Tim here, to celebrate the silver anniversary of one of the most important films in the annals of American animation. 25 years ago today – some of you are going to have to brace yourselves, because you’re about to feel very old – Walt Disney Pictures released The Little Mermaid, in one fell swoop rewriting the landscape for family entertainment and animation alike.
As hard as it is to believe now, once upon a time, Disney was an embarrassing underdog, whose theme parks were solely responsible for keeping its saggy movie division propped up. 1989 was only four years removed from the disastrous release of the pricey The Black Cauldron, and the takeover of the company by executives Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, who managed to stabilize the live action filmmaking division, while putting the animation studio under the command of Peter Schneider.
It was Schneider who managed an ambitious and terrifyingly foolhardy plan, concocted by Jeffrey Katzenberg to restore the luster of Disney animation after a generation or more of mismanagement, by releasing a new animated feature on an annual basis. The first film produced on that model was 1988’s Oliver & Company, a rock-solid hit, but hardly the triumphant return of Disney animation that everyone was hoping for. That came with the second film in Schneider’s plan, The Little Mermaid, and the rest is history.