We’re approaching the end of May, and I’ve only watched three of my Disney Princess movies. This will not stand. Who knows what you hell beasts will make me watch if I fail my 2016 challenge.
Time to pick up the pace, St. George, and revisit everyone’s favorite: The Little Mermaid.
As with all my Disney Princess movie reviews, you will find SPOILERS here. Also, this post may be NSFW: for cosplay reasons, there’s a picture of me in a bra. Pretty much first thing, actually. It’s no more revealing than if I was wearing a bikini top, but I still feel a little odd about it, possibly because I’m not used to bikinis either, or just because of general insecurity. Well, whatever, I’m trying to grow here. Still, maybe don’t read in front of your boss if he’s not down with what’s essentially Spring Break Lite? Or don’t read at all if seeing my bra is going to upset you?
Ariel is fascinated by humanity, especially when she falls in love with Eric, a human prince. She makes an incredibly short-sighted deal with the sea witch, Ursula, who gives her three days to live as a mute human, but if Ariel can’t make Eric fall in love with her by the end of the third day? She gets to live as a sea worm thing for the rest of her life. Whoops.
1. It seemed like every little girl loved The Little Mermaid when I was a kid. I’m not sure why I didn’t; perhaps my heart simply wasn’t big enough to contain anything more than the library from Beauty and the Beast. But I never disliked the movie. I owned a Flounder toy and everything. I just didn’t dress up like a mermaid and sing “Part of Your World” over and over and over again.
Speaking of dressing up, though:
Technically, it was the easiest Five-Minute Cosplay ever: take off shirt, put on wig, and scene. But it was also a little more anxiety-inducing than normal, for we’ve now gone past the realm of “maybe you shouldn’t take so many selfies/how dare you like your face” insecurity into “size 12 wearing a bra, I repeat, SIZE 12 IN A STATE OF UNDRESS/aren’t you just inviting trolls at this point/you know your coworkers sometimes read this blog right/don’t pretend you’re brave if you angle the camera so your belly doesn’t show/suck in, don’t suck in, suck in, don’t suck in” nonsense. Jesus. Self-confidence must be a nice thing to come by naturally. You just smile, snap a picture, and you’re done.
Well, we’re all works in progress, right? I think the picture’s cute, anyway. Fuck it.
2. Back to the movie. As an adult, I generally enjoy The Little Mermaid. It’s certainly a relief after earlier films like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, where the heroines have basically zero agency of any kind. Ariel’s Big Choice may be hopelessly dumb (or, as a kinder person might say, young and impulsive), but it is still without question her choice, her dream that she’s (recklessly) choosing to make happen. So, that’s nice. It’s certainly a welcome change after the prior 50 years.
Plus, Ariel’s kind of adorable.
She has the biggest grin. I love how much she loves stuff. Ariel is pretty much a giant nerd, and I adore her for it.
3. Still . . . oh my God, Ariel, please apply your high reasoning skills, STAT. Your priorities are in question, and by in question, I mean Jesus Christ, kid.
Look, as far as Disney Princes go, Eric’s not a bad one. He’s a huge step up, anyway, from Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Charming (Super Stalker), Snow White’s Prince Charming (Necrophiliac Super Stalker), Cinderella’s Prince Charming (Just Sort of There), and, of course, Taran (Whiny Sexist Bastard, and Not Technically a Prince). Eric is a hopeless romantic, unfortunately, but he makes up for this by being a generally decent person, having steady sea legs, and going back to save his dog from a burning fire. Default Nice Guy isn’t the most fascinating personality out there, but Eric still has the most actual character of any of the princes thus far, and he isn’t a stalker. So, sure, I can see why Ariel is totally smitten with him. (You know, after watching him for a whole three minutes.) I mean, look at that face.
It’s not a bad face to have. Brandon Routh should totally play him in the live-action adaptation. Or Matt Bomer. Or Henry Cavill.
That being said, this is what Ariel gives up for a chance to be with this guy.
A. Any chance of ever seeing her father and sisters again. (Or practically anyone else she’s ever met, for that matter.)
B. Her voice.
C. Basically, life as she knows it. Like, her whole world will almost literally change.
And again, this is all for merely a chance to shack up with this dude, and not even a particularly great chance either, like, the odds are seriously not stacked in her favor. Ariel has three days to make Eric fall in love with her, and the only real weapons at her disposal are “body language” and a charming habit of combing her hair with a fork. And if she fails, she turns into this little miserable sea worm thing for the rest of her life. This is the kind of spectacularly awful contract that most people have to be tricked into signing, but Ariel knows what she’s signing and agrees to it anyway! I know she’s young and impetuous and hurt by her father’s lousy parenting methods, but come on, girl. There are better ways to act out, ways that don’t turn you into a shriveled tapeworm. Rebel smarter.
