Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Little Mermaid TV: The Evil Manta

Kids, sometimes in life there are little coincidences. Take, for instance, this episode of The Little Mermaid TV series. Voicing the evil manta is everyone's favourite everything, the incomparable Tim Curry, who I believe I've already pledged my undying love to on this blog. What you may not know (unless you're either stalking me or are me) is that not too many years ago, after watching Tim Curry's Home Alone 2 on my old childhood VHS, I stuck around after the end credits to see if there was anything else on the tape. And oh God, there was. There was. This very episode, starring the voice of the evil Plaza Hotel concierge himself. See? Coincidence.

I'm not quite done yet. You may remember that mere weeks ago, I rekindled my love of Salute Your Shorts. There was themed T-shirt buying and everything. As I was watching Budnick doing something cheeky every single episode, I couldn't help but notice that his voice was strangely familiar, and came to the conclusion that he was just some voiceover actor we've all heard a million times. Naturally, I was right on the money, but get this -- Budnick himself (or Danny Cooksey, rather) voices the merman Urchin in The Little Mermaid! In this episode! Again, coincidence.

Also, I should warn you that I loved this show when I was a tot, to the point where my dad used to have to tape it for me every week during Saturday Disney. Then he taped over it with soccer. Which I think is more irony than coincidence, but it doesn't change the fact that one fine day, a little girl put on her 'Ariel' tape expecting to go on mermaid adventures and ended up watching Manchester United battle Arsenal. I cried into my Little Mermaid magazine for weeks.

Even if you didn't watch this early nineties awesome-fest of a show, I'm pretty sure you know all the characters by now, so let's just get straight into the recap, shall we?

(No embeddable videos this time around, but you can click the links to see the ep.)

I'm going to start by saying that this Little Mermaid theme song is absolutely beautiful. There's no other way to say it. It's got elements of 'Part of Your World', 'Under The Sea' and 'Kiss the Girl' in an orgy of made-for-the-film ballads. An orgy, I tells you. It's a prehistoric mash-up, way before those singy-dancey folk from Glee were making them cool.

Things are a'happening in Atlantica today. Underwater sea creatures are dancing with other underwater sea creatures. Swordfish and octopi are eating meals together. Ariel and Flounder are playing some sort of blindfold tag which I'm not sure is completely safe. King Triton and Urchin are off to watch the turtle race together. (Gee, he even looks like Budnick.) The aquatic city is -- dare I say it? -- harmonious. A little too harmonious...

Ariel and Flounder, sick of playing their strange little game of Marco Polo, head on over to the scary dark part of the ocean. If we're keeping with Disney terms, it's kinda like the underwater equivalent of Scar's elephant graveyard. Because when my town is buzzing with music and excitement, I know I just gotta get out of there quick-smart. (That's actually only a little bit sarcastic.) Ariel finds a couple of crystal-type things on the ocean floor, but then panics when she hears a pained voice in the volcano. She rushes to the top, only to find a pair of creepy yellow eyes staring at her from a crack in the volcano. Thinking some poor soul is trapped in there, Ariel decides to try and free him. Flounder warns her about a mermaid legend he's heard where all the merpeople shut up a monster in the volcano to save their town. He's a little skimpy on the details. Ariel doesn't believe him, because just look at this poor soul with his yellow eyes and ominous background music and the fact that his character is actually called 'evil manta'! How could he possibly be bad?

Ariel gets to work on the volcano using the sharp crystals she just happened to find moments before. In no time, the volcano erupts and out pops a scary, buff evil manta. (As the title may or may not have suggested.) I don't believe said manta is anatomically correct, unless they actually are part man, part stingray, part Captain Planet. And really, what are the odds of that? It's more like a Transformer manta. The evil manta thanks Ariel for unleashing unholy hell on her once-beautiful city and then goes off to do something evil. Ariel's like, "Aw, crap."

Back in Atlantica, an octopus (the one we met at the start who was BFFs with the swordfish) is working on his tentacle muscle definition, when the evil manta comes by and tells him, "You have charm, charisma and not one but eight beautiful legs." Great, Ariel's freed a date rapist. Nice job, you little redheaded fruitcake. The evil manta continues, telling the octopus that he is far superior to the aforementioned BFF swordfish. At first the octopus stands up for his long-snouted friend, but eventually the evil manta's brainwashing gets the better of him. Then the evil manta heads on over to where the swordfish is hanging out, and feeds him some bullshit about how he's too good for the octopus. Oh, Disney, you have truly outdone yourself. When was the last time a cartoon villain tried to destroy the world with psychology? It's way scarier than violence, and you don't even have to be an incredibly toned purple sea creature to do it. It does seem like all that brute strength is going to waste, though.

Eventually, the evil manta turns all the residents of Atlantica against one another using nothing but his words and his impressive understanding of the human (?) psyche. Ariel watches on in horror, then defiantly announces that she's going to stop him. Way to be the hero, Ariel. It's not like you're the one who unleashed him on the city in the first place or anything. Sometimes I feel like all The Little Mermaid is, is Ariel fucking up and then becoming a heroine when she finally fixes her own mistakes. (And by 'fixes her own mistakes', I mean 'runs to her daddy who inevitably uses his kingliness to fix his stupid daughter's mistakes.')

Ariel makes a net out of seaweed, and she and Flounder trap the evil manta, but he gets out of it pretty damn quick by zapping it with his tail. (Or is it a stinger? I'm not particularly well-versed in manta anatomy.) The evil manta declares that, "I am more powerful than friendship, more powerful than love." Okay, I see where you're going with this, manta dearest...but if you're so powerful, then why don't you try and do something less completely lame? Not that I'm knocking his mad brainwashing skillz, because they rock and they rock hard, but using your power to make everyone a little bit sad? Hmm. Get them to rob a bank for you or something, I don't know.

