrase “Deez Nuts” into the mainstream. So that’s gotta be worth something.
Why is it a PCBS? Really? You’re reading this f***** blog and you’ve never f***** heard of ‘The Chronic’? Outside of the accolades detailed above, ‘The Chronic’ was named one of the Top 10 Rap Albums of All Time by Vibe, one of the top 100 rap albums of all time by Spin and the third greatest hip hop album of all time by MTV. Outside of establishing Dr. Dre as a solo artist it also launched the careers of Snoop Doggy Dogg, Nate Dogg and Warren G among others. ‘Nuthin but a “G” Thang” is still considered one of the greatest hip hop songs of all time and has been ruined more than a few times by g** d*** idiots at karaoke bars all across the world. Outside of all of these culturally important reasons that it’s a PCBS, there’s a few more personal reasons that this album falls into the PCBS wheel house. When I think back to music videos that hypnotized me in the summer of 1993, I’m able to remember the video Dr. Dre’s ‘Nuthin But a “G” Thang’. Harken back to those glory days of MTV when they showed videos and felt the need to blur out corporate logos that might appear in them. ‘Nuthin but a “G” Thang’ is one of those videos that you just never f***** forget. From the haunting synth at the beginning of the track to the crazy house party atmosphere that leads Snoop to declare that “it’s like this and like that and like this and uh”, it’s one of those tracks that stays with you forever.
How does it look in the rear view mirror? Honestly, it all looks a bit odd. Since they burst onto the scene in ‘The Chronic’, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg have steadily become less social rebels and more and more mainstream. Snoop Dogg will basically guest on anyone’s track for the right price these days (e.g. Pussy Cat Dolls) and he and Dr. Dre have both become spokesmen for high end products from Pepsi Max to Dre’s own line of premium mother f****** headphones. Listening to these corporate pitchmen rap about how hard life is on the streets is a little hollow but you have to remember that it was recorded almost 20 years ago. The world has changed and Dre and Snoop have managed to successfully changed with it. Ignoring all of that, it’s hard to deny that ‘The Chronic’ wasn’t a f***** blueprint for rap for most of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Since then Dre, Snoop, Warren G and and Nate Dogg have all had success on their own and the roots of rap in 2011 can mostly be traced back to the West Coast movement started by Dr. Dre and ‘The Chronic’. There’s something more interesting that’s come up while listening to ‘The Chronic’ and that’s the idea of an f***** album as a form of protest. In my mind, the greatest example of an album created simply to give someone the finger is Marvin Gaye’s ‘Here, My Dear’ created in response to his wife’s court win requiring him to pay her the residuals from his next album. It’s an album that is soaked in a mix of remorse and disdain. It’s very clear from the beginning that it’s clearly aimed to make someone uncomfortable while also selling albums. To me, that’s the way ‘The Chronic’ feels. It’s an album that’s as much a rebellion against N.W.A. (and specifically Easy E) as it is a chance to showcase the Death Row Records funky a** artists.
Final Thoughts: When it’s all said and done, it would have been much easier for me to say that I didn’t like ‘The Chronic’. But with catchy hooks, a strong social message about the state of LA in 1992 and the seeds for all of the hardcore rap that I’ve loved in the ensuing two decades, it would be a bit disingenuous for me to say that I’m not a huge fan of ‘The Chronic’. A few weeks ago, on my other blog, I wrote about the comfort of continuity and how a continuing story makes every individual episode that much more enjoyable. For me, listening to ‘The Chronic’ is like reading the prequel to the 90’s and early 2000’s. ‘The Chronic’ laid the groundwork for everything from Warren G’s ‘Regulate’ to Chris Rock’s ‘Roll With the New’. Do I approve of all the imagery that Dr. Dre and his friends use on the album? No. Do I think they’re a bit homophobic and misogynistic? Of course. But at the end of the day, they do make me put my hands in the air and wave them around as if I just don’t care. Plus, Snoop is credited with the creation of the word “bootylicious” on this album (although he uses it as a slur against another rapper) and that leads to an awesome Destiny’s Child single years later so you have to support that. Word to the mother f***** streets.
*meaning I was not super, duper high when listening to ‘The Chronic’. Seriously, there’s a part of me that thinks this album would BLOW MY MIND if I were super, crunk ass high when listening to it but let’s face it: I’m 30 years old and that’s just g** d*** f***** irresponsible, you stupid b****.

