Animation: The Little Mermaid

Disney. The word is so synonymous in my mind with "animated feature films" that it's like using "Kleenex" for "tissue". When children come to my house, as they sometimes do, they're invariably drawn to my huge selection of "Disney movies", only about 70% of which are actually affiliated with Disney in any way shape or form. I enjoy most of them, or I wouldn't own them. They each have their own problems, but a good many of them have something truly positive that I treasure. And what better way to start a deconstruction of animated feature films with the one I knew first and loved best: The Little Mermaid?

The Little Mermaid is possibly one of the most contentious movies I've ever loved. It was created in 1989, and has been specially beloved by many children in general and by myself in particular since then. I must have watched the movie eighty squintillion times as a child; it was one of the few videos I loved enough to manage to convince my parents to buy, and I watched it until the video literally broke from use. By that point, Disney had locked the reel in their "appreciate for value" vault and when they relaunched the movie in theaters in 1997, I was there to see it on the big screen. I have never been able to watch the movie without sobbing straight through from opening titles to end credits.

I sometimes feel like everyone I meet online has seen this movie at least once. Almost all of them have an opinion on the movie. Most of the opinions are strongly polarized: either Ariel is a free-thinking young woman who bravely rejects racism to forge her own destiny and create a lasting peace between two cultures or she's an idealized anti-feminist icon, complete with Barbie-doll figure and shell bikini, completely willing to throw away her family, her culture, and her own voice for the sake of a man she's never even met.

Those who fall between these two views tend to stay out of the flame wars. I don't blame them.

I like The Little Mermaid. I like a lot of things that are problematic, and I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with liking problematic things as long as a certain awareness is maintained that Problems Abound Therein. Art is complicated like that. But I like The Little Mermaid and I think it's compatible with valuable feminist messages. Certainly, it was my first introduction into a feminist narrative and I have always considered the problematic romance storyline to be camouflage for the real story. But we'll see whether or not you agree.

Please note that everything I say from here on in is just my opinion.

For me, The Little Mermaid is the story of an Otherkin girl living in a world that is hostile to Otherkin. Ariel is a human born into a merperson's body, and in a culture that routinely lambasts humans for the very same things that the underwater world does: eat fish. (Seriously. That shark at the beginning who chases Ariel and Flounder is clearly trying to eat them. These are not Happy Vegetarian Fishes.)

For me, The Little Mermaid is the story of a feminist girl living in a world that is hostile to feminist ideals. Ariel is a headstrong young woman who wants knowledge and growth and her own voice, but these things are being systematically denied to her. The only form of learning her father permits is that of patriarchy-approved women's pursuits: she may study music, but not other cultures.

For me, The Little Mermaid is the story of a culture-conscious girl living in a world that mandates insularity. Ariel wants to learn about cultures and peoples and practices and histories different from her own, but she lives in a world that holds even third-hand study of such things to be utterly forbidden because the power structure believes that the populace is safer if they are steeped in fear and ignorance. (Fearful merpeople won't try to make contact with the humans, and thus fear maintains their secrecy.)

And now I'll walk through the film and explain why I feel these things.

The opening titles air over singing humans as they work on the local prince's pleasure ship / wedding ship / fishing ship. Well, there are three ships in the movie, and they all look pretty much the same to me, so I'm going to assume that Prince Eric has a fleet of all-purpose boats and this is one of them. But the sailors are singing while they collect fish in their nets and Eric (and the audience!) is learning, and here are a couple of problematic things up-front.

One, everyone in this universe is white. (We're going to be seeing this one a lot in the Disney deconstructions.) Two, this is not a working class universe. Oh, the fishermen are fishing, but this is really the only work you're going to see in this movie outside of a quick shot of laundry-washing and some cooking. I think Eric's kingdom is supposed to be one of those picturesque smaller ones where the royalty aren't far removed from the common folk and don't mind getting their hands dirty, but it's kind of a muddled message and it only gets worse when we get to Triton's kingdom. Let's just place a big sign over the deconstruction that these are Privileged White People with the inherent issues that inevitably follow.

We pan down under the sea to the King Triton's Schmancy Music Hall and Combination Throne Room just in time to see Ariel completely fail to show up for a music gig that was intended largely to glorify her father while his daughters display themselves to the populace and use their vocal talents to praise his name. I can't imagine why a young woman might think she had better uses of her time than to be a public ornament to her father, nor why she might refuse to come to rehearsals (as Sebastian tells us). And when her father realizes that Ariel has failed to show up for the concert, his eyes literally turn red with rage. Yowza.

And here is an important point: Ariel's dad is abusive. Oh, I think he doesn't try to be, and I even think he doesn't want to be, but he is. And I really do think it's a function of The Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too. You see this clearly in the scenes with Triton and Sebastian: both men shore up each other's will to be harsher than they otherwise individually would be inclined to be, and they do this because they think it's expected of them. When Triton is alone and when no one is looking, his face softens, his expression is sad, and he sighs and weeps for the decaying relationship he has with his daughter. It's when others are looking -- notably, Sebastian, the only other adult male in Triton's scenes -- that Triton is at his most abusively fierce.

I don't think this is a coincidence. Triton isn't monstrous and Sebastian doesn't callously bring out the worst in him; they both reinforce each other's commitment to harmful patriarchy ideals, because they've been raised to believe the patriarchy expects them to. Neither is it a coincidence that Triton's final act of redemption comes after he and Sebastian have revisited a previous conversation and they've admitted that they were both wrong and that their actions were harmful. But now I'm jumping ahead.

By giving Triton this characterization, Ariel is immediately given a rich and sympathetic background before she even swims onto the stage. She's living in a deeply patriarchal and oppressive community where her status as "princess" is largely ornamental and wholly subject to the whims and wishes of her father. While she probably had moments of tenderness between her and her father, particularly when she was younger and could be indulged as a child instead of punished for being a woman, their relationship is strained by his insistence on publicly conforming to aggressive and abusive parenting models whenever anyone is looking. These shifts in emotional tone probably confuse and frustrate Ariel: why is her father so kind at times and yet so harsh at other times? She's coped with the on-and-off abuse by literally withdrawing. By forgetting rehearsals and the concert and pulling back into her cavern of collections, she's not passively asserting herself or deliberately catering to the patriarchy; she's trying to carve out a safe space, mentally and physically.

We are introduced to Ariel who, at great personal risk to her safety -- both from the sharks who seek to eat her and from her father who could severely punish her -- she is scavenging human items from old shipwrecks. And this... is amazing! Our protagonist is an explorer. What's more, she's a scientist, going to a direct source (albeit a bad source, since the seagull is actually ignorant of human affairs, but Ariel has no way of knowing that) to be educated on the items she finds. She wants to understand the humans, and to study the things they do and the items they create. She has a whole secret museum dedicated to all the things she's collected over the years.

