Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water …

Buena Vista has decided to re-re-release “The Little Mermaid” — which just completed a 17-day closed-end run — on Dec. 19.

That means Ariel and her undersea pals will resurface on the opening weekend of “Titanic,” “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “Mouse Hunt”

The move, which comes during one of the most congested holiday periods ever, has some theater owners and rival distribs scratching their heads.

“With ‘Home Alone 3,’ ‘Anastasia,’ ‘Flubber’ and ‘Mouse Hunt’ in the market, we don’t need another family film,” one head buyer pointed out.

The masses have spoken

But BV distribution prez Phil Barlow said it was theater owners who had requested the relaunch. “Exhibition came to us and said they wanted it. I’m talking about a lot of people. They know better than we do if its going to be valuable to them.”

But an exec at a major chain said he was baffled by the strategy. “No one from my office called them. We’re not playing (‘The Little Mermaid’) anywhere on Dec. 19.”

The honcho said he still was miffed about Disney’s policy of ending the picture’s initial reissue on a Sunday, leaving his theaters with a screen to fill for the remaining four days of the play week.

Disney isn’t specifying an end date this time around, however. “Whoever wants to play it can play it,” Barlow said. “We’ll go through the holidays and then see what happens.”

Barlow said the number of screens has yet to be determined. Disney reportedly already is struggling to book its target number of theaters on “An American Werewolf in Paris” and “Mr. Magoo,” which both debut on an extremely crowded Christmas Day.

Screens see double duty

Exhibition execs said Buena Vista salespeople told them the studio was willing to take split-screen engagements on “Mermaid,” with the animated feature playing two early shows per day, while another picture — most likely an older-skewing holdover — would take the evening slots.

Disney received some negative publicity for its initial re-release of “Mermaid.” Coming one week before “Anastasia’s” debut, it was seen as a defensive maneuver.

“I have no idea why they’re doing it,” said Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Century Fox Domestic Film Group. “If they’re doing it to hurt ‘Anastasia,’ they weren’t successful the first time and they won’t hurt it the second time.”

Barlow said the new release was timed to take advantage of school vacation and had nothing to do with “Anastasia” or the debut of the DreamWorks kidpic “Mouse Hunt.”

“Nothing but good can come of this,” Barlow said.

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