Cocktail: Infidelity is just a bar bet away

In Movies, Pop Culture Defense, Season 2 on 2011/04/11 at 10:11 pm

If only we could go back in time to warn him...

Before he asked us to show him the money, before he told us that we couldn’t handle the truth and before he went crazy because there were aliens inside him that only a dead science fiction writer knew how to control, Tom Cruise threw a bottle of liquor in the air and it was magical. In another Pop Culture Defense, let’s take a look back at Mr. Cruise at the height of his power, ready to take on the world and impregnate Elisabeth Shue in ‘Cocktail’.

You could argue that ‘Cocktail’ is just a Jerry Bruckheimer movie that wasn’t produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (a mistake he’d correct by basically remaking the movie 12 years later in the form of ‘Coyote Ugly’). It has all the hallmarks of a non-explosive Bruckheimer flick: coming of age story with a good looking protagonist who overcomes their blue collar background to make it in the big bad world with built in pop song markers to help convey the tone along the way. But ‘Cocktail’ rises above it’s pay grade with clever writing, great over-the-top performances by it’s three leads and characters that make you want to drop it all and become a bartender…or a bar tender groupie. It’s more philosophical than ‘The Matrix’ and soapier than ‘You’ve Got Mail’ but in the end it manages to become one of my favorite late 80’s/early 90’s movies about bartending.

