Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Budget: $8 million
Box office: $69.8 million
Plot: In 1964, eight-year-old Allen Bauer is vacationing with his family near Cape Cod. While taking a sight-seeing tour on a small boat, he sees something below the ocean surface that fascinates him, and jumps into the water even though he cannot swim. Underwater, he encounters a mermaid girl and inexplicably finds himself able to breathe under water. However, Allen is pulled back to the surface, and the two are separated. Since no one else has seen the girl, Allen comes to believe the encounter was a near-death hallucination.
Twenty years later, Allen is now co-owner of a wholesale fruit and vegetable business in New York City with his womanizing brother Freddie. Depressed after his latest breakup, Allen returns to Cape Cod, where he encounters eccentric scientist Dr. Walter Kornbluth, who is determined to discover legendary sea creatures.
When a motorboat fails, Allen falls into the sea and is knocked out when the boat hits his head. He wakes up with a headache on a beach, where he encounters a beautiful naked woman with long blonde hair and the inability to talk. After kissing him, she dives into the sea, where she transforms into a mermaid. While swimming underwater, she is sighted by Kornbluth.
The mermaid has Allen’s wallet, and uses the charts of a sunken ship to find New York. She comes ashore naked at the Statue of Liberty, where she is arrested for indecent exposure. Using information from Allen’s wallet, the police contact Allen, and the mysterious girl gets released into his care. She learns how to speak English from watching television, and is eager to see a big city for the first time in her life. Unable to say her real name in human language, she selects “Madison” from a Madison Avenue sign. She tells Allen that she will be in New York for “six fun-filled days when the moon is full”, but if she stays longer, she can never go home again.
Despite Madison’s occasional unusual behavior, she and Allen fall in love. Allen proposes to Madison, but she declines and runs away. After pondering her reason for coming to the city in the first place, Madison returns to Allen and agrees to marry him, with the added promise of telling him the truth about herself at an upcoming dignitary dinner to welcome the President of the United States.
Meanwhile, Kornbluth, realizing that the naked woman at Liberty Island was the mermaid he had encountered, pursues the couple, trying to expose her as a mermaid by splashing her with water. His first attempts are unsuccessful, and Kornbluth ends up with multiple injuries. He finally lies in wait with water tanks at the dignitary dinner, splashing Madison with an attached hose and successfully proving the existence of mermaids.
Madison is seized by government agents and taken to a secret lab, headed by Kornbluth’s rival Dr. Ross, for examination. Kornbluth learns that the scientists are planning to dissect Madison: he completely regrets his actions, as he just wanted to prove that he was not crazy, not get her killed.
Allen is shocked by Madison’s secret, but when he voices his disillusionment to his brother, Freddie lashes out at him, telling his brother how unbelievably happy he was with her. Realizing he still loves Madison, Allen tries to make contact with government officials to let him see Madison, but to no avail. He then confronts a guilt-ridden Kornbluth, who agrees to help him rescue her.
Impersonating Swedish scientists, Freddie, Allen, and Kornbluth enter the lab and smuggle Madison outside. Freddie decides to be arrested in Allen’s place, while Kornbluth unsuccessfully tries to stop United States troops from catching the couple. Despite being under hot pursuit, Allen and Madison make it back to the docks at the New York harbor.
Madison tells Allen that he can survive under water as long as he is with her, causing Allen to realize she was the young mermaid he had met so long ago. Madison warns him that if he comes to live in the sea, he cannot return. She jumps in the water when the troops close in on them. When other troops attempt to arrest Allen, he jumps into the water after her, forsaking his life on dry land. The troops dive in the water to go after the couple, but they fight them off to escape. The credits roll as the loving couple swims along the ocean floor toward what appears to be an underwater kingdom.
Background: Producer Brian Grazer had pitched the film to numerous studios but was turned down repeatedly until Walt Disney Productions, then headed by Ron W. Miller, agreed to produce the film. The key to the proposal’s success was that Grazer changed the premise description from the idea of a mermaid adjusting to life in New York City to that about a love story about an ordinary man in New York City meeting a mermaid.
