The Little Mermaid: Technicolor Digital curls out another one
This morning I received a copy of Disney’s upcoming 2-disc Platinum Edition of The Little Mermaid (R1 USA), courtesy of DVD Pacific. Unfortunately, it’s not good news. Yes, the extras are numerous; yes, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s songs sound punchy; no, there’s no crappy inserted “all-new animation”… but the transfer leaves a lot to be desired.
Disney have always had a rather spotty history with their Platinum Editions, especially those for films not shot in the digital realm. Previously, their “restorations” were handled by Lowry Digital Images, the same company responsible for ruining the Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies with their overly aggressive digital noise reduction techniques. I first became aware of their destructive influence with Bambi, whose transfer was so horribly mangled that parts of the image that had been subjected to “clean-up” literally warped and swam around before my very eyes, while incompetently handled DVNR eroded the pencil lines of the original animation in much the same manner as the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 cartoons that we were all getting so worked up about last summer.
With Cinderella and Lady and the Tramp, Lowry continued their campaign of mass destruction, this time seeming to get the line mangling under control, but filtering and noise reducing the images so much that any hint of film grain was completely eradicated.
With The Little Mermaid, however, Disney have sunk to a new low. The restoration this time was carried out not by Lowry but by Technicolor Digital Services, who have subjected the film to a series of harmful and inconsistently applied algorithms. Heavy temporal noise reduction is visible on a number of occasions, causing the pencil outlines of the animation to ghost and leave trails, giving a look much like that of an LCD screen with a very low response time. On other occasions, the lines become eroded in the same manner as Bambi and the Looney Tunes cartoons. Perhaps most distracting, though, is that the level grain and detail erosion varies on a shot by shot basis. Some shots look fine, showing a reasonable level of grain and detail, but others will suddenly look oily and smudged, especially shots with a lot of pale hues (presumably because they would be more likely to be affected by grain).
The end result is very disappointing, and it’s clear that these so-called restoration “experts” should be kept away from films such as these, because they obviously have no understanding of how to deal with animation. These transfers are certainly watchable, but are far from pleasant, and in my opinion constitute artistic vandalism, given that these are likely to serve as the masters for several subsequent generations of releases of these highly-regarded films.
It’s also worth mentioning that this transfer is cropped. Compared with the 1.66:1 transfer of the Limited Issue release from 2000, sourced from a LaserDisc master, this 1.78:1 transfer is missing information at both the top and bottom of the frame. Obviously, the film would have been intended to be exhibited in a variety of ratios from 1.66:1 to 1.85:1, depending on the specific dimensions of the cinema screen on which it was being projected, but the use of 1.66:1 transfers for just about every other Disney film from The Rescuers onwards suggests, to me, that those responsible prefer to have the full image visible for their DVD releases. Either way, cropping or not, this is a disappointing transfer, especially given the film’s historical value.