A Brief Synopsis of ‘Cocktail': For not explainable reason, ‘Cocktail’ opens with Brian Flannigan (Tom Cruise) flying down the road in a jeep full of dudes trying to catch a bus to New York City (as Starship sings ‘Wild Again’, their contribution to the movie’s iconic soundtrack). Young Mr. Flannigan, having just left military service, is off to seek his fortune in the big city but soon finds that he’s not qualified for anything since he’s got absolutely zero work experience. Dejected after days of rejection, he decides to try business school and falls ass backwards into a job as a bartender alongside Doug Coughlin (played by the other Australian actor from the 80’s, Bryan Brown). Brian’s first night behind the bar is tough as waitresses dressed in TGIFriday’s outfits and sterotypical New York bar patrons scream drink orders at him (Do you know what’s in a Cuba Libre?) but he’s determined to have it all and decides to stick with bartending while still attempting to get a degree in business. We’re treated to a few quick scenes as Brian learns the difference between book smarts (like an assignment to write his own obituary….clever) and street smarts (Doug’s cavalcade of bar tricks and slights of hand). Doug’s lessons are a bit more than just suggestions. No, Doug lives by a series of “Couglin’s Laws” which amount to nothing more than the regurgitations of someone who’s spent a lifetime behind a bar and an afternoon or two in the back of a Philosophy 101 class. As Brian’s skills improve, we get those indelible shots of Doug and Brian behind the bar mixing drinks in tandem while flipping bottles back and forth between each other and dancing to “Hippy Hippy Shake”. It’s nothing if not incredibly charming. Books and actual learning put up a good fight but in the end, Doug and Brian find their ticket to the big time when one of their patrons offers them a job at “The Hottest Bar in New York City”. The boys jump at the chance to leave their local watering shit hole bar and work someplace with a velvet rope and every starving model within a 32 block radius. The bar includes everything you’d expect from a late 80’s NYC hot spot: huge bar, gorgeous people and weird poetry from both patrons and bartenders. It’s at this fancy beat poetry joint that the two meet up with the surest sign that any movie is about to get bat-shit crazy: Gina Gershon. Let me stop here and say that I don’t in any way dislike Gina Gershon. In fact, I think she’s a fantastic character actress who brings a certain something to absolutely every role she enters. But…if you’re just watching a movie one day and suddenly, out of nowhere and without warning, Gina Gershon comes on screen you can be certain that things are about to get weird. Gina Gershon, of “Bound”, “Face/Off” and lest we forget “Showgirls” fame is like the harbinger of bonkers. For God’s sake, the woman showed up on “Cop Rock”. How can that not be some kind of fascinatingly weird resume that deserves a special kind of respect? Regardless, Gina Gershon shows up as Coral, a photographer who manages to expose the distance between Brian and Doug with a single flash of her camera. Brian and Coral start dating (and by dating I mean sleeping together) and soon Doug begins to get jealous. But before things can completely implode, the guys discuss their hopes and dreams over a few breakfasts with Coral. Both of the guys want to someday own a bar (which Doug decides should be called ‘Cocktails & Dreams’ which is about as subtle as the bar in “Leaving Las Vegas” being called ‘The Whole Year Inn”) and Brian pitches the idea of going to Jamaica to earn the money to eventually buy a place in New York. Doug’s not much for the idea of “jet-set bartenders”, though. While playing basketball in the park a few days later (as you’ll do), Doug bets Brian that he can get Coral to leave him by the end of the weekend (as you’ll do). All it takes is for Doug to tell Coral that Brian’s been spilling secrets about their wild romps in the sack and she’s out the door like a shot. It’s the final straw and Brian decks Doug right into their fancy bar set up.  Fade to black. But soon the scene fades up on a sunny Jamaican resort (while “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys plays) where Brian’s taken up a bartending gig. With the help of a bit too much booze and definitely too much sun, Brian has to ride to the rescue of Jordan Mooney (because ‘Moneybags McWealthypants’ would have been too obvious a name). Jordan’s an artist and waitress from New York who’s vacationing for an undetermined amount of time with her parents in Jamaica and is played by everybody’s favorite babysitter, Elisabeth Shue. Brian and Jordan start montaging together and soon are in 80’s movie love (walks on the beach, late night dancing in a beach club, ‘Blue Lagoon’-esque sexy time under a waterfall) but trouble lurks just around the corner. Doug shows up in Jamaica (with his new super hot, super rich wife in tow) and manages to get Brian to cheat on Jordan in less than 24 hours. Once again, the boys decide to bet on something classy. This time it’s Brian’s ability to close the deal with a cougar at the end of the bar named Bonnie. Jordan (of course) sees Brian leaving the bar with Bonnie at the end of the evening and flies home to New York City that very night (because that’s plausible). The next day, Brian discovers he’s been found out and decides that the best way to deal with the situation is to fly back to New York with Bonnie and become her bitch. She’s promised him that she’ll reward his puppy dog loyalty by giving him a sweet job at the company she runs but seems to only use that as a carrot to make Brian take her to art openings and get her, well, carrot juice. It’s at one of these art openings that Brian finally snaps and storms off, leaving Bonnie and determined to regain some semblance of his manhood. He hunts down Jordan and finds out two important pieces of information: 1) she’s loaded (as in with rich parents) and 2) she’s loaded  (as in with baby). Brian’s determined to prove that he wants to be with Jordan (as long as nobody bets him to sleep with anyone else) but her dad is determined to make sure that Baby and baby stay in the corner. He offers to buy Brian off with $10,000 but (in a fit of 80’s movie self righteousness) Brian rips up the check and once again declares his love for Jordan…who’s not having any of it. Aimless, Brian seeks out Doug who’s parlayed his rich wife into his own nightclub, yacht and expensive glassware (wait, oh no). But once they’re alone, Doug reveals to Brian that it’s all a lie and that he’s not got “a pot to piss in”. He’s kept it a secret from his wife and drinks basically a whole bottle of liquor in a few gulps so Brian does the only responsible thing and leaves him alone with his thoughts and sharp objects. At her request, Brian takes Doug’s wife Kerry home where she uses the old “let’s talk about my husband’s problems upstairs” trick to try and get Brian in the sack. Thankfully, as if to prove that Brian now has some sort of moral compass, Brian refuses to sleep with his best friend’s wife and instead goes back to the yacht to check on Doug (not that there’s anything to worry about, cause ol’ Dougy is fine). Upon reaching the boat, he finds Doug in a pool of his own blood and it’s pretty obvious that he’s chosen to off himself. Brian responds with the appropriate level of screechy/screamy agony and…Fade to Black. After Doug’s funeral, Brian receives a letter from Doug (which is odd since Doug didn’t know Brian was back from Jamaica and back in New York, but whatever) explaining that he killed himself because he could no longer face the lie of a life that he’d created for himself. It’s just the push that Young Flannigan needs to once again purse Jordan (and her Mooney). He bursts past the doorman, flies into her parent’s apartment and screams out for her. There’s a brief “we didn’t have time to hire a fight coordinator” scuffle between Brian and Jordan’s father but in the end Jordan willingly leaves with Brian…even though his next infidelity is a mere bar bet away. The movie closes with Brian (now the owner of his own local shit hole bar called ‘Cocktails & Dreams’) climbing up onto the bar for one more poem about his unborn children. It’s at this point that Cruise begins to slip into his super terrible Irish accent (something that returns in “Far & Away”) and Jordan reveals that it’s not one baby, its twins! Because what’s better than one kid that a new small business owner can’t afford? Two kids! Roll credits.

