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Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 - Disney's Year of the Mermaid

2011 was a fairly good year for the Disney Company. Sure, everyone flubs up at some point (like, say, Cars 2 – was anyone really surprised?), but overall, the company is seeing a bright future.

2011 was the year of the mermaid for Disney. Mermaids have hooked us (no pun intended) long before Walt Disney was even born, entrancing us with their folklore, beauty, and mystery. Disney had two significant mermaid properties to utilize this year especially, though one of them is hardly new.

The Little Mermaid was a turning point for the company. If the film failed at box office, the entire animation division would have been shut down (similar to the circumstances under which Cinderella was made). While most of the people working on the project knew they had something special, the extreme success of the film sent shock waves through the company, and the Disney Renaissance was born.

That was 1989. Jump forward a few years, and Walt Disney Imagineering was working on an expansion plan for Disneyland Paris (then going by another name). Since building a brand new park is a very costly endeavor, most of the time they start off with a limited amount of attractions. In the event that the new park is successful, a company is more at ease to spend more money to expand (and, ideally, they are making a good portion of their money back by that point). As part of the expansion, Paris would receive the first Little Mermaid dark ride. Like Peter Pan attractions, the ride would feature hanging clamshells as ride vehicles, where you would glide under the sea and above. Many were very excited for the proposed attraction, with Tony Baxter eagerly at the helm. Unfortunately, the new park did not do as well as it was hoped (and this became a catalyst for a lot of corner-cutting for many other projects in the 1990s), and Ariel, Flounder and Sebastian got shelved with many other gadgets and gizmos.

 Fans lamented the abandoned plans, but became hopeful as time went on. Perhaps Ariel would find her legs eventually – if not in Europe, maybe in the states? The Little Mermaid got re-released to home theaters with some very interesting bonus features, including a whole segment on the ride that never made it to Paris, garnering even more interest with the public. When the internet got word that Disney (then Disney’s, but no longer, and it sounds strange in my opinion) California Adventure was getting a huge, big-budget expansion to make it a park worthy of sitting across from the original Disneyland in Anaheim, many expressed a hope that The Little Mermaid would finally find a place in a Disney theme park. Some argued that Ariel did not belong in a theme park themed to California when her story took place in Denmark, while others felt that as long as she found her way in Paradise Pier, it was fine. Then, it was finally announced! The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure was kicking Golden Dreams out of Paradise Pier in the expansion, and with much nicer plans than Paris originally had. Fans were told to imagine a Fantasyland dark ride, but with Haunted Mansion themeing and technology. Naturally, expectations were high.

And now, we get to the year 2011. The new attraction begins soft openings just before the chaos of summer and Star Tours 2.0 begin, and the ride is a hit! Not only has the ride become incredibly popular, but because it is such a high-capacity attraction, the wait is never unbearable (and, luckily, when it does have a long line it still does not obstruct the walkway in Paradise Pier). The state-of-the-art audio-animatronics are very impressive, from Ariel’s hair to Ursula’s skin. Later on in the year at D23 (the Disney Convention that was incredibly chaotic), Disney devoted a whole presentation to the new attraction, detailing all sorts of things from how tiny Triton’s head looks without his hair and beard to the utilization of an ipod for Sebastian’s eyes. All of this must be getting those on the East Coast even more excited for their version of that attraction that is to come to Florida.

But meanwhile, a very different kind of mermaid – a terrifying kind, in fact – was swimming into theaters summer 2011. The highly-anticipated Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides made its way to the big screen, and utilizing a new (for the series) piece of pirate lore: you guessed it, mermaids. 

While the film had its hits and misses, a major selling point for the film (and favorite aspect for audiences) was the mermaids, who were by no means a small part of the film, with one mermaid actually being a supporting character and a part of a significant plot point. 

The mermaids in Pirates have been frequently used for merchandising, and were even a part of starting a new fashion trend in nail art. They even made their way to the Disneyland Resort with Ariel, part of a newer segment for the hit show World of Color in Disney California Adventure. I’d venture to say that half of the segment features the mermaids. Disney didn’t create this segment just to put in more Johnny Depp. Plus, the film did quite well at the box office, as it was one of the top-grossing films of the year domestically making $241,071,802

So here’s to 2011, Disney’s year of the mermaid, and here’s to 2012, with many more exciting things to come!