Words fail me in describing how incredible I find this. In another movie, or in a book, there would be more time spent on just how incredibly subversive Ariel is being and has been, for literally years and years. This isn't a trivial hobby or a girlish obsession; she's the only person in her culture who is both willing and privileged enough (due to the fact that Triton might not blast his own daughter into tiny bits for breaking his laws) to almost single-handedly set up an entire cultural museum of study on a race of people right outside the kingdom's doorstep. The sheer bravery and gumption and intellectual devotion necessary for Ariel to have done what she's done is amazing: she's essentially created her very own Human Studies department right under the king's nose because studying other cultures is important, dammit.

I dare you to bring me a Disney heroine who has demonstrated similar levels of bravery, intellect, scientific pursuit, and proactive awesomeness within the first 15 minutes of her own movie.

Then we cut over to Ursula, and... I have mixed feelings about Ursula. On the one hand, she's a fat woman and a villain in a movie that has problematic body portrayals. Ariel's sisters are almost uniform in body type, expect for Adella who kind of sort of maybe looks a little bit bigger than her sisters, in the Lane Bryant model sort of way (i.e., same breast and hip proportions, just slightly bigger all over) and who was promptly slimmed down for the sequel because Disney got the memo that fat people are not sexeh because DEATHFATS. The only other fat women in this movie are the castle servants, who are fat in the non-threatening happy-servant kind of way, and the fat woman in the Ursula song who "this one [is] longing to be thinner". And -- rage! -- the fat merwoman's tail extends up and over her breasts like Ursula's does, but the thin incarnation of the fat woman has the bare-stomach shell-bra combo that Ariel sports. Because nude fat stomachs are obscene and ugly, but thin fat stomachs are normalized and pretty! Grr, Disney.

But! Ursula is sexy. Her breasts! Her butt! The way she moves! Her voice! I don't honestly remember really... noticing this as a child, but it's there and it's largely treated as... normal. Ursula isn't evil because she's sexy, nor does she seem really to be evil because she's fat. She's just evil and fat and sexy, all in the same package, and I guess that's kind of cool? I'm not sure. But then when I noticed that in this viewing, I realized that this movie is actually VERY filled with women's bodies. Can we say that about any other Disney movie?

I don't just mean the bikinis and the tummies; the women's bodies here move. Ursula struts realistically around her cave and gods but those breasts and butt are there and they move. And -- skipping forward a bit to Ariel's "I Want" song -- Ariel shakes her hips when she sings about "strolling along" the street; she undulates her whole body sensually when she imagines being "warm on the sand". There are bodies in this movie! And... while they are sexy bodies, I don't feel like I'm being clubbed with Male Gaze. I like it. I like how it seems to normalize women's bodies as real, as things that come in different sizes, as things that can be uncovered and sexy and yet not objectified into T&A without a head or a personality needed. I'm just sorry that we have to leave the 1980's in this regard.

Coming back to the movie, Triton yells at Ariel for missing rehearsal. He cuts her off multiple times in this scene, and calls humans "barbarians" which is a nice bit of othering to throw onto the pile of objections to Triton's character. He then tosses a tone argument at Ariel, which effectively cuts off not only what she was going to say but also punishes her for reacting realistically and legitimately to his bullying. Then Triton tells her that as long as she lives under "my ocean", she'll obey "my rules", which is totally not controlling or an abusive conflation of kingly privilege and parental privilege. And then Triton and Sebastian decide that Ariel, who is a young woman budding into her sexual awakening, needs "constant supervision". Patriarchy for the win.

And then we have Ariel's "I Want" song and it still gives me shivers. The opening lines -- "If only I could make him understand. I just don't see things the way he does. I don't see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad." -- reinforce that Ariel is not only longing to be human already, but she's also inherently more open-minded than her close-minded and prejudice liege-father. Her fantasies of being human conflate with her fantasies of living in a feminist-friendly society where she can speak her mind freely and grow intellectually: "Betcha on land, they understand; bet they don't reprimand their daughters. Bright young women, sick of swimmin', ready to stand. And ready to know what the people know; asking my questions and get some answers."

MORE WOMEN! The picture of fire and the wind up toy that shows dancing both have women in them. The parallel is obvious in that Ariel wants to be these women, but I'm still blown away looking at how many women are in this film in places where I frankly think nowadays they'd be edited out. Maybe it helps that this movie wasn't made or marketed with the All Important Male Demographic in mind, I don't know.

Sebastian tumbles out and informs Ariel of what she already knows: her father would be furious if he found out about the museum. Which makes so much sense, really, that his racial hatred of humans extends so far that he would deny his subjects the ability to even study them, if only to come up with more effective ways of avoiding the humans, because studying leads to understanding and understanding leads to compassion and compassion doesn't mesh well with racial hatred. And, yes, I know they've woobied him up with two decades' worth of backstories and personal tragedy, but I think that waters down the message that sometimes even people we love can be racist assholes. 

We zip up to the surface for Ariel to see Prince Eric and for some character establishing shots. And I have to say that Eric is probably my favorite Disney prince. He's hanging out with his working class and while that could be seen as slumming, he doesn't seem to mind getting rope burn on his hands and he knows how to steer the boat, so he's at least not adverse to learning. And he goes back to a fiery burning ship to save his dog.

Ariel saves his life.

They didn't have to do it this way. They could have had Ariel and Eric catch a glimpse of one another and fall in love that way. Ariel could have been singing in a quiet grotto and Eric could have been drawn to the sound and seen her for a split moment before she disappeared. It would have been pretty and feminine and sweet. But they didn't do that. They had her proactively search the burning wreckage of a ship, and drag an unconscious man to safety on the shore. And that tells me two things. One, in 1989, being saved from death by a woman didn't emasculate you forever in the eyes of the (probably) male screenwriters. Two, in 1989, saving a handsome man from drowning was considered an acceptable female fantasy with all the strength, verve, and determination that accompanies that.

Haha, no, there's totally not a backlash against feminism today in 2012. IT'S ALL YOUR IMAGINATION.

Sebastian tries to convince Ariel that life under the sea is better than life as a human. He has a jazzy musical number and Ariel gives him quirky yeah-I'm-not-buying-it looks before it becomes clear that she's not really needed for this song routine and goes off with Flounder. And here is a big ol' world-building mess because apparently the fish neither work nor eat, and they all live off of plankton delivered to their doorstep every morning by magic. Or so Sebastian seems to think from his position of Privilege? I dunno. This is why deconstructing movies with talking animals is hard.