Why is it a Pop Culture Defense? ‘Cocktail’ is a landmark movie for the simple reason that it’s all things to all people. Want a buddy movie? Check out ‘Cocktail’ for the complicated yet touching story of a boy and his bartender. Want a complicated romantic tale of young love? Check out ‘Cocktail’ for its overly soapy story of a boy and the girl he knocks up while on vacation. Want a ridiculously over-the-top movie that celebrates all of the excesses of the 80’s? Check out ‘Cocktail’ with it’s yuppies and Gina “I always look like the cat that just swallowed the canary” Gershon. Want a musical? Check out ‘Cocktail’ which is not only the movie that brought us dancing while bartending but is also the movie that introduced the world to ‘Kokomo’ (possibly one of the worst pop songs of all time) AND ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin (definitely one of the worst pop songs of all time). It’s the kind of movie that everyone could go see and enjoy for completely different reasons. Some people enjoyed watching Tom Cruise on a journey of self discovery that took him from the streets of New York to the beaches of Jamaica and back again. Others enjoyed watching Elisabeth Shue take her top off. See, something for everyone. It’s a not so serious movie that dealt with a lot of pretty serious topics like unwed pregnancy, alcoholism, suicide and Gina Gershon. But really, the movie achieves almost a cult like status for one reason: it’s made everyone try to flip a bottle of booze like that at least once. Admit it. At some point in your life, you’ve grabbed a bottle of something and attempted to flip it either in the air or behind your back. Most likely, you’ve done it with a bottle that was sealed and most likely you’ve failed, but you’ve tried it. That motion, that desire to see if you could try to pull of an amazing bar trick can be directly attributed in one way or another to the movie ‘Cocktail’ and for a cheesy 80’s movie, that’s saying something.

How does it look in the rear view mirror? Honestly? It looks insane. But add a little Vaseline to that mirror and you get a much happier, blurrier, tipsier view of a movie that struck at the height of the Tom Cruise craze. It’s sometimes hard to remember that Tom Cruise really did use to be the biggest star on the planet. ‘Cocktail’ comes in the middle of a stretch of five movies that solidified Tom as the absolute biggest star on Earth. He made ‘Top Gun’ (hate it), then ‘The Color of Money’ (love it), followed by ‘Cocktail’ (defending it right now), then ‘Rain Man’ (good movie, definitely a good movie) and finally ‘Born on the 4th of July’ all in the span of three years. Those are Micheal Jordan repeat championships caliber stats. Can you even think of another actor in the last 20 years who’s had a run of movies that big and that generally good in that amount of time? Before you say Julia Roberts or Will Smith, I say ‘Dying Young’ and ‘Wild, Wild West’. ‘Cocktail’ is literally lightning in a bottle. It’s Cruise’s star power, confidence and charisma that take something that should be awful (or at best adequate)  and make it into something really special. Want proof? Check out this very simple scene from ‘Cocktail’ where Tom Cruise uses his newly found bartending skills to hit on a woman dressed as a muppet:

