By Eddie Harrison
Watching “Splash” on Disney+ is quite a strange experience; a big hit back in the day, Ron Howard’s fantasy comedy feels extremely out-of-place on the Mouse House’s streaming service. That’s partly because “Splash” was a product of the Touchstone imprint to home more adult material, and the touch of writer Bruce Jay Friedman, fresh from Stir Crazy, is evident in some of the trimmings. Disney+ rate the film as suitable for six and over due to scenes of smoking, but there’s quite a few outré story elements contained here that make “Splash” something of an anomaly for the studio’s streaming service circa 2020.
This was an early role for Tom Hanks; too early for some critics, who bemoaned the lack of a substantial lead. Obviously that’s no longer a problem since Hanks has done pretty well since 1983 and he’s very lively as Allen, a fruit and veg vendor in a colourful NYC setting. His brother Freddie (John Candy) is something of a frenemy, more concerned with getting letters published in Penthouse magazine than the day to day running of the family business. Freddie’s interest in upskirt-ing women is also seen as an amusing foible rather than criminal behaviour, and his interest in pornography turns out to be a key plot point. Freddie turns out to be an asset when Allen embarks on a fling with mermaid Madison (Daryl Hannah); Allen is a simple soul; he somehow doesn’t pick up the clues when Madison walks around naked, screeches like a dolphin, and grows a tail in the bath, and even her gift of a mermaid statue doesn’t spark any insight as to her potential origins.
In fact, “Splash” hits a deeper level when it comes to considering male-chauvinism; with Freddie as his reflection, it’s clear that Allen doesn’t understand much about women, and Madison’s otherness reflects some kind of feminine mystique that is beyond Allen and Freddie to understand. There’s clearly a missing scene here; after their initial encounter, Madison dives down to the sea bed and consults a sea hag who outlines the rules about mermaid/man romance, but because this scene is missing from the final film, it’s not clear why Allen can’t be told the truth about who Madison is. But this omission works for the magic of the film, and it becomes clear that Allen and Madison love each other no matter what, a nice break from the exposition and narrative contrivance that often bedevil fantasy films.
“Splash” has clearly been tampered with for this Disney+ release, with Madison sprouting CGI hair to cover her nakedness in several scenes. But such prudery seems out of place in a film where Freddie boasts about the size of his manhood in Swedish, a language he claims to have mastered from viewing soft-porn. “Splash” ends up being a light fantasy for adult that somehow works for kids too, predating the multi-layered appeal of “Shrek.” Disney wouldn’t touch many of these story elements today, but it makes sense to retain “Splash” as a company asset while mad relations like “Song of the South” are locked in the attic. “Splash” depicts sexist behavior, but also forms a critique of such antics, and as such, is one of the more sophisticated entries in the studio’s varied history.
Eddie Harrison manages Film Authority, a blog dedicated to sharing his personal recommendations.