Back in the good old days of the mid-1990s, Disney Channel was a mishmash of The New Mickey Mouse Club, Australian sci-fi shows, Zorro reruns and movies. Lots and lots of movies: old Disney cartoons and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, mostly. But sometimes, after 8 p.m., the line-up would skew away from kiddie fare.
One such sophisticated film was the Tom Hanks romantic comedy Splash, which is basically The Little Mermaid set in New York City, but without the talking tuna fish, evil sea queen and teen marriage. (More about Ariel’s poor life choices and stunted ambitions later.)
came out in 1984, the first film released under Disney’s “grown-up” division, Touchstone Pictures. It was rated PG for one utterance of “shit” and a scene where Daryl Hannah, very naked, visits the Statue of Liberty.
Splash was responsible for making “Madison” a name for girls and jumpstarting Tom Hanks’ movie career. It was also directed by future Oscar-winner Ron Howard and features Eugene Levy as a mermaid-obsessed marine scientist. John Candy, at the time the film’s only recognizable star, got top billing for playing Hanks’ lascivious older brother.
Here’s the deal: Daryl Hannah plays the mermaid who gets some legs so she can search for the man of her dreams she met
as a little girl mermaid (she chooses the name Madison from the Manhattan street sign). Hanks is the human guy, Allen, who falls in love with her. (He thinks the time they met was just a childhood dream.) All sorts of fish-out-of-water hijinks ensue, until Levy’s mad scientist sprays water on Madison in the middle of a crowded street. Then her legs turn into a big goldfish tail and Allen is understandably
freaked out as some opportunistic Secret Service officers whisk her away. (Yeah, this all goes down at a presidential campaign dinner. See? Very grown-up.)
It’s OK, though — love prevails and Allen rescues Madison from the big, bad government scientists.
The trailer is pretty hokey, but you get the idea. The cast is fantastic, from Levy and
Candy’s comedic timing to the chemistry between Hannah and Hanks. Hannah’s wardrobe is outrageously dated and kind of ugly, but that’s part of the movie’s charm. The script is clever, funny and touching (it was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay).
I first saw Splash sometime in the middle of first grade, and I would stalk the Disney Channel row in TV Guide to see when it would be on again. An ’80s rom-com was the next logical step up from my obsession with The Little Mermaid.
That particular Hans Christian Anderson adaptation was Disney’s reentry into animation domination that lasted until the end of the 20th century. It signaled a modern era of artistry and commercial success for the studio. And though it came to theaters five years after Splash, it’s pretty darn backwards.
Seriously, what a lame premise. Let’s allow the wonderful folks at assholedisney.tumblr.com to explain all my frustrations with Ariel & Co.:
Ariel decides to become human for her man, giving up swimming around with all her spunky fish friends and getting to wear a purple shell bra. Not to mention the fact that she also has to leave behind her dad and all her sisters. Eric was a hottie, sure, but what a message to send to little girls! Ariel literally gives up her voice to be with a man.
Meanwhile, in New York City, Madison the Mermaid was smart and learned English just by watching the display TVs in Bloomingdale’s. Now that’s a modern, independent woman.
Disney raids its fairy tale cache for ABC’s hit series Once Upon a Time, and it’s actually pretty sophisticated. Unlike, say, Ariel’s dating strategy.