Triton calls Sebastian into his throne room and interrogates Sebastian while cheerily pointing his weaponized triton at the little crab. Haha, that is not scary at all! Sebastian breaks down and tells Triton about Ariel's museum, and Triton shows up and brutally destroys it all while she weeps and begs him to stop. And this scene? Wrecks me every time. The bit with Triton building himself into a rage -- "One less human to worry about! ... I don't have to know them -- they're all the same. Spineless, savage, harpooning fish-eaters, incapable of any feeling..." -- is both horrifying and priceless because it really gets through how xenophobic and racist Triton truly is. He doesn't care that he's frightening his daughter; the rage has built in him to a point where terrorizing her makes more sense to him than actually talking to her or doing anything other than abusing his position as both king and father.

And this scene is so utterly valuable. Because now Ariel will go to the sea witch and trade her entire life away (and her voice) to go chase after a man she's never met. Remember that anti-feminist message referenced way back up there at the beginning? But that's not what she's doing, not really. As much as Ariel laments in a moment that "If I become human, I'll never be with my father or sisters again", her father has driven her away. Ariel isn't safe under the sea, not emotionally or psychologically. Her life's obsession with studying and understanding and educating herself on human culture will never be accepted -- and if she persists in trying to do so clandestinely, it will only be a matter of time before someone discovers her secret, betrays her to the king, and all her work is destroyed. She knows that fate is inevitable, because it's just happened not ten minutes ago.

Ariel can either go home and be a good mermaid and play with her hair and go to voice rehearsal and marry a merman who will never share her interests or understand her and she can live and die frustrated and unfulfilled. Or she can take a chance and become everything she's ever wanted: a human. And she can become that human by finding true love -- "Not just any kiss," Ursula cautions. "The kiss of True Love." -- with the first human she's ever met, a man who attracts her with his courage and bravery and adventurous spirit. It's a gamble, and possibly not a good one, but it must seem like the one hope for happiness left available to her.

Human!Ariel washes up on Prince Eric's beach and is taken for a traumatized survivor of a shipwreck, which seems plausible enough. And while I'm not 100% sure I like Grim pressing Eric to woo the traumatized survivor of a shipwreck rather than, say, provide for her education and psychological care and place her in the best possible position to choose how she wants to live the rest of her life, I do love that Eric is shown as being highly reluctant to treat Ariel with anything less than courtesy and respect. A privileged man who doesn't react to a pretty half-naked woman washing up on his beach like Christmas has come early? Yes, please.

There's a scene with a French chef that is so heavy on the cultural stereotypes that I don't even know what to say. I was going to say that this was one of the only animated feature film songs that features a foreign language, but then I remembered the Charo song in Thumbelina, which is also heavy on cultural stereotypes. *sigh*

Then Eric and Ariel go on a tour of "his kingdom", which seems to basically be this one decent-sized town, and Ariel is in complete Manic Pixie Dream Girl mode, but for once this makes sense because everything she sees is literally new and exciting and amazing and a dream come true. And then he lets her drive the carriage and she loves it and clears an oddly-placed death-defying jump and once the panic passes, Eric settles back like this is the good life and Ariel is clearly having a ball. I think that's sweet, frankly.

And then there's a lot of singing and near-kissing and Ursula showing up to ruin things and Ariel being towed out to the ship which is not nearly as awesome as her swimming out there under her own power, and I get that it makes sense that swimming-with-legs would be something she's not mastered, but still it feels like the Feminism Power has run out, and then Ariel and Eric reunite just in time for it to be TOO LATE and Ariel is a merperson and Eric does not care even a little bit because Eric is not a racist asshole like Triton. And then Eric saves Ariel's life with a harpoon while Triton watches, and this is hilarious given Triton's earlier rant about humans-who-wield-harpoons.

After the exciting showdown scene, Eric recovers slowly on the shore while Ariel watches from her rock. Triton and Sebastian watch from further out, with Triton realizing that she really does love him and that this hasn't all been About Him and her special butterfly rebellion. Gee, ya think? Sebastian tells him "children got to be free to lead their own lives" and Triton references as earlier conversation where Sebastian said the opposite. And this is the moment where everything is unspoken, but for me it seems like they're saying yeah, this whole Patriarchy thing is garbage and we were wrong. And the Triton gives Ariel her legs back, she marries Eric, and there's a new era of peace for both kingdoms, and it is awesome.

And... yeah. It ends in a 16 year old marrying a guy she's known all of three days. (Assuming we don't go with the standard handwave that between cuts there could have been years and years of dating that we didn't see. Because movies don't work like that.) And, devoid of context, that is Very Problematic. Hell, even with context, it's not something that gives me warm fuzzies. I do not like the Mandatory Marriage at the ends of these movies, or the implication that it's not a Happy Ending without one. And I like the Mandatory Marriage even less when it happens to two teenagers (or one teenager and one guy in his early twenties) who've known each other only over the course of a few adrenaline-packed and hormone-driven days. I don't feel like this is a healthy formula. So there's that.

But it's also one of the few movies I can think of where an Otherkin protagonist gets the form she's always felt was really hers. And it's a movie where a brave young woman defied the racist and xenophobic laws of her homeland in order to create a greater understanding between two cultures and almost single-handedly engineer a peace between both kingdoms. And she did all this while she was sixteen, as a young woman in an abusive family where she was only valued for her ornamental status. She held on to her inner essential self and managed to forge her own path without ever once beating herself up for the abusive things that others did to her. Throughout the movie, the entire narrative seems to scream that being strong-while-female is not a bad thing: it's okay to defy your racist asshole dad, it's okay to save the life of the handsome guy who won't then turn around and act all emasculated and shun you, it's okay to own your "acceptably feminine" talents in ways that make you happy, social expectations be damned. And for a movie that is now over twenty years old, that seems kind of awesome.

Ana's Happy Feminism Fuzzies Scorecard
- Otherkin narrative where protagonist proactively gains the form she wants
- Feminist narrative where protagonist longs to be taken seriously as a cultural researcher
- Intellectual narrative where protagonist values museums and cultural study
- Racial/Cultural narrative where protagonist demonstrates that Racism Is Bad
- Body Positive (with caveats) narrative where women characters abound of different body sizes
- Patriarchy Hurts Men narrative where good men are abusive because of patriarchal expectations

Ana's Sad Epic Fail Scorecard
- Narrative that is entirely cast with white people and has a Angry French Chef stereotype
- Narrative that contains muddled class portrayal and is largely about privileged people
- Narrative that contains no openly QUILTBAG characters
- Narrative that ends with a teen marriage between two almost-strangers

Final Thoughts: The Little Mermaid is -- like most Disney movies -- rife with issues of class, race, hetereonormity, and body portrayal. But in my opinion it's ironically one of the least problematic movies in the set ("ironic" because the current cultural narrative is that we're now BETTER at those things than we were in the 1980s), and if you're a white heterosexual class-privileged girl living in an oppressive patriarchy -- as I was when I came to the movie -- it may just resonate with you. Maybe.

