There’s a generic blandness to every aspect of “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea,” a made-for-video follow-up to the 1989 smash that signaled a renaissance for Disney-produced animated features. Like most of the studio’s small-screen sequels to bigscreen hits, pic is aimed squarely at undemanding moppets who’ll be satisfied simply by getting a chance to spend more time with familiar characters. Target aud is sufficiently large to guarantee huge, if not record-setting, sales and rentals.
Ariel (again voiced by Jodi Benson), the once and future “Little Mermaid,” experiences a kind of karmic payback in “Mermaid II.” Years after defying her father, King Triton of Atlantica (Kenneth Mars), to seek love as a surface-dweller, Ariel faces a rebellion by her adolescent daughter, Melody (Tara Charendoff). Thanks to the duplicitous trickery of Morgana (Pat Carroll) — the multi-tentacled sister of Ursula, the first pic’s villain — Melody fulfills her dreams of undersea adventure by becoming a mermaid. But Melody is ensnared in Morgana’s vengeful schemes, forcing Ariel to sprout scales again to save her errant daughter.
The action is tepid, the animation is uneven — note Melody’s sluggish movements as she races across a ballroom — and the songs are forgettable. New supporting characters, a brash penguin and a slow-witted walrus, are faded carbons of similar sidekicks from other Disney cartoons. “Mermaid II” is so obviously designed for future TV airings that, every so often, there’s an obvious break where a commercial can be easily inserted.