Splash, Too (1988)


Allen Bauer (Todd Waring) has been living with his mermaid wife Madison (Amy Yasbeck) on a remote island away from civilised life. Longing for a ‘normal life’, Madison grants Allen the chance to go back to the mainland and take a crack at suburban marital life, but things aren’t as easy as presumed.

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Trailer for The Wuzzles.

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Disney and Touchstone’s 1986 rom-com fantasy Splash by director Ron Howard showcased the undeniable chemistry between stars Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah in a ‘mermaid in New York City’ scenario that saw Disney successfully reel in an inter-generational audience. Splash cemented itself as the elusive live-action mermaid classic, setting a bar for the rom-com fantasy hybrid that is often imitated but never duplicated. Howard managed to use the charismatic, naive abilities and radiating star appeal of both Hanks and Hannah to his advantage, capturing two performances that manage to glitter on-screen in a contemporary reworking of The Little Mermaid, minus the Hans Christian Andersen morbidity. Throw in John Candy as Hanks’ shady, but good-hearted brother and Eugene Levy as the antagonistic marine bioligist, hellbent on proving the existence of mermaids and the film becomes the literal perfect fish-out-of-water fantasy.

Naturally, Disney wanted to flap the hell out of this mermaid tale (tail) and in 1988 the follow-up two-parter telefilm Splash, Too premiered as The Disney Sunday Movie, Part 1 during one weekend, Part 2 the next. Instantly, it appeared Disney had kept their fish out of the water for far too long because Splash, Too is about as fun as a dead fish. Viewers loathed it and critics skinned and boned it alive, ultimately leading Disney to infamously shelving it amidst a limited home video release with many people unaware the sequel exists. That damned Disney vault! Splash, Too is a floppy one. The chances are you weren’t aware Splash, Too existed and it’s a fair call because tele-films often do slip through the cracks and have only just begun to emerge with the rise of YouTube but there is a myriad of other reasons why the film remains largely unknown within the climate of Disney’s live-action domain.

To begin deconstructing Splash, Too, the obvious misstep was casting: none of the original cast returned to reprise their roles (all but one minor character). Every one is new and nobody is of A-grade game. It goes to say that the new Allen and Madison (Waring and Yasbeck) could not recreate the genuine charisma that Hanks and Hannah managed to magically showcase, not because they aren’t capable of doing so but because it wasn’t written in the film’s dead-as-a-fish screenplay.  Not a diss to the cast at all, it’s one big criticism to the screenwriter because the film is extremely lazy and serves no real purpose other than to illustrate corporate Disney’s quick-to-act interests in milking the companies commercial successes. Splash, Too is a textbook example that a bad screenplay cannot be made redeemable no matter what other elements may work within the picture. Without a solid screenplay, you get nothing.

Visually, the film looks good. The visual effects are standard, in particular the marvellously conceptualised mermaid costume. Yasbeck looks the part with the crimped hair and lobster-red tail but is undernourished by being given a next-to-nothing characterisation to play with.  This, is to blame on the screenwriter and Disney’s decision to aim solely at the younger demographic via the ABC network. In terms of what works, small fish-out-of-water moments such as when Madison takes a dip in an above-ground pool, but the film ultimately commits the sequel sin of discarding the ‘rules’ Splash worked hard to forge. Gone is the ‘Madison can only stay on land for 3 days rule’. Gone is the ‘if Allen leaves the mainland he can never return’ rule. Everything in this film is blown OUT of the water.  Splash, Too sees Madison possessing a new magical ability that permits her to be able to act as a seer who is capable of magically seeing anyone, anywhere in the world with the the twirl of a finger over water like a liquid fortune teller. This new ability serves absolutely no purpose other than to retain some sort of fantasy element that the screenwriter seems dedicated to in convincing audiences the needs to show us magic. The audience get it. It’s a mermaid movie. The fantasy element doesn’t have to be relayed! If Madison could twirl her finger farther into the future maybe she would have seen the fate of Splash, Too, drowned whiny Allen and swum somewhere else where things are more lively that this film’s setting, like I don’t know…maybe Antarctica?

