The Little Mermaid
We’ve reached the Disney movies that came out during my lifetime. The Little Mermaid is also the first movie part of the coined “Disney Renaissance,” when Disney returned to making movie musicals. The story is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, though we no longer have a storybook opening to introduce the tale. Instead, we’re greeted by a sailing ship, with the sailors singing Fathoms Below. One comments to Prince Eric and his advisor, Grimsby, that King Triton is to thank for the fair weather; Grimsby denounces mermaids as “nautical nonsense,” while the sailor insists. Once under water, we eventually come to the city of Atlantica, which is preparing for a concert, featuring Triton’s daughters, composed by Sebastian.
[Note: is has been suggested by pintrest that Triton’s daughters stand for the seven seas, depending on their hair and personality. As a kid, I just he just wanted all of his daughters to have names starting with “A”]
Ariel misses her debut because she is out exploring old shipwrecks with her fish friend, Flounder, searching for human artifacts. Flounder is certainly more cautious than Ariel and they manage to run into a shark. They take their findings to the surface to ask a sea gull, Scuttle, what they are for. According to the idiotic bird, a fork is a “dinglehopper” and used to comb one’s hair, while a pipe is a “snarfblat” and is a musical instrument. That reminds Ariel she missed the concert. Triton is furious and is even more so when he finds out Ariel has been going to the surface. Such actions are forbidden; she could have been seen by a barbaric human (the prequel that came out in 2008 explains that Triton’s wife had been killed by humans). Ariel’s retort is that she is sixteen, she’s not a child (and every adult is thinking, oh yes you are). Triton fires back with the classic, “as long as you live in my ocean, you obey my rules.” (That rarely works on kids/teens.) Once the argument has ended, Triton assigns Sebastian to look after Ariel.
What Sebastian discovers is Ariel’s treasure trove. And while Ariel has numerous bits and bobs, she wants more; she yearns to be Part of Your World. As anyone who daydreams about life being different, she guesses, “betcha on land/they understand/bet they don’t reprimand daughters, bright young women.” [Yes, for a while, I thought I’d be all grown up at sixteen….nooo. I’m almost twice that and I still have no idea what I’m doing. Yes, Ariel dear, human daughters do get reprimanded when they do something stupid]. All the while, the sea witch Ursula (who apparently once ruled the ocean) has had her two eels, Flotsam and Jetsam tailing Ariel and figures that she can exact revenge on King Triton through his daughter. Ariel is intrigued by a dark shape and swims to the surface to discover Eric’s ship is throwing a celebration for the prince’s birthday (complete with huge statue, which Grimsby hoped would have been a wedding present; the whole kingdom wants to see their prince settle down with the right girl [at least they include “right”]). The party is cut short when a hurricane blows in; lightning hits the sail and starts a fire. The ship runs into a reef and the crew is thrown overboard (or manages to get into a lifeboat somehow). However, Eric’s beloved canine companion, Max, is still onboard. The prince goes back for Max, but his foot gets stuck in the crumbling deck. He throws Max overboard and we next see an explosion, caused by the fire hitting gunpowder. Ariel swims in to rescue the handsome prince. They wash ashore a beach and she reprises her song, even more desperate to be part of the human world.
Ursula is positively cackling; King Triton’s daughter has fallen in love with a human! A prince, to be precise! Sebastian attempts to talk sense into the teenager, rationalizing life is better Under the Sea (a catchy, full-ocean production that I can’t help but smile every time I hear). Ariel’s sisters, and even Triton notice her changed behavior; humming all the time, always in a happy mood. The older girls inform their father that the youngest is in love. He assumes it’s a merman (who else could it be?) and calls in Sebastian. Sebastian, despite telling himself to “remain calm,” spills the secret. Ariel is happily flirting with the statue of Eric that has landed in her trove (how serendipitous) when her father appears in the shadows. He is absolutely incensed and destroys her treasures, including the statue, as a way to get through to her. As we’ve noticed before, he regrets his actions once his temper has abated. Flotsam and Jetsam swoop in and persuade Ariel to go to Ursula to solve her problems.
Ursula welcomes Ariel into her domain and justifies that she uses her powers to help Poor Unfortunate Souls [gotta admit, I’d love to perform this song; it’s sassy and so much fun to portray a villian]. The only way for Ariel to get what she wants is to become a human. And for this, Ursula just wants Ariel’s voice. When Ariel protests on how can she convince Eric to bestow true love’s kiss by the third sunset (in order to remain a human versus turning back into a mermaid and belonging to Ursula) Ursula retorts that she’ll “have your looks, your pretty face.” After all, human males prefer ladies to not say a word [I could go into how this has happened in periods of society, but I shan’t] The teen signs the contract, Ursula casts her spell and Ariel indeed becomes a human. Sebastian and Flounder rush her to the surface.