Seriously, that’s the guy movie equivalent of a scene with the main character singing into her hairbrush into the mirror but somehow, it all comes off as completely endearing. For me, performances like this are like a magic trick. It’s as if he’s using slight of hand to confound and distract us from the general shakiness of the movie around him. Kid goes from not bartending one day to fancy show-off bartending in the span of a few 80’s songs? Sure. Kid moves to Jamaica to tend bar at a resort only to meet and impregnate the true love of his life? Of course. Wise, truth telling older guide turns out to be incredibly dark “there but for the grace of God goes Flannigan” warning for the main character? Why the hell not! It’s all just window dressing and yet somehow it all works like a charm. You never even see how they manage to saw the lady in half and put her back together before you’re clapping wildly, ready for the next trick.

Final Thoughts: What’s the last piece of the puzzle to make any movie an almost instant classic? Quotable lines. And luckily, ‘Cocktail’ has more than a few that resonate in the lexicon. Whether you’re looking for one of Coughlin’s laws (“never tell tales about a woman, she’ll hear you no matter how far away she is” or “anything else is always something better”) or one of the “poems” Young Flannigan improvs while standing on the bar (my personal favorite being “I make drinks so sweet and snazzy / The iced tea / The kamakazi” simply because no matter how hard he tries snazzy and kamakazi don’t rhyme), the movie is full of lines that are just begging to be repeated in the proper situations. Couple that with a simple action that everyone wanted to try and repeat (like the dance that Uma Thurman does in “Pulp Fiction”) and a soundtrack that unleashed some terrible things on the world and you have a classic movie that’s very deserving of a Pop Culture Defense. ‘Cocktail’ stands the test of time with it’s brash attitude that dares you not to like it. Give it a try the next time you flip past it on a Saturday afternoon. Just don’t blame me when you’re singing Kokomo for the rest of the weekend. It’s a high price to pay, but it’s definitely worth it.

The Little Mermaid: Because boys don’t want to hear you talk

In Movies, Season 2 on 2011/03/01 at 7:04 pm

"I'm half fish/half insufferable teenage girl!"

In 1989, The Disney Corporation began a renaissance for it’s animated feature film business with the release of The Little Mermaid. Today, Pop Culture Blind Spot attempts to borrow a bit of that restart juju by providing you with a glance into the past at that very same movie. It’s kind of hard to fathom how I completely and utterly missed seeing The Little Mermaid the first time around…or at least how I missed seeing it later in high school during my “Watch sappy, girly, nostalgic kids movies because girls like them” phase. But somehow, I completely missed the boat (zing) on the first of the string of Alan Menken & Howard Ashman Disney movie musicals.

When you read what I think about a movie that so many of you hold very dearly in your hearts, I worry that you’ll immediately jump to some conclusions that aren’t quite true. It’s not as simple as saying “You just don’t like musicals”. On the contrary, I love musicals. There is a playlist in my iTunes right now called “Show-Stopping Numbers” that only contains numbers which I consider among those that stop a Broadway show. It’s also not as simple as saying “You just don’t like Disney.” It’s just not true because I love Disney. I still count the 1967 version of The Parent Trap among my all-time favorite movies of all time. At some point, we’ve all wanted to have Mary Poppins appear at the window and help us jump in and out of chalk painting. And before you say it, my feelings about The Little Mermaid have nothing to do with my disdain for the world’s least effective, non-super “superhero”, Aquaman. He sucks all on his own and I can’t judge others just because they have a passing resemblance to that failure of imagination. No, my feelings about The Little Mermaid are more complicated than that. But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same brine-soaked page…