As a final link, here is a picture of Disney Princesses dressed as the villains in their movies. I like the Ariel/Ursula swap so very much.


Charles Matthew Smit said...

I'm still digesting my reaction to this post, but in short: this is awesome. I enjoyed the Little Mermaid (especially the songs and especially Ursula), but I'd never considered it in remotely this light and my mind is slightly blown.

Lonespark said...

I haven't given a lot of thought to this movie outside of reading some awesome Tiana/Ariel fics at disneykink, and the various discussions over at The Slacktiverse about the morality of fish-eating and something about a Lion King crossover (Sea Lions?).

I like the villain-costume picture. Ariel and Jasmine look right at home. It strikes me that the Pocahontas picture looks a fair amount like pictures of Rebecca Rolfe. I...don't know what that means. Historical Matoaka/Rebecca was just so complex and interesting compared with the simplistic romance narrative...

Are you going to do The Princess and The Frog? Lots of problematic-ness (Voodo spirits eat souls what AAAARGH!) and stoopid Mandatory Marriage, but I love a lot of things about it, including the not-dead mother and strong female friendship.

Lonespark said...

Also now I want to see that done with non-princess characters, like Anita dressed like Cruella, and...other people I can't think of right now.

Alexander Unwyn Cherry said...

This was my favorite animated Disney movie when I was a kid. Although I'm mostly a cis-gendered male I wound up identifying with Ariel. Hell, I kind of feel like I still do. I appreciate this deconstruction, very much so, in almost all senses of the word.

Lonespark said...

I guess several Disney Princess stories hit on the theme of "It's ok not to be accepting of what other people say is your lot in life," which can be an empowering message for girls. They could get together and sing "La Vie Boheme."

Brin Bellway said...

I sometimes feel like everyone I meet online has seen this movie at least once.

I can tell you this is not true. I probably should watch it sometime, for the cultural value if nothing else, but I haven't yet.

For me, The Little Mermaid is the story of an Otherkin girl living in a world that is hostile to Otherkin. Ariel is a human born into a merperson's body

It's especially weird being otherkin and never having watched it, with all the people I've seen cite this as being the main reason why they loved it so much as children. I do want to know what they're talking about, though it's a bit late for fond childhood memories.

And for a movie that is now almost twenty years old

Over twenty. Twenty-three, you said.

Ana Mardoll said...

Over twenty. Twenty-three, you said.

Is it 2012 already? I keep thinking it's 2008. *sigh*

(Good catch.)

Naomi Kritzer said...

This is a really interesting reading of the movie. It's especially interesting to contrast with "Beauty and the Beast," which has some feminist trappings (she's a bookworm!) but one of the most pathological messages in all of Disney (a terrifying, abusive monster will become a prince if you love him enough!)

I also really liked the strong female friendship in "The Princess & The Frog."

redsixwing said...

I think I got the idea of Otherkin!Ariel from you, and I love it.
Something I really love about it: Eric doesn't seem to bat an eye at Ariel not originally having any legs. The humans with whom she interacts, while they find her a bit strange until she gets the hang of being human, don't seem to care a bit about her origins at her marriage to him at the end. The species hatred of the mer-society doesn't seem to be reflected in human society, and that is awesome. (Though it also makes me think of my college football team, who had a rival in the nearest other college. Other college's football team was tiny and not very good, and apparently had a goal of beating my college's football team some day, which was news to my college's team when the other team finally did get their grudge match, and discovered the grudge was completely one-sided.)

What I like less:
In the sequel (which I have not seen) Ariel's daughter apparently wants to be a mermaid as much as Ariel wanted to be a human, and Ariel is the main force keeping her on land until a reversal of the original story occurs. I sort of don't want to see it, because Ariel was my hero (valuing knowledge above presentation, hells yes!) and to see her doing the same thing to her daughter that Triton did to her would make me a very sad Six.

I didn't figure out the whole Otherkin thing for a really long time, but when I did, rewatching Little Mermaid was like... omfg. Ariel, y u in my head. (So I guess I'd recommend it, even if it's too late for childhood memories! Because a story in which someone gets to be who they are and the rest of the world kind of goes "oh, okay" is just... blub. Also, To Dream, Perchance to Soar, which I know has been plugged up and down this blog but is really really good, so.)

I am apparently Captain Run-On Sentences today. ^^;

Thanks for writing this, Ana. It was a very good read today.

Ana Mardoll said...

In the sequel (which I have not seen)

I plan to do that one, too, but probably not next. That was my main concern going into the movie and I ended up liking it AND still liking Ariel and thinking she was not sullied as a character, so you may too. YMMV, of course. :)

Lunch Meat said...

That princess/villain picture is awesome, but it's concerning to me how incongruous it looks. They all look so strong and confident! I mean, I would have said that all of them already were, but now they're dressed like it and they're standing like it. Especially Cinderella. She's just so...present. Snow White, on the other hand, just looks cute.

Susan B. said...

A few thoughts (which is more than I thought I'd have before reading this!):

I too watched The Little Mermaid over and over and over (and over and over) again when I was little, so much so that I almost can't imagine watching it again. Since growing up and learning about feminism and related ideas, my perception of the movie was very hung up on the "I sold my soul for a man I didn't even know" aspects. Thanks for reminding me of all the strengths of this movie! I'll have to watch it again with new eyes!

One achievement you didn't mention is that, according to my understanding, this movie was what brought Disney back to the musical format that they had abandoned for many years. As someone who adores musicals, I'm very glad that this was the catalyst for Disney to work songs into the story in most of their subsequent animated features as well.

Sequel: saw it once, thought it suffered very badly from sequel-itis and was pretty dreadful. But maybe I should give it another chance.

redsixwing said...

That's good to hear! I may yet give it a chance (though my movie-watching tends to be sporadic at the very best and nonexistent at worst.)

Also, a thing I've noticed many a time re: The Little Mermaid:.
Ariel not only studies humans and imitates them where she can, she's also cultivated some human-like body language. The image at the top of today's post has her sitting with her arms wrapped around her tail, and her tail bent to resemble knees. Does anyone else ever do that? I remember Triton in his throne sitting with his tail draped down over a very human-like chair, which seems like an inconvenient bit of furniture for a large fish, but his chariot and the shells in which the sisters perform don't seem to have anything to do with humanlike leg anatomy.

Ariel sits like some of the depictions of human women sit.

Michael Mock said...

I have to say, that having ready this made lunch at the sushi place a lot more interesting. For one thing, I kept humming "Les Poissons" at my co-workers.

purlandcrystal said...

Hi, everyone! Long-time reader here, but I've never delurked before - I'm not a shy person in Real Life (TM), but online I tend to get all anxious and feel like wiser people than me have already said everything that needs saying.