On land, Eric hasn’t been able to get the woman who saved his life out of his head, or the tune she sang. Max leads him to Ariel (the dog recognizes her scent). She seems familiar, but without her voice, she can’t be the one. Nevertheless, Prince Eric is a gentleman and eagerly agrees to take care of the young woman (they assume she was in a traumatic shipwreck). Sebastian follows Ariel into the castle, though he has to run for his life in the kitchen from French chef Louis, who loves Les Poissons. During dinner, Eric stares at Ariel and is happy to give her a tour the next morning. Ariel demonstrates that she is certainly different from other ladies. That evening, Eric takes her out in a boat and Sebastian takes matters into his own…claws; they’re running out of time to keep Ariel out of Ursula’s grasp. The crab sets the mood and urges the prince to Kiss the Girl (and helps Eric guess her proper name). Yet, just when the couple is leaning in, the eels dump them. Things are getting too close for Ursula; she has to take matters into her own tentacles. While Eric is deciding to choose Ariel over a mysterious woman (thanks to advice from Grimsby), a mysterious woman appears on the beach! With the voice he remembers! And…Eric is hypnotized.
Scuttle wakes Ariel the next morning, congratulating her on the happy news of her impeding marriage to Eric; the whole kingdom is talking about the wedding that afternoon. But when Ariel runs down the stairs, there is a dark-haired woman simpering next to Eric, who is instructing that the wedding ship leaves at sundown. The ship sets sail at dusk, without Ariel onboard. Yet, Scuttle has more news; he’s discovered that the new woman, Vanessa, is Ursula in disguise. Sebastian has Flounder help Ariel get to the ship, he’ll fetch Triton, and Scuttle is to stall the wedding. Scuttle is aided by the nearby animals who wreak absolute havoc. Max is pleased to get back at Vanessa (who kicked him; add animal cruelty to the charges, and further proof to Eric if he wasn’t hypnotized). In the commotion, Ariel’s voice is released and returns to its proper host, breaking the spell over Eric. Unfortunately, before they can have a proper conversation and kiss, the sun sets, turning Ariel back into a mermaid. Ursula has returned to being an octopus (or squid) and takes off with Ariel.
They meet up with Triton, who attempts to break the contract with his trident. Signed, it’s binding and no magic can change it, except, an exchange; Triton for Ariel, relinquishing the crown and trident to Ursula. Reacting as a father, Triton agrees. Now the commander of the seven seas, Ursula advances on Ariel, but Eric throws a spear to distract her. He’s lost his love once, he won’t lose her again. His attack causes Flotsam and Jetsam to pull him further under water. Sebastian and Flounder team up to release him. Ursula’s shot with the trident, meant for Eric, misses (thanks to Ariel) and hits her pets, destroying them. Angry, she grows until she towers over the surface. Ariel and Eric were initially caught on her crown, but jump away, quickly separated by the waves churned by Ursula. The sea witch traps Ariel and is bent on killing her with a blast from the trident. Those same waves also brought up the shipwrecks; Eric commandeers one and aims, running Ursula through (he jumps off during her death throes). With her death and the return of the trident, her curses are reversed, reverting her garden of creepy seaweed back to merfolk, including Triton.
Ariel once again returns Eric to shore and she wistfully sits on a rock (in a mimicry of the real Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen; I thought the movie took place in France for the longest time, actually, it’s probably set in Denmark). Sebastian muses to Triton that children must be free to live their own lives. One problem – how much Triton is going to miss his daughter. He grants her legs (and a new, sparkly dress; better than that sheet from earlier). Ariel eagerly runs to Eric and they finally get their kiss. Which transforms into a wedding. Triton rises in the water for a final goodbye, Ariel whispering “I love you, Daddy,” and Eric bowing to his father-in-law. He casts a rainbow over the ship and we know “they lived happily ever after.”
Little Mermaid did have a spin-off cartoon that ran in the nineties (I watched regularly) and it has been adapted into a Broadway stage musical (I think I saw part of it while at Disney World). There was a sequel, Return to the Sea involving Ariel and Eric’s daughter, Melody; and as already stated, there was a prequel. There is another Little Mermaid movie that came out in August of 2018 that seems to have a completely different storyline from the Disney classic (I was excited, then confused). There have been rumors of a Disney live-action retelling for several years, but nothing is truly known for certain, especially a release date.
While Ariel is not my favorite princess (nevertheless, it found its way to our VCR plenty), I do appreciate that she wanted to take her fate in her own hands (to good and bad consequences. If it involves visiting an evil witch and signing over your voice or “belonging” to someone, bad. Good that she fights for what she loves). She swims after Eric’s wedding ship, even though she’s uncoordinated as a human, to save Eric. She does not ask her father for legs at the end, but he was kind enough to gift them (that whole: if you love something, let it go). Triton is a typical father (though he has to balance raising seven daughter and running a large underwater kingdom). He wonders if he did the right thing and wants to lay down rules, but not stifle his children. Eric is a good match for Ariel. He does not hesitate to rescue his beloved dog, takes care of his advisor and crew. He takes in a woman in trouble even though he had no clue who she was. While Ariel instantly fell in love with Eric and Eric had fallen in love with the woman he rescued, he also fell in love with the true Ariel. All in all, a better role model for young people.
Questions? Comments? Any other adults find it a little disconcerting that a man is being encouraged to kiss a young woman who can’t speak?
Next Time: Beauty and the Beast