A Brief Synopsis of The Little Mermaid: Ariel is a 16-year old who doesn’t listen to her father and gets into trouble for it. Spoiler Alert! She’s a mermaid and her dad is King Tritan, the king of the ocean (take that, Aqua-dumbass). Although she has a guaranteed spot in her father’s undersea burlesque show with the rest of the king’s daughters, Ariel dreams of being a human so she can put to use all the great SAT vocabulary words she’s learned…like “street.” For years it seems, Ariel’s been collecting bits of human trash and collecting them in her creepily-named “grotto” which she can visit to bask in all her hording tendencies. Among her treasures: a fork (oooooh!), 20 corkscrews (whaaaat?) and an in-tact print of Georges de La Tour’s Repenting Magdalene (no, really). Whenever she finds a new trinket, she takes it to the surface to have it identified by the only trusted source of information in the entire ocean, Scuttle the Seagull (played by the always intoxicated  Buddy Hackett who you may remember as the always intoxicated mechanic from the Herbie the Lovebug series in the 1960’s). It’s during one of these trips to the surface that Ariel sees Prince Eric (played by Christopher Daniel Barnes who you may know from either the two 90’s Brady Bunch movies…or from the “Tiger Beat” poster you had on your wall from ages 10 – 15, depending on your point of view). Although she’s been assigned a full time protector by her father (in the form of Sebastian the crab), Ariel still manages to travel to the surface to watch a celebration for Prince Eric which, unfortunately, is struck by a sudden storm. The storm tosses Eric into the ocean and it’s up to Ariel and the rest of her sushi platter friends to save him from drowning. After rescuing him from a watery grave but before disappearing into the world of the merpeople, Ariel sings to Eric in a way that only future Disney princesses and stalkerish ex-girlfriends can. Upon waking, Eric can barely remember why he agreed to be in this movie in the first place, but totally remembers the beautiful voice that woke him from his almost coma.

Meanwhile! all is not happy in the world of the half fish/half hotties (seriously, even her dad is rocking a six pack, look it up). Although King Triton is the unofficial dictator of anything below sea level, Ursula the Sea Witch is desperate to control the kingdom…which is hard to believe since this is a Disney movie and things like that never happen. Triton finds out that even though he assigned a tiny crab to watch her, Ariel has once again disobeyed him and gone to mingle with the humans. In an act of dad rage, Triton uses his weapon (which, ironically, is also called a triton) to destroy all of the crap that Ariel’s worked so hard to collect (including that print of Georges de La Tour’s Repenting Magdalene. Ursula uses that moment of sadness to strike, offering the distraught Ariel the chance to get legs and become a real girl once and for all…which is odd since this is a Disney movie and things like that never happen. Unfortunately, there’s a catch and Ariel must give up her beautiful voice for a set of what are B-/C+ legs, at best. Ariel agrees and Ursula removes her voice and gives her legs (which are needed for both jumping and dancing, as Ariel pointed out earlier). She’s got three days to get true love’s kiss from Eric or she’ll be stuck as Ursula’s personal assistant forever. Sebastian the crab and Flounder the “Lenny” of fish, drag Ariel to the shore where she’s eventually discovered by Eric and his dog, Max. Max, although a member of the animal kingdom just like the talking fish and talking crab, can’t talk at all continuing a long line of Disney prejudice towards some dogs in their stories. Eric takes Ariel back to his castle where she’s treated like the survivor of a shipwreck, given free things and never once asked for identification. She still can’t speak though and she’s beginning to realize just how hard it is to mime “I used to be a mermaid who saved you from drowning and sang to you beautifully before becoming a human girl so I could hook up with you” even though that’s a beginner level phrase in charades. On the second day of her stay at Eric’s castle, they almost kiss while on a boat ride. A kiss that would have broken the spell and let her live happily ever after with Eric (which is weird, because this is a Disney movie and kisses never do things like that) but is instead broken up by Ursula’s non-talking eels (either personify everything or personify nothing, c’mon).