Splash, Too’s screenplay is a great example and sad reflection of Disney’s corporate ’80s banality where commercial business came before the magic. The charming humour and character play that sparkled in the first film is replaced with unfunny slapstick humour with dialogue as fun as swallowing sea water. Setting wise, swapping Manhattan for archtypical middle-class suburbia was a gigantic mistake because it eradicates the potential to showcase the city once again and its many humorous qualities and diverse locations; a whole world within itself. Placing a mermaid in suburbia was a lazy idea when we had already seen her in New York and New York is a big place; familiarity in Splash, Toos case is essential; nobody tuned in to Splash, Too, to see bland domestic marital woes. Strains of Madison and Allen’s union are a lazy and uninspired trope of day-time midday movie drama that Disney’s children audience clearly don’t understand or care about because this is supposed to be a fantasy movie. Splash, Too could pass as a discarded flimsy Flipper: The TV Series two-part episode with a flatlined Bold And The Beautiful melodrama as it’s very evident the film serves no real purpose in the continuation of the Splash universe.

The narrative goes something like this:

  1. The characters move back to the mainland
  2. Experience difficulty in re-adjusting to suburban marital life
  3. They part
  4. They come back together
  5. Then to fill out the remainder of the film by deciding to go and rescue a dolphin named Salty who has been captured by a scientist.

Funnily, the film opens with the familiar Disney fairytale book that introduces the audience to a summary of the abridged, animated Splash story of the first film, confirming that this is indeed another Disney foray into unhappily ever after and in the tradition of all Disney tales where the woman succumbs to the man’s demands. At least Madison got to spend a few years having it her way by endlessly bathing on a remote island. The character though, seems to have worn the pants for those four years, not bad for a mermaid.

The decision to make Splash, Too a telemovie was a fundamental mistake. The movie doesn’t flow like a theatrical film, it’s constructed with obvious commercial breaks between the mini-acts similar to a children’s television program permeating immediate TV viewership feel. The narrative is paper thin, uninspired and as stated, basic as hell. What was once a fantasy masterpiece is now secondary filler to serve as a commercial ad-break designed to showcase Disney’s other programs and merchandise products. On video, no ads are prevalent, however it becomes painfully obvious the film was largely abandoned before it even premiered on television. It does seem as though a home video release was not on Disney’s agenda because the film heavily relies on a televisual style.

In terms of its sequel value, missed opportunity is the key phrase when reflecting back on what the film could have been. What happened to the beautiful undersea city of lights that Allen and Madison swam to at the end of Splash during the credits? Remember seeing that? It confirmed there’s a whole world of merflok under the sea. Why so many rules in Splash and none in Splash, Too? Tom Hanks’ Allen would not have survived that long, disconnected from his former busy city life. How the hell did the guy live? Where the hell is this island they lived on? How did they go unnoticed for four years? Maybe this was why Tom Hanks did Cast Away, to really test this notion of Allen’s physical and mental endurance. Splash, Too raises a whole net of questions we will never know the answers to, but the biggest is: why Disney? Why did you ruin Ron Howard’s pearler of a movie with a cheap tele-movie follow up? Telemovie sequels are never a good idea.

Splash, Too was released on home video in the late ’80s and never seen again. To this day, it remains out of print and floats around on VHS on the odd auction site. There’s no official Disney DVD, no Blu-ray release. Nothing. The film is stuck in the bowel of the Disney vault and will most likely stay there.  Rumour has it, that it did air once on the Disney Channel in the last few years but as per Splash narrative rule, can never receive airtime again which seems to be the only rule Splash, Too abided to.

Overall, Splash, Too is a lesson in how not to follow up a hit movie. It’s a dead fish. A huge dead, stinking, floppy fish with the charisma and charm about as wooden as a pirate’s stumpy leg. Truth be told, there is a another reason the film was given abysmal treatment: Disney had been priming their great animated motion picture comeback throughout the years of Splash, Too‘s inception. A year after Splash, Too, Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989) blitzed the global box-office and saw the studio ride the renaissance wave of box office and renewed cultural dominance all the way through the ’90s.

Splash, Too on VHS is about as rare and elusive as a mermaid sighting. It exists on video and remains largely hard to find and while worse movies do exist, remember the next time you look at Ariel of The Little Mermaid, know her famous red hair would have been blonde if it wasn’t for the commercial and critical failure of this very film.

Rating new

2 stars


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