4. Still, it should be said: King Triton is a pretty terrible parent.
Look, I know I’m not a mom yet and if I become one, I’m going to make 101 mistakes and all the other parents will laugh at me and say, “HA! That’s what you get for thinking you knew better!” And I get it, I do, that Triton’s terrified of the humans, and for good reason–although it’s worth pointing out that he seems to get over that fear awfully quickly at the end of the film. But anyway, people react badly when they’re frightened for their loved ones, and I absolutely understand that.
What I don’t understand is how any sane person would think that destroying his teenage daughter’s cherished lifetime collection of anything would somehow make her start obeying him. Even if Ursula hadn’t been in this movie, Ariel wasn’t going to look at her demolished Eric statue and think, “Well, I guess I have no choice but to obey Dad now.” The only thing Triton’s actions would have succeeded in doing was turning her against him. Instead of Slightly Irresponsible, Daydreaming Ariel, we would have Pissed Off, Emo Ariel. (Is there fan art of this? There should be fan art of this.)
5. Of course, we should probably address the fact that not only was Ariel an obvious hoarder, she was also actually a total stalker.
I praised Eric for not being a Classic Disney Stalker, but that’s mostly because Ariel fills this particular role in The Little Mermaid. She spies on Eric a few times, both on land and at sea–which, admittedly does enable her to save his life. Still, she then serenades his unconscious body on the beach, and that’s clearly just weird. She also fantasizes conversations with him while hanging all over his statue, a statue which is now in her vault of human
trophies collectibles. Based on this paragraph alone, Ariel seems more like a budding serial killer than a Disney Princess, which, again, is just more fan art waiting to happen. Fanfiction, too. I WANT IT. (Only preferably with less lines like, “Look, he’s breathing. He’s beautiful.” Ugh.)
6. Unlike previous Disney films, The Little Mermaid is surprisingly filler-free. Even the shark chase (which I thought might be the first of several such chases, not unlike Lucifer and the mice in Cinderella) was very brief and led to the discovery of the fork, which is a great ongoing joke throughout the film. According to Google, the movie runs 1 hour, 32 minutes and, for once, the story feels long enough to accommodate that run time.
Except, of course, for the fact that the Happily Ever After comes roughly 30 minutes after it needed to because Ariel could have saved herself a whole lot of drama if she just asked for a piece of paper and a damn quill.
Seriously, guys. Ariel is literate. We know Ariel is literate because she literally reads and signs her name on the Worst Contract of All Time. How paper exists underwater (or how merpeople speak English, or at all) is a question for another day; my question is this: when Eric says, “You can’t speak? Oh. Oh, then you couldn’t be who I thought,” why doesn’t Ariel gesture for something to write with, or even kneel down in the sand and spell out:
I SAVED YOUR LIFE. I AM A MERMAID. A SEA WITCH MADE ME HUMAN BUT ALSO STOLE MY VOICE.
SAVED U. TOTES LOVE UR HOT FACE, BUT SWALLOWED BUNCHA SEAWATER. LARYNGITIS. KISS ME? XOXO.
This is crap, you guys. Ariel could have had Eric on Day 1.
7. Of course, if that had happened, we wouldn’t have gotten Odo singing “Les Poissons” and the kitchen scene, which really should be reshot as a serious horror movie from Sebastian’s POV.
That is pretty macabre humor for a children’s film. Of course, that means I love it, but damn, man. That shit’s dark. “Les Poissons” used to be my favorite song in this movie, but on the re-watch, I’m thinking “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is actually leading the pack for Fave Disney Song thus far. (I shouldn’t even have to say this, but in case you were in doubt: I am incredibly unlikely to pick any power ballad such as “Part of Your World,” “Let it Go,” or anything by Elton John as my Favorite Disney Song this year. Power ballads generally aren’t my thing. Power ballads are part of a hero’s shtick. Villains obviously have the best music.)
8. Which of course brings us to this movie’s villain: URSULA.
She’s pretty awesome. I really wanted to do a Five-Minute Cosplay of her, too, but I didn’t have a white wig, purple body paint, or tentacles, so it was pretty much just going to be me in a black dress and heavy eye makeup. Kind of an automatic fail.