But - The Little Mermaid! I have Very Serious Thoughts about The Little Mermaid! Lots of them inspired by these two fascinating posts: and The idea of readng Ariel as a trans woman blew my mind, it works perfectly...

chris the cynic said...

I don't have a lot of time, at the moment, I only really turned on my computer to see if I could contact someone over facebook (I couldn't) but beyond saying Ana's post is very nice I can also address this:

and the various discussions over at The Slacktiverse about the morality of fish-eating and something about a Lion King crossover (Sea Lions?).

Yes, Sea Lions. Credit on the name goes to Froborr.

My portion of the conversation is at Stealing Commas here and since I link back to where repeated things were first said I can tell you that the actual thread is here.

Antigone10 said...

You did give me some interesting things to think about regarding positives of the Little Mermaid, but I think you may have lost some really important symbolism.

1) Ariel is TERRIBLE to Flounder. It could be because she is a princess, and doesn't think about her privileged position in both being a political power, and a stronger fish-like creature, but she abuses him. She calls him names, forces him around, ignores his wants and fears, and I don't think we ever once see her do something for him or pay attention to anything he wants. I know the tv series tries to fix this a little, but it still doesn't make the movie action's better.

2) They have known each other for literally three days. Ariel might have seen him before that (we can give it 5 on the outset) but that was the trick of the Sea Witch. "Now, here's the deal. I will make you a potion that will turn you into a human for three days. Got that, three days. Now listen, because this is important." They repeat it like three times to make sure it sticks in the middle of her pitch*.

3) I think the major symbolism is extraordinarily anti-feminist. Think about it- she gives her voice for sex. That's a pretty damning symbol there. But think about it further- in order to STAY with her new sexy body, she has to make someone fall in love with her (marry her). She doesn't come across some magical whatsit in her exploration that had some negative time limit, she trades in her voice. I think that is probably the crux of what is so terrible for feminists.

Don't get me wrong, I love The Little Mermaid. Will I show it to my little nephew and niece? Absolutely. But as far as feminist statements, I think we're probably going to have to go to DreamWorks, not Disney.

*Slight divergent topic. I LOVE LOVE URSULA. I love her power, her fast-talking, her fat body, her sexiness, everything. I coplay her so often. She's like the greatest used car salesperson ever.

Loquat said...

It's especially interesting to contrast with "Beauty and the Beast"

To add to the parallels, I'll contribute a positive alternate interpretation of the very message you find pathological; to me, that whole middle chunk of the movie is actually about the Beast realizing on his own that his behavior creates misery for himself and those around him, and that even life as a "monster" can be worthwhile if he stops wallowing in angry self-pity and starts showing some consideration for other people. He's a lot like Colin in "The Secret Garden" - starts out going AARGH I HAVE A UNIQUE AND HORRIFYING DISABILITY THEREFORE I GET TO TREAT EVERYONE ELSE LIKE CRAP, and then character development happens and he learns better.

Will Wildman said...

Think about it- she gives her voice for sex. That's a pretty damning symbol there.

That's a really incomplete summary of the situation: at a vulnerable moment, the Obvious Villain super-evilly tells her that she can only have her voice or have the guy she likes. I'm reasonably sure that Disney generally doesn't expect us to take the villain's Villain Songs as good moral guidance. Additionally, the rest of the movie shows that this is definitely a false choice, because Eric wishes he could hear her talk, and in the end she gets both the legs and the voice.

If this is symbolic of anything, it's of oppressors telling women they have to choose between their agency and their socialisation, that speaking your mind will drive away men, that you have to choose between a family and a career - it's symbolic of lots of stuff. But it's not an antifeminist message in and of itself.

Ana Mardoll said...

Additionally, the rest of the movie shows that this is definitely a false choice, because Eric wishes he could hear her talk,

And Ursula frames the trade-off in terms of sexism: she insists that men don't like women who speak their mind and that "it's she who holds her tongue who gets her man". By proving that he prefers women who do have opinions and are not simply ornamental, Eric is repudiating the patriarchal insistence that women should be seen and not heard.

I don't think Ariel should be blamed for attempting to Win At Patriarchy, and I do think it's valid to point out (as Will does) that the patriarchal construction is deliberately undone by the events of the movie.

Miss. Meow said...

Also, I love the picture at the end, especially Belle and Mulan. They look ready to go have adventures!

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank YOU. I think we broke some kind of de-lurker record with this post!

And I have to say that I thought the picture was awesome too (except I'm very ambivalent about Pocahontas for reasons I'm still working out). Belle looks so dang natural that it took me a minute to see it was Gaston's clothing. Similarly, Cinderella just looks so poised and confident -- I actually like that dress BETTER than her sparkly fairy godmother outfit.

Lonespark said...

Miss. Meow's discussion above makes me think of Lana, the Protagonist of the unfortunately truncated Spirit Binders series. She's a young person connected to, and becoming important in, an island culture, who longs to explore the wider world... And then a bunch of Stuff happens to her island and the world as a whole and she's important and makes choices and has choices made for her...and she ends up as a different type of creature, too, (not that that's the end...)

It is a fantastic series, with a lot of strong female characters in the good sense and no white people (as far as I can tell) and I really recommend it far and wide (with some caveats regarding trigger-y stuff).

depizan said...

I haven't seen The Little Mermaid in far too long to contribute in any coherent way to the discussion. (I do not trust my many years old memories to be anything close to accurate.) But this does make me want to see it again and think about what everyone's said here.

Though... I can't help thinking that removing the wedding would do a lot to push the movie into more clearly a feminist message. Just because that makes everything a little more about the world and less about the man. (Not, of course, that she can't have both. But at least you wouldn't have someone marrying a guy they've known for three days.)

Cupcakedoll said...

In the sequel, if my memory serves since I saw it years ago, baby Melody is born, Ursula's suddenly-appearing sister appears and curses doom if baby ever enters the ocean, family heartbrokenly walls off the entire coast of the kingdom to protect the kid. Kid eventually gets through, evil-sister makes her a mermaid and tells her all about her family's hiding of her mer-roots. Kid is mad, steals the trident just as evil-sister wanted. (aparently only Triton's blood relatives can touch the trident, or something.) Ariel, Eric and Triton rescue her and destroy evil-sister, and now it's safe for Melody to be a mermaid or human, whatever she chooses. The only other thing I remember is a great bit where Ariel grabs Eric's sword to cut a rope to drop something on evil-sister. Yay princess with sword! Even if it's only for a second!

As expected of Disney sequels, not a brilliant movie.

I really liked Eric too, possibly just because he was the first Disney prince I'd seen who has a real personality. Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty just have generic princes, I'm not sure they even have names. Unless "Charming" is a name, but any queen who'd name her son Charming must be a very eccentric lady.

Ana Mardoll said...

