A Second Look: The Little Mermaid
In 1989, Ron Clements and John Musker released the musical fantasy film, The Little Mermaid, based on the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. Starring Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars, Buddy Hackett, Ben Wright, Paddi Edwards, Edie McClurg, Kimmy Robertson, Caroline Vasicek, Will Ryan, Frank Welker and Rene Auberjonois, the film grossed $211.3 million at the box office. Credited with being the first film in the Disney Renaissance it won the Academy Awards for Best Song and Best Score and the Golden Globe awards for Best Song and Best Score.
Ariel, one of the daughters of the Sea King Triton, is fascinated by the human world while her father hates them. However, one night, she visits the surface and falls in love with a human named Prince Eric and after rescuing him during a storm, she is desperate to become a human herself.
There’s no doubt that The Little Mermaid is a beautifully animated film, exemplifying the animation prowess of the Disney animators. They also make a notable comparison between the undersea world and human worlds simply in terms of how they look. While the human world is still colorful and in no way drab, the colors are warmer and a bit darker. The warm colors even stay with human ships and other items that originated in the human world, such as the fork first found under the sea. Contrast those warm colors with the cool colors normally seen under the sea, which really all come out during the “Under the Sea” number. It’s an interesting comparison between the two worlds, helping portray the human world as a place that, while it isn’t necessarily dull, is more involved in mundane and everyday affairs. On the other hand, it shows the undersea world as one that’s more laid back and more involved in affairs of the arts. What’s more is that Triton’s palace and Ursula’s lair combine warm and cool, showing that the first one is hard at work in ruling the affairs of the seas and worrying about Ariel and the second is working and scheming to take it over.
The animation is combined with a story that may seem like an average Disney film in terms of the films produced in recent years. However, when it was released, the story was so groundbreaking in its merging of a fairytale with Broadway. Taking that into account, the merger is very well done considering that it birthed the first Disney Renaissance and all the films that came after it practically owe their existence to its success. What’s more is that the songs actually make sense in-universe as Sebastian was the court composer and Ariel herself is one of the singers.
But even with the superb animation and what the film did for those that came after, that doesn’t excuse it for having a terrible moral. To begin with, while Triton may be an intolerant racist towards humans that’s proven false by Ariel in the end, neither of them knew who was in the right based on their limited information, which was that they catch and ate fish. Now, Triton had bans on traveling to the surface and interacting with humans, but Ariel falls in love with one. For the sole reason of love, she abandons everything she knows and tosses aside her entire life for a guy. And though she already wanted to see the human world, and her falling in love was the push she needed to make the decision, her choices surpassed the already irresponsible character that Ariel had exhibited. But none of this is to say that teenage girl with no real life experience aren’t allowed to fall in love, it’s noting that throwing away one’s entire life and putting everything on the line and in one basket is an incredibly risky and irresponsible move that hardly every works out for the better.
Though falling in love with Eric may have been the final push, there was a lot of shoving from Ursula, displaying how emotional manipulation can really work on impressionable youths. Because that’s her whole standard operating procedure: catching people when they’re most prone to making rash decisions and push them into making those decisions. Yes, Ariel was being naïve and Ursula did clearly explain the deal, it was her manipulation of Ariel’s trusting nature that led to the deal’s acceptance. What Ursula’s offering are literal Faustian deals.
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