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The Little Mermaid: Medical Lessons and Life Tips

Updated on December 30, 2017

Medical Lessons Derived from this Movie

When Ariel completely loses her voice, she has acquired a type of dysphonia. Speech disorders are termed dysarthria, a disturbance in articulation, or dysphonia, a disturbance in vocalization or phonation. Patients with dysarthria or dysphonia retain their language ability despite their speech disturbance.

The scene where Ursula extracts Ariel’s voice and locks it in a seashell is misleading! There really is no such thing as a physical form of a voice that can just be taken out and hidden somewhere.

What controls the sound of someone’s voice are vocal cords in the larynx (aka, the “voicebox”). The vocal cords are two bands of elastic muscle tissue, located side by side in the larynx, just above the trachea (your windpipe). When you are silent, the cords remain open, creating an airway through which you breathe. When you speak, the air you exhale from your lungs is forced through the closed vocal cords, causing the vocal cords to vibrate. Faster vibration of the vocal cords results in higher-pitched sounds, while slower vibration of the vocal cords results in lower-pitched sounds.

Thus, my theory is that Ursula had removed Ariel’s vocal cords (ouch!) and kept them hidden in her seashell, which she wore around her neck. Ursula was able to sound like Ariel when speaking, because when she wore the seashell containing Ariel’s vocal cords, the air she would exhale would somehow cause the vocal cords in the seashell to vibrate, instead of causing the vocal cords in Ursula’s own larynx to vibrate. When the seashell broke, those vocal cords floated out of the seashell and back into Ariel’s larynx.

If this movie were more realistic, Eric could have also taken her to see an Otolaryngologist (or an ENT surgeon) while she was up there in the human world. The ENT could have treated Ariel the same way that people who have vocal cord tumors in later stages of cancer would be treated. Such people with vocal cord tumors in later stages of cancer need to undergo a laryngectomy, in which their entire larynx and vocal cords are removed. The ENT would then surgically insert a special valve between the trachea and the esophagus, which would allow air to be sent up the esophagus to create enough vibrations for understandable speech. If The Little Mermaid took place during the right time period, Eric could have taken Ariel to see an ENT so that she could speak again by undergoing this type of surgical treatment.

Life Lessons Derived from this Movie

If you are interested in becoming part of a new world you’ve never visited before, don’t be like Ariel and give up your ability to speak in order to be part of that world. Seriously, communication is vital when you’re in a foreign place. Because Ariel wasn’t able to speak, she had to mooch off of Eric while she was exploring, and he had to be responsible for escorting her and guarding her the whole time. So if you want to live in a foreign environment, make sure your voice works well enough to communicate with the people there.

Also, if you want to explore a new environment so badly, it shouldn’t be because you want to be with a random, attractive stranger whom you barely know. Ariel initially had a genuine interest in exploring the human world before she fell in love with Eric, which was great. Her decision to become a human should have been based on her fascination with the human world, not based on some silly crush on a human she barely even know.

Do you think there could have been a way for Ariel to explore the human world without having to make deals with Ursula?

What could be a scientific explanation for Ariel’s mermaid-to-human transformation?


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