Darryl Hannah’s mermaid tail was designed and created by Academy Award-winning visual effects artist Robert Short. It was fully functional. Hannah had been swimming “mermaid” style with her legs bound together since she was a child, due to her fascination with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” story. The tail was difficult to remove. For the sake of efficiency, Hannah at first kept it on while the cast had lunch. In the documentary contained on the 20th-anniversary Splash! DVD, Tom Hanks recalled how the other cast members would drop French fries over the side of the tank to her as though she were a trained sea mammal, because she couldn’t leave the water while her legs were “shrink-wrapped”.
The beach where Tom Hanks first encounters Daryl Hannah is on the former Gorda Cay in the Bahamas, which now is known as Castaway Cay, the private island of Disney Cruise Line.
Splash was directed by Ron Howard. He began his career as a child actor, appearing in The Music Man and on The Andy Griffith Show. He starred as Ritchie Cunningham on Happy Days and in American Graffiti. He made his directorial debut with Grand Theft Auto. He has gone on to direct Night Shift, Cocoon, Willow, Parenthood, Backdraft, Apollo 13, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind 1 Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Rush, In the Heart of the Sea, Inferno, Frost/Nixon and Solo: A Star Wars Story. He is the narrator for the show Arrested Development.
Music The score was written by Lee Holdridge. The title theme was “Love Came For Me.” It was written by Lee Holdridge and Will Jennings, amd sung by Rita Coolidge.
Cast: We have already profiled Tom Hanks, John Candy, Eugene Levy, and Howard Morris.
Daryl Hannah as Madison. She made her screen debut in Brian De Palma’s supernatural horror film The Fury. Other roles as Pris Stratton in Blade Runner, Cathy Featherstone in Summer Lovers, Roxanne Kowalski in Roxanne, Darien Taylor in Wall Street, Annelle Dupuy Desoto in Steel Magnolias, Angelica Turing in Sense8, and Elle Driver in Kill Bill. Royce D. Applegate as Buckwalter. His mostvisible role was that of Chief Petty Officer Manilow Crocker on seaQuest DSV. Applegate portrayed Confederate General James L. Kemper in two films, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.
Dody Goodman as Mrs. Stimler . She played the mother of the title character in the television series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. She was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show in the 1950s, and cast member of The Mary Tyler Moore Hour in 1979. Aside from film and television appearances, she also voice acted Miss Miller in the television series Alvin and the Chipmunks and the film spin-off The Chipmunk Adventure. Shecky Greene as Mr. Buyrite. He is known for his nightclub performances in Las Vegas, where he became a headliner in the 1950s. He has appeared in several films, including Tony Rome and History of the World, Part I and has guest starred on such television shows as Mad About You, Laverne & Shirley, Love, American Style, and Combat!
Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel both make cameo appearances in the film. Ganz plays Stan the Tour Guide in the scene set at the Statue of Liberty. Mandel plays the man in charge of ice skate rentals. Director Ron Howard’s father, actor Rance Howard, can be seen early in the film as Mr. McCullough, an unhappy customer screaming at Allen about his cherries. Howard’s brother Clint Howard can be seen as a wedding guest, identified by Candy’s character as the bride’s brother and yelled at by Hanks.
Critical Reception: Splash was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. 2
A negative review came from Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times who gave the movie 1.5 stars out of 4 and thought the film’s biggest failing was casting then-unknown Hanks as the lead rather than the established comedy star John Candy: “They should have made Candy the lover, and Hanks the brother. Then we’d be on the side of this big lunk who suddenly has a mermaid drop into his life.”
Sequel: Splash, Too, directed by Greg Antonacci, was a television film released in 1988 starring Todd I as Allen Bauer, Amy Yasbeck as Madison, and Donovan Scott as Freddie Bauer. Only one member of the original cast, Dody Goodman, the Bauers’ slightly deranged assistant Mrs. Stimler, reprises her role. In 2016, producer Brian Grazer said he was working on a remake of Splash.
Legacy: The mermaid fountain was featured at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, in an area that is now part of Galaxy’s Edge. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s book Freakonomics credits the film with popularizing the name “Madison” for girls.3
My take: I saw this movie as a kid and have been fascinated with mermaids ever since. This movie is funny but it’s funny in different ways. It has slapstick, timing, sight gags, deadpan deliveries, you name it and it’s funny due to the performances of its four leads. And if you think about it, even though the four leads had been seen on television and on film, this is the movie that made all of them household names.
Next Week: Rick Moranis shrinks his kids