Anyway, Ursula’s a lot of fun. I mean, yes, she kicks Eric’s dog, which is obviously uncool, but she’s got this great voice, and she makes me laugh. The fact that she’s fat is actually interesting too, because while I didn’t initially think anything of it–fat villains being such a standard Hollywood trope–the classic Disney bad guys are all very tall, straight, thin-bodied women. Ursula, though, is heavy and voluptuous and wears a curve-hugging black dress, and the idea of her sex appeal, shockingly, doesn’t entirely feel like a joke to me. Like when she’s pointedly rocking her hips, singing about body language, there’s never a cut to Ariel or Flounder or someone else being repulsed–she’s not Orwen from The Black Cauldron, is what I’m getting at. That means a lot to me. And “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is awesomely sardonic and subversive, so yeah, I kind of love Ursula. It’s awesome that screwing over Ariel is just part of her master plan to steal back the throne, and she’s got flair and drama like whoa. IMDb trivia tells me Ursula was inspired by Divine, a famous drag queen, and I find that I am not so surprised by this.
9. Maybe it’s because she’s in seashells and not much else, but I couldn’t help notice how damn skinny Ariel is in this movie.
It’s not like the previous princesses were heavy–the closest thing we have to a plus-size Disney Princess is Merida, who wasn’t even really chubby before the
bullshit controversial makeover–but Ariel’s arms and neckline and waist all seem incredibly thin to me, like, I couldn’t stop noticing them. If you, too, would like to see more Disney Princesses with actual waistlines, this article is always nice to revisit.
10. There’s a sequel to The Little Mermaid that’s all about Ariel’s human daughter (who wants to be a mermaid, natch) but that’s not the sequel I’m interested in. Here’s what I want to know: does Ariel try to convert the humans into becoming pescatarians? I’m not so sure she’d be keen on eating all her old friends, nor do I think they’d be too happy with her if they found out she’s been dining on shrimp scampi and crab puffs. But would the humans rebel? The castle, after all, is literally on the shore (pretty much the most structurally unsound place I can even think to build a castle, save for a pile of quicksand, maybe, or on the very edge of the Grand Canyon), and you’ve got to think the kingdom’s whole economy is probably highly dependent on the fishing industry, right? There are so many interesting political and moral ramifications here. Let’s see a movie about that!
And speaking of . . . The Little Mermaid rather conveniently cuts away during the dinner scene where Ariel rescues Sebastian from being eaten. Now, obviously, Ariel doesn’t eat Sebastian. That would be pretty rude, even if he did unintentionally rat her out to her dad. But, presumably, Ariel was served an actual cooked crab for dinner. The question is: did she eat it? And I’m not trying to judge here: I’m not a vegetarian and am unlikely to become one . . . but you watch this movie and you’ve got to ask yourself: say you’ve already given up your home and your voice and the possibility of ever seeing your family again, all for a man you instantly fell in love with–can you also eat the dead body of someone who very well might have been your friend too?
I’ve got to say, I don’t think I was prepared for the gruesome ethical dilemmas that The Little Mermaid has inadvertently brought fourth.
11. Unfortunately, Ariel does not eat Scuttle the seagull, which would’ve been the cannibalistic murder of an old friend that I could have totally gotten on board with. Scuttle, in the words of Patrick Jane, irks me. He’s irksome. (I’ll say this, though: if he and his seagull buddies had stopped Eric marrying Ursula-in-Disguise by shitting all over their wedding–as birds, after all, are prone to do–I would have liked him a whole lot better.)
The other sidekicks, Flounder and Sebastian, are perfectly fine, though poor Sebastian has the worst time in this movie. He’s in constant fear of his life, and people keep ruining his grandiose musical performances. Other potential sequel titles for this film: The Little Mermaid 2 – Sebastian’s Emotional Breakdown.
12. Finally, a few more random notes:
12A. For a movie that I wasn’t passionately in love with, this movie has had a surprisingly long-lasting and unfortunate impact on my vocabulary. I have always referred to annoyingly innocent and naive characters as “guppies,” presumably because of Flounder, and to this day, I still mix up the words “Triton” and “trident,” which is why I try never to use either out loud if I can possibly help it, because once you make that mistake publicly, it haunts you forever.
12B. I completely forgot that Ariel had sisters in this movie. That’s probably because they have almost virtually nothing to do, but still. Disney Princesses rarely have siblings, even when they had them in the original fairy tale. (Frozen, of course, is an obvious exception.) Someone should work on that. Preferably without making the sisters enemies, of course.
12C. Apparently, Patrick Stewart was originally supposed to voice King Triton, but was unable to do so due to conflicts with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Part of me is sad about this. The other part of me is like . . . that’s okay, Jean-Luc. I like you better, anyway. You wouldn’t smash all of your daughter’s prized shit. Triton, you ass.
Totally enjoyable. Ursula’s great. Ariel manages to be both a step forward and a step back for feminism. I still don’t love this movie with all my little girl heart, but it’s definitely a better film than the previous Disney movies I’ve reviewed this year.
Oh, Pat Carroll (Ursula), definitely.
Risk anything to get a man. ANYTHING.