I *think* Sleeping Beauty's prince was named Philip. Since I've not seen the movie in at least a dozen years, and I only saw it maybe twice to begin with, I wouldn't place much emphasis on that.

Akedhi said...

You are correct! Philip is his name.

... I keep wanting to comment on the substance of the post, but I can't make any of the words come out in coherent order, so uh, basically, you summed up a lot of the reasons why this movie is one of the ones that I return to over and over again.

Miss. Meow said...

You're right, the first two princes didn't even have proper names. Snow White's prince is "The Prince" and Cinderella's prince is "Prince Charming". Aurora's (Sleeping Beauty) prince was the first to have a name, but he was still pretty boring even if he did save the day. All Aurora had to do was bleed a little and then wait. Best part of that movie was Merryweather (the blue fairy). But we'll save that for another deconstruction. XD

Eric was definitely an improvement over them. And is still one of my faves.

Ana Mardoll said...

Actual transcript of my brain:

Huh. Who is Adam? *clicks* HIS NAME IS ADAM!?!?!?!

I dunno, he just never struck me as an Adam.

Ana Mardoll said...

(OMG. Shang from Mulan is voiced by B.D. Wong? I love B.D. Wong. I'm learning a lot today.)

Antigone10 said...

I like Sleeping Beauty a lot more if you remember that it is a story between Maleficent and the three Good Fairies. Aurora, Phillip, the two kings, and Queen one-line are just plot devices and flavor-text.

depizan said...

Adam? What Adam? *checks the link Miss. Meow left*

I must second your Bzuh? Ana. His name is Adam!? Is this ever in the movie? O_o

(Not that I claim to be any kind of Disney movie expert, but still... Adam!?)

Ana Mardoll said...

It is absolutely not in the movie. Is it even appropriate for the setting?? o.O

Lonespark said...

BD Wong is totally made of all the awesomes!!!

depizan said...

For, what, 18th Century France? I...wouldn't think so. I mean, seriously: Belle, Gaston, and Adam???? What, did they lose the name dictionary after they named the heroine and the bad guy?

Amaryllis said...

Adam? Uh-uh. Am not convinced; he doesn't look like an Adam at all.

Cupcakedoll: Yay princess with sword!
Somebody really needs to make a movie about Æthelflæd.

Loquat said...

a) Joining the chorus of "Adam? Seriously?"

b) Dude, Prince Adam got turned into a beast at age 11!? I always thought he got cursed somewhere in the 16-18 range - young, but old enough to start taking some responsibility for his own behavior. Throwing a life-altering curse on an 11-year-old for being a jerk is just way over the top. Plus adolescence is a key time for social development and maturation, and he's basically spent all of his hidden away in beast form, convinced no human will ever want to associate with him. No wonder the guy's messed up.

Rikalous said...

Oh, it's better (worse) than that. The enchantress threw a life-altering curse on an entire castle full of servants because an eleven-year-old was a jerk. Servants including Chip, who looks, if anything, younger than Adam (seriously?) when he was cursed.

It's pretty impressive how well the servants are coping.

Loquat said...

Well yeah, but cursing a whole castle full of servants, including their children, just because their boss was a jerk is pretty dreadful regardless of the boss's age.

Something I learned from that Disney wiki - they were originally going to accompany the falling-in-love part of the movie with a song called "Human Again", in which the servants, hopeful that Belle will break the curse, sing about how awesome it'll be to have their original bodies back - and wear clothes! and have hair! and date other humans! and leave this godforsaken castle at long last go to the beach! They've got the full lyrics on the wiki, and it really hits you with the full fridge horror of what the servants' lives must have been like under the curse.

Ana Mardoll said...

I have that song! They included it in the Broadway musical version, and a relative bought that CD for me by mistake one Christmas, thinking it was the Disney soundtrack. (Fortuitous mistake, as the CD is quite good.)

The B&B fairy really is quite awful. The story has been hurt in adaptation to a morality tale, perhaps, since in the first version the cursing fairy really was evil.

Mime_Paradox said...

Yeah: it's included in the latter DVD versions of the movie, and I kinda wish it wasn't. Maybe it's because I first heard it in my twenties instead of when when I was ten, but it really doesn't hold up to the rest of the songs.

Also, that time when I watched on DVD was the first time I noticed that a) if the servants have been cursed for ten years (as explained in "Be Our Guest") and the last petal falls when "Adam" turns 21 (as explained, I think in the beginning), then, yup, he was ten--almost eleven--when he was turned. I believe some people theorize that it's a "left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing" mistake in Disney's part--after all, he certainly doesn't look ten in that whole opening narration, and subsequent versions--such as the theater musical--omit that detail.

In any case, The Little Mermaid. Reading this, it struck me that part of me feels that if Ariel getting married to a guy after knowing him for three days is problematic, then her decision to become human can also be seen that way. Granted, she had an indeterminate amount of years' experience as an amateur anthropologist in addition to her three days, but given how inaccurate her impressions were, how much is she actually getting?

Then another part of me reminds me of some other stuff. How the sexist attitudes she's likely to encounter in the surface are the same she's already encountering in the sea. How she really can't get any hands on experience without actually turning into a human, and how no amount of prep time can really prepare her for the real thing. How becoming human is her decision, and one she was pretty damn sure of, and who am I to question that? And I'm not sure how to reconcile both.

Amaryllis said...

Yes, after having read Pulchritude, I'm looking forward to your take on Disney's B&B.

As for the Little Mermaid, well, at least Ariel gets to live, in this version. Whereas Andersen's Little Mermaid is one of his girls who "loses her life to gain it."

I opened his Collected Stories at random last night. The first thing I read was a little snippet called "The Jewish Girl," in which the title character (never otherwise named) stays obedient to her mother's wish that she never become a Christian. But through studying in Christian schools and working for Christian employers, she hears and longs after the Gospel. She finally dies after nursing a Christian woman through a serious illness, and receives a baptism of desire at the moment of death. We are assured that although her body lies outside the walls of the Christian cemetery, her soul is in Christian heaven.

Then I read "The Marsh King's Daughter," in which the daughter of an underground wight, the Marsh-King, and his wife-by-capture, an Egyptian swan-princess, is adopted by a human family. Her double nature is expressed by the way that she is a beautiful but foul-tempered girl by day and a hideous but gentle frog-like creature at night. The curse is finally broken through the martyrdom of a Christian priest (and yes, her final form is that of a beautiful gentle maiden and not an angry frog, no matter what we may have secretly hoped). She's is returned to her mother's family in Egypt, and a marriage is arranged for her with an Arabian prince. On the eve of her wedding she asks for just a moment's glimpse of heaven; when she returns to earth, she finds that hundreds of years have passed, and course immediately withers away.

Then I had to give up and go to bed.

