It may be hard to believe now that Disney is the biggest studio in the world and cartoons frequently lead box office tallies and TV ratings, but in the ’70s and ’80s, animation was barely hanging on all over Hollywood, and at Disney in particular. Cartoons were strictly cheapo Saturday morning filler, with the occasional big-screen outing rarely getting much attention. That all changed with the back-to-back smashes “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “The Little Mermaid” in 1988 and 1989. Suddenly, ‘toons were on top of the world again, and Disney was on top of them all.
“The Little Mermaid” set the tone for Disney’s future successes with its timeless story of a princess, Ariel, looking for love with the help of cute animal sidekicks and opposed by an unforgettably over-the-top villain — accompanied by a bestselling Broadway-style score. That kid-pleasing formula means that, as much as any of its imitators, “The Little Mermaid” has been a major part of multiple generations’ childhoods. It’s so formative that many of its young fans have gone back to revisit it as adults, and they often find more in “The Little Mermaid” than they remember. Here are some of our favorite discoveries that younger audiences might have missed.