Hearing how close Ariel got to breaking the spell, Ursula goes all Veronica on her Betty ass and uses a spell to become “Vanessa” (which, if you look it up in the Disney dictionary is a synonym for “harlet”). Ursula’s plan is to use Ariel’s voice to seduce Eric away from Ariel so the spell won’t be broken and a distraught King Triton will have to give her the kingdom in trade for his bratty daughter. Eric, being a guy, is immediately drawn to the idea of “new girl” (Ursula also casts an enchantment on him so he’ll fall in love with her) and they decide to get married. This follows the logic that if a girl sounds like someone you heard in a half dead state you should marry her immediately (which is actually strange because this is a Disney movie and that actually doesn’t happen all the time). Ariel runs away crying because the boy she’s known for less than two days is marrying someone else but luckily drunken Buddy Hackett is there to discover that super cute Vanessa is actually kinda chubby Ursula. He tells the news to Ariel who immediately grabs her slow witted fish friend Flounder and heads after the wedding barge that Vanessa and Eric have set sail on (since everyone knows that all royal weddings must take place on barges for legal purposes).

Sebastian runs (swims?) to tell Triton what’s happening and Buddy Hackett becomes as useful as Aquaman by summoning all kinds of sea creatures to help him stall the wedding. In the struggle, the shell that Vanessa/Ursula is wearing that contains Ariel’s voice is broken and she’s able to once again sing like Jodi Benson. Realizing that it was Ariel that saved him and not Vanessa, Eric runs over to kiss her but it’s too late and she turns back into half a Long John Silver’s #7 meal. Ursula switches from hottie to hideous and absconds with Ariel. Even though the ocean has a strict “Don’t negotiate with terrorists” policy, Triton relents and agrees to give up control of Waterworld in order to save the red-headed brat. Ursula becomes the ruler of the ocean (you’re not even #2, Aqua-douche) but is confronted by the Ginger Fish and Prince Eric (who’s feeling guilty about just how far he went with Vanessa the night before). During that fight, Ursula kills her non-personified eels which totally pisses her off. Ariel and Eric make up just in time for gigantic Ursula to rise from the seafloor and attempt to kill them. Even though she’s wrecking ships left and right and despite the fact that they totally made out the night before, Eric steers a ship into Ursula’s big belly and kills her. Ursula’s death breaks all of the spells that she had cast (which is odd because this is a Disney movie, yadda yadda yadda) and Eric barely makes it to shore without drowning.

With Ursula’s death, Triton immediately becomes king again and uses his power to permanently transform Ariel from fish-lady to lady-lady since he sees just how much Ariel loves Eric. It actually reminds him of when he and Ariel’s mother first met and fell in love…before she drown? or disappeared? ran off with Jonah? Who knows. The movie closes with Ariel and Eric married on a boat (with T-Pain) surrounded by their human and merpeople friends. And then a Disney artist paints a giant dong on the VHS cover for the movie. No joke.

Why is it a PCBS? For most of the girls that I grew up with, The Little Mermaid holds an almost mythical place in their hearts. I cannot tell you how many talent show performances of “Part of Your World” I had to sit through between the ages of 10 and 14. Before it became synonymous with ads for the Disney Cruise line, it was ubiquitous in Disney commercials, specials, parades and all other manner of singing events. There was merchandise galore and even a Saturday morning cartoon that basically retconned the whole story and had Ariel still as half a fish. In essence, The Little Mermaid took over popular culture for a while even though I didn’t see it. The other reason that it’s a huge PCBS is the simple fact that it brought Disney back from the animated dead. Before The Little Mermaid, Disney animation was lost in a sea of odd choices (Who greenlit The Great Mouse Detective?) and terrible musicals (sorry Billy Joel but Oliver & Company was a trainwreck and a half). The Little Mermaid kicked off a string of hugely successful Disney musicals that each went on to have their own “dong castle” moments (like Aladdin’s “All good teenagers take off their clothes” and the flying “SEX” in The Lion King). The Little Mermaid was the first step in the revitalization of hand drawn animation at the studio that really pioneered the art form. They brought luster and pride back to artists who slaved over celluloid for years to make a single animated feature and animation was returned to it’s former ink and paint glory…till Pixar came along and totally ate everyone’s lunch.