But I was thinking of these stories in terms of your "Otherkin" theme, and also remembering some recent news accounts about Indian girls from Hindu families in a majority-Muslim area, converting to Islam and immediately marrying Muslim men. Their Muslim in-laws claim that the conversions and marriages were genuine choices; the young women's birth families are convinced that the girls were at best pressured and at worst abducted and brainwashed.

So who can argue with the idea that people-- even, horrors! young girls-- should be allowed to be who they are and love what they love. But, in the real world, those things are always complicated by issues of privilege and power, and sometimes it's not easy to choose just one aspect of yourself and say, This is who I am. And maybe that's what grates about The Little Mermaid, the way that Ariel seems to have only an either-or choice, and the way that the land people already seem to have the best of things most of the time.

If that makes sense; out of time again....

HelenLouise said...

Awesome post - I seem to be 'liking' most of the comments too... I love that you have taken so many positive things from a film that I'd quite happily consigned to the Unfeminist Gallery of Horrors in my brain. I loved the Little Mermaid as a kid but was quite into being true to the book and the ending always bothered me, I think partly because I couldn't understand why any mermaid wouldn't want to be a mermaid, and it seemed cheating to have her father suddenly change his mind at the end.
But recently I read a post on Bitch Flicks entitled You Say Princess Like It's A Bad Thing which contained a positive look at the Disney Princesses, including Ariel. I thought about her 'I want' song all over again... I liked the idea that she wanted to get out and do things, learn things, meet people, dance... have all these experiences she'd never had before.
I also love your positive feminist style - it's really refreshing when sometimes I feel like feminists are meant to be so critical of everything in pop culture... I feel a bit wrong for enjoying a slightly problematic film (have always loved Beauty and the Beast, well dodgy though it is, feminism-wise)... and it's good to read something that reminds me that feminist criticism is also about finding the good in things - being critical isn't just about picking out all the bad stuff.

BaseDeltaZero said...

As for the discussion of the jerkness of the Enchantress in Beauty and the Beast... I'm pretty sure she was never meant to be a nice person...

Silver Adept said...

In addition to all the great commentary here, I think Ariel represents a shift in the Princesses - they stop being passive and waiting and relying on others, usually men, to take care of their problems (even if until, say, Mulan, they're not actually given the agency to go and fix the problem themselves through traditionally "male" methods like swinging swords for the entire movie. Or, for that matter, to not be actively hindered from completing their goal by being female in a society that expects them to be passive.) For all the really problematic issues that Disney brings to the take, I would guess that without the success of this film, a movie like Lilo and Stitch or The Princess and The Frog don't get made.

Amaryllis said...

"Belle, Gaston, and Adam??"

I was wondering if the Beast had run into the regrettable "male French names are silly" trope. Or at least, that French names aren't Heroic enough--

Henri? Louis? End in "ee"-- sounds like a girl! Jean? It's spelled like a girl! Guillaume? Christophe? Fluffy-sounding, and nobody can spell it! Alphonse? Etienne? Didier? You're kidding! Philippe? Taken. Charles? They pronounce it wrong!

I suppose they could have gone with Jacques-sounds-like-Jack, that's manly enough. Or even a simple Marc or Martin, you'd think. But Adam? No.

swbarnes2 said...

But Ariel's is still pretty passive in the last half of the movie. Eric does all the talking, Eric gets that aisde with Grim, it feels like the point of view shifts away from Ariel to him, until he's enchanted. It's kind of female gazy...Its not so much about what Ariel is thinking or doing, it's about how Eric will interpret her behavior. Then Ariel is helpless. It's the seagull who discovers what's happenieng, it's him and Sebastian who interupt the wedding so Ariel can be there, ready to be kissed when the spell is broken. Then she sits at the bottom of the ocean with her father, while Eric rams giant Ursula with a ship.

My first though on reseeing it as an adult is that the contrast between Ursula and Triton is rather rmythological. Ursula is coded as dark/evil/feminine. Triton is coded as light (though unsually tan for a guy at the bottom of the ocean), good (though we are mostly told this, not shown), and male. (I think that Ursula being made pretty overweight, while Triton is trim is part of this too) And I think this was an old motif about how patriarchies overthrew matriarchies, and coded what they did as the triumph of light and goodness over darkness and evil, the way Triton is said to have overthrown Ursula. But the conflation of "good" with "male" and "bad" with "female" is an old one, and dishearteneing to see yet again.

Ana Mardoll said...

I didn't call it out in the OP, but Ariel is not passive in the end fight - she disrupts Ursula's triton blast, saving Eric's life and destroying the evil eels.

depizan said...

I fear you're probably right. *sigh*

Nick said...

I feel like I'm the only person in the world who's never seen this movie...

Silver Adept said...

@Amaryllis -

Adam? So after he's done being a beast the Prince goes on to become He-Man and fight Skeletor? Quite the turnaround for the boy who refused shelter to an enchantress...

@swbarnes2 -

There is that part where Ursula is coded as the evil female power who longs for and wishes to grasp the phallic symbol of male power so she can overturn order and goodness. Disney does tend to reinforce No Penis, No Power in their Princess movies, even after the Princesses start getting to be more active in trying to break out of their assigned roles.

And, unless Ariel were to become fluent in Kingdom Standard Sign Language, the whole "new person in new situation" thing is going to be tough for her to communicate. Someone's going to have t owrite them out of that corner, and for Disney, it's sort of a trope that the Plucky Non-Human sidekicks are the people to handle that kind of job.

Now I wonder whether the languages of the mer-people are different than the languages of the humans on the surface, and that Ariel losing her voice is actually an artful Disney dodge to avoid having to deal with that particular issue, because either Ariel or Eric would suddenly have to be revealed to have been speaking some other language all the time, and the universal translators that always accompany films like this (excepting in cases of clearly alien talk, like Stitch) would have to only follow one or the other.

Would give the audience a nice taste of the frustrations of communication between languages, though.

Laocorn said...

I love the in-depth thoughts in the article, and the discussion that's followed. (On a more visual note: 'love that costume-swapped picture, too!) Am just sorry I don't have much to contribute off-hand that's directly related ^_^;

What I really wanted to bring up was this story:
which came to mind as soon as Ariel's otherkin angle came up in your review- uh- 'struction!

_Anthropology_ is ongoing story and is currently in an unfortunately meandering Act Two. More relevant, though: Act One is about the deep interest which the pastel unicorn Lyra Heartstrings has about humans, along with her persistent single-mindedness on the topic of the unseen (by some in royalty, feared) creatures and her willingness to experiment. For example, in secret she uses her magic to produce extra digits with which she can play her namesake instrument. In the open, she uses that magic to play her lyre in an accepted-and-expected psychokinetic method, but does so while in body postures that an equine normally would not or could not use.