The evil manta goes a'wandering around Atlantica, inexplicably talking to himself. In his little monologue, he states in no uncertain terms that, "I just love spreading the shadow of prejudice. It blots out friendships before they've even begun." Sigh. While I get that this whole evil-manta-spreads-hate storyline was always going to be part of a Message of the Day, I really didn't think they'd spell it out for us so boldly. Luckily, Tim Curry makes even the least awesome lines of dialogue into something truly amazing. Seriously, Tim Curry, if you ever asked me to marry you, I'd be walking down that aisle quicker than you could say Muppet Treasure Island.

The Atlanticans begin segregating themselves from each other. The eels build electric fences, the octopi all link hands and create a Great Wall of, uh, Octopi, I guess. They start blaming all the other species for all the problems facing the ocean. Hmm, while I really don't mind the evil manta spreading the hate around town and laughing maniacally when everything turns to shit, I'm not sure I really approve of all the political propaganda being funnelled through this episode.

Ariel calls a meeting, and the townsfolk agree to this for some reason. It seems weird to me that she's the only merperson in the town. Where are her billion sisters? Didn't they think to maybe come help save their town? Anyway, the different species all stand together and whisper rumours about everyone else. My favourite is the lobster who's badmouthing the turtles by saying, "The minute they're in their shells, [whispers] they do unspeakable things." Wow, really? Unspeakable things in their shells, huh? Well come on, buddy. Even turtles have their needs. For some reason, the swordfish tries to get all up in the octopus ghetto, and when his ex-friend tells him to fuck off, the swordfish uh, stabs him. That's pretty much the only thing I can call it. Then the octopus runs into the dolphins, and it turns into a full-on melee. I'm talking a Japanese parliament-type melee here. Ariel wigs out.

In all the confusion, Flounder and Ariel are separated. The manta uses this time to brainwash the poor little dude about how yucky mermaids are. Oh boy, now it's personal. He announces his intentions to psychologically cripple Ariel as well, because his tendency to talk to himself is getting worse. As soon as the manta leaves, Ariel rushes over and tries to convince Flounder that they're best friends, and Flounder tells her that he's not brainwashed -- he was just faking! Aw, Flounder, you rule. While they're having their Hallmark moment, the townspeople arrive and see "a mermaid and a fish together? Have you ever seen anything so strange?" Oh no, interracial friendship! Burn them! I accuse Goody Ariel!

Ariel and Flounder hurry off to a cave to shield themselves from the angry mob. Flounder wonders what the big deal is -- he and Ariel have always been friends. Then we get an extremely cool flashback detailing the first time the two met. Gosh, I love flashbacks. One thing worth noting is that Ariel really did go through an awkward, ugly stage like all of us...but still seemed to always have those monster boobies of hers.

Ariel (present Ariel) decides that she won't sit down and let the evil manta ruin her peaceful little town. Hey Ariel, you know what else might have prevented that? Not letting him out of the freakin' volcano in the first place. Just something for you to think about. With Flounder's help, Ariel rounds up the troops and tells them that it's the evil manta who's really speaking for them. They're like, "Bullshit, the evil manta's not even here!" So how does one solve a terrible, complex situation like this? With a jaunty tune, of course! That's the Disney way! Ariel sings "In Harmony", a song about how our differences are why we should all love each other. And let me tell you -- it's bloody brilliant. I could've sung it for you verbatim even before viewing this episode, that's how memorable it is. Suddenly, all of Atlantica's racism troubles have melted away. Everyone's singing and dancing with each other; it's all very Hairspray. Oh, and the octopus and the swordfish have made up, in case you were interested. (I know I was.)

While all this is going on, the evil manta is still talking to himself, bragging about how after he's through with Ariel, Atlantica will be his to control. (Even though Triton, Sebastian and Urchin and possibly many others are off at that turtle race, totally oblivious to what's going on.) Suddenly he hears the painful sound of music. The evil manta does not like music. He absolutely hates it, almost as much as he hates harmony, sunshine, lollipops, rainbows and everything that's wonderful when we're together. He rushes over to where the Atlanticans are, and reminds them that they don't belong together, but Ariel and her droogs sing him out of town. Despite the fact that he's at least seven feet taller than the largest sea creature there, he doesn't fight back or anything. Ohh, I get it -- the power of hate may seem like a strong enemy, but really, it's just a coward! I see what you did there, Disney. What a nice visual message that probably went completely over your target audience's heads, like most of this episode.

Triton, Urchin and Sebastian return home in their chariot. Triton, apparently not thrilled with how the turtle race went, declares that he's glad to be home. Sebastian ominously says, "Atlantica is the happiest place under the sea." It's as though he knew what was going on this whole time! And that, boys and girls, concludes my detailed explanation as to why I wanted to live under the sea when I was four. I'm pretty sure you did too. (Although I reckon I would've gone to that turtle race and avoided all of this.)


  1. Tim Curry does evil so well in voice form. Wasn't he also the evil guy in Fern Gully? That smoke thing?

  2. Yes he did! Good pick-up. I loved him in the Wild Thornberries as well, one of the few voice roles where he wasn't evil...

  3. "An incredibly toned purple sea creature"! Ha! I love how children's entertainment is full of characters who are evil just for the fuck of it.

  4. True. I would really like to know what went on in his little purple manta childhood for him to have so much hate in his heart. Unfortunately, we'll never know.