How does it look in the rear view mirror? Well…as unpopular as this stance may be (and judging from the reaction I got when discussing the idea of writing this with a friend), I think the movie comes off as dated both in style and in substance. And I don’t mean dated as in “belongs in 1989.” I mean dated as in “belongs in 1959.” You don’t have to dig too deeply into the story before you can see what I mean. For example, the basic premise of the movie is that a teenage girl who has everything (and that’s not hyperbole, she actually refers to her self as “the girl who has everything” in song) decides to disobey her father and run off to fall in love with a boy…at 16 years old. And when she does run off to meet him and gets into horrible trouble, her father bails her out and gives up everything just to save her disobedient ass. Now, it’s true that I’m not a parent and that I was that disobedient 16 year old child…but come on. In the end, Ariel suffers no consequences at all and is allowed to do exactly what she wants…at 16 years old. How is that a lesson for children? “Don’t want to do what your parents say? That’s ok! Run away and at worst you’ll get to live in a castle for free. At best, you’ll become a princess.” And all of her rule breaking and running away is for what? A prince who at first almost makes out with her even though she can’t talk because some fish are singing about how he should and then dumps her for a chick he’s never met because she sounds like a girl he had vague hallucinations about during a near death experience. Prince Eric falls right in with a long line of completely stupid Disney princes (sold separately). He’s one dimensional, completely clueless and willing to use completely arbitrary qualifications in order to find the girl he’s going to love forever (see: Prince Charming in Cinderella who’s weird obsession with shoe size almost cost him the girl of his dreams). Is Eric the ideal that girls should be skipping town in order to find? No. Is he a pretty good Peter Brady impersonator? Yes. If he’s willing to almost fall in love with one girl who doesn’t speak and then agree to marry a different girl just because of the way she sounds, what does that say about his character? The story also seems to be playing pretty fast and loose with the rules of this reality. I’ve already mentioned how there seem to be some animals that were in the bathroom when they were handing out human personalities but why is Ursula half human/half octopus? Does that mean that throughout the ocean there are more half human/half _______ things in existence? The under sea world seems like a weird mix of autocratic rule and Island of Dr. Moreau experiments and not the happy-go-lucky musical extravaganza that Sebastian would have us believe. All in all, the story comes off as a retread of all the other Disney movies without any of the lessons learned. At least Belle learned that she could truly love someone for who they were on the inside, Aladdin learned that eventually Robin Williams will shut up and Simba learned that life moves pretty fast so he should stop and look around every once and a while so he doesn’t miss it (I may have that last one wrong)

Final Thoughts: At the end of the day, is The Little Mermaid a bad movie? No. Would I watch it again? No. Do I understand why so many people around my age remember it so fondly? I guess so. But to those that read this and vehemently disagree with my opinions about Ginger Fish and her under sea adventures, I challenge you to go back and watch the movie now with fresh eyes. Isn’t it a little strange that the only chubby person in the entire kingdom is the evil one? If the eels can’t talk, how can they understand the very specific instructions that Ursula gives them via dialogue?  Was Buddy Hackett really the best choice for the seagull or was he just the only person available to record that day on the Disney lot? Ladies, if a man either loves you in a day even though he doesn’t know your name or loves you specifically because of the way you sound when you talk or sing, call the authorities.

When you compare it to the later Disney renaissance movies (Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast) it just feels a bit empty and soulless. Put it up against the masterworks from Pixar (Toy Story, Wall-E, that movie about the fish that gets lost, etc.) it just doesn’t hold a candle. In the end, it’s just like that copy of Repenting Magdalene by George de La Tour that Ariel has in her grotto…something pretty that’s just completely out of place.


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