The disapproval she gets, while more mild than what Ariel went through, is still an undercurrent while she's in her familiar society. Lyra reminds me of Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter, sometimes, both in her own active approach to life and in how others treat her. (Though if compared directly, maybe Luna is more similar to Belle than to Ariel? Hm.)

Amaryllis said...

Remember that this is the same bunch who had Pocahontas and John Smith speaking fluently to each other with hours of meeting, because "their hearts understood each other" or some such nonsense. If Disney could hand-wave that, they could hand-wave anything.

He-Man's real name was Adam? I did not know that. But on looking him up, I find that Prince Adam was the son of King Randor and Queen Marlena, and friendly with "the beautiful, strong-willed Teela." Those names don't seem to go together very well, either. I guess "Adam" is just a go- name for a strong man.

Ellen said...

Well... There's a REASON Adam's name, in the He-Man mythos, is kind of odd. Or there sort of is. There's an episode, blink and you'll miss it, that reveals that Queen Marlena is actually an astronaut from Earth who landed on Eternia and married the King. Of course, nobody ever thinks "Adam" is a funny name, but then I suppose you wouldn't say that to the prince... And Man-at-Arms is Duncan, which nobody ever explained either.

swanblood said...

"In any case, The Little Mermaid. Reading this, it struck me that part of me feels that if Ariel getting married to a guy after knowing him for three days is problematic, then her decision to become human can also be seen that way. Granted, she had an indeterminate amount of years' experience as an amateur anthropologist in addition to her three days, but given how inaccurate her impressions were, how much is she actually getting?

Then another part of me reminds me of some other stuff. How the sexist attitudes she's likely to encounter in the surface are the same she's already encountering in the sea. How she really can't get any hands on experience without actually turning into a human, and how no amount of prep time can really prepare her for the real thing. How becoming human is her decision, and one she was pretty damn sure of, and who am I to question that? And I'm not sure how to reconcile both."

Mm. I think, this is an interesting topic.

I think, like a trans* person, we simply have to go with, "I have wanted this for a long time, and I really feel it is me". And, allow the person to take the consequences of their decision good or bad, because, anything else is too controlling.

I much rather have a world where people can choose to become what they wish, and sometimes make mistakes, than a world where people are too afraid of them making a mistake, to allow them to choose their own path.

Of course, you can't ever get a perfect idea of what it would be like to have that experience, but that's true of anything until you do it. I think that the freedom to make the choice is important.

Toby Bartels said...

On race: I always took it for granted that _The Little Mermaid_ took place in Denmark, where almost everybody (even today and more so when the story took place) is white. The real problem is not the lack of people of colour in this or that individual movie but the overbearing whiteness of the entire corpus. (Disney did eventually get some princesses of colour, but hadn't yet.)

On fish-eating: Disney has a strong tradition of Carnivores are Evil, Hunters are Evil, etc. That shark at the shipwreck was an evil brute, the sort of unthinking barbarian that Triton believed that humans were. There's no evidence that any of the civilised fishes eat any other fishes; Sebastian's song is probably supposed to be accurate. The really interesting aspect, never addressed in the movie, is how Ariel reacts when Eric eats fish. Does she convert the kingdom to vegetarianism or what?

While I'm aging that neither of these issues is problematic for this movie overall, Sebastian is an escription to both. He's Afro-Caribbean in a context that (as I've just said) has no Afro-Caribbeans, but perhaps he's an immigrant? And while we genuinely fear for Ariel and Flounder when the barbaric shark chases them, the barbaric chef's pursuit of Sebastian is played strictly for laughs. I have a sinking feeling that Ariel might decide to start eating her father's subjects after all ...

Toby Bartels said...


Cell phone keyboards ...

Laocorn said...

I just came across this very recent, pretty comprehensive-sounding, not-very-encouraging review of the sequel:

Am sharing this with the disclaimer that I have not and probably will not ever see _The Little Mermaid II_, _The Lion King II_ being the only direct-to-VHS Disney sequel I've ever sat through.

Toby Bartels said...

I liked The Lion King 2. I found The Lion King VERY problematic, and the sequel fixed some of that.

Ana Mardoll said...

I am so excited to announce that this post has been cross-posted to BitchFlicks.

c2t2 said...

I heart this post so much!

Disclaimer: I'm waaaaaay late again and I don't have the time to read the comments, so somebody probably said it first and better, but...

Ursula is awesome for two reasons:

1. When she bewitches Eric, we see she can magic herself into a Standard Hot Chick; but in her everyday life she DOES NOT DO THIS. She's fat and old(ish) and sexual and perfectly comfortable with that combination. She's not reluctantly resigned to it. She can change those things, but she doesn't even WANT to. That is just cool beyond words.

2. She is motivated entirely by a desire for power. Not vanity, not envy, not the preservation of her looks or youth. She wants power. Real, tangiable power. Not the power to titillate men. Not the power to inspire envy in other women. She wants the trident and the crown and the power to rule the seas with an iron fist. Yay for power-hungry egomaniacal tyrants who just happen to be FEMALE!

Another random note: When Ursula gives Ariel legs in return for her voice, she says men don’t like women who speak anyway. This is quickly proven false. So points for that.

Brenda said...

I have always liked that Ariel was already obsessed with Life On The Surface, and it wasn't just a handsome face. She was already in love with the idea of being human. Because of that obsession, she probably could have fallen for any sailor she happened to encounter, and really lucked out that the one she rescued turned out to be so nice!

In the sequel, the main problem isn't that Morgana has sworn to get revenge and so they are keeping Melody away from the sea to protect her; the problem is that they don't TELL HER! It is just *so unfair* and her mother *just wouldn't UNDERSTAND* and so she runs away... and then Morgana tricks her into getting the trident for her, which only works because Melody DOESN'T KNOW that it is her grandfather she is stealing from! There are a couple of good songs, and a delightful pair of sidekicks that take on Melody's quest with her.

Also, in the stage musical adaptation of this movie, there are some changes to the plot. (spoilers ahead...)

When Ariel is still new to the castle and Eric is trying to make her feel less lost at being unable to speak, he ends up showing her how to dance as another way to show her feelings. Later, when he won't stop talking about the singing girl who rescued him, Grim gets him to agree to hold a singing contest to try to find her - and if she isn't found then, to give up. The contest is almost over when Ariel comes in, and although the others are scornful, Eric understands that she wants to dance for him since she cannot sing. After she shows her feelings, he chooses her - just as Ursula arrives to say time's up.
In this version, Ursula's seashell is the source of all her power, not just a place to store the voice. In the final battle, Ariel manages to get the shell and break it, just as Eric was on his way to rescue her. Not knowing she has her voice back, Eric asks Triton for his daughter's hand in marriage, and Triton tells him she can speak for herself.

Quite a difference, and much more empowering for Ariel - both the dancing, and defeating Ursula herself.

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