This week marks the 25th anniversary of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. She would be just a bit older than me, if she were a real person.
But she’s not.
And that is one of the reasons why I’m not in love with this movie as much as everyone – my kids included. Please don’t get me wrong, it was a good movie. The soundtrack was good too; one of the first I remember actually being able to relate to. It was funny and well made. And the animation was spectacular for its time and the storyline increasingly better than those before it. And Ursula is outstanding!
Yet it didn’t jump to the top of my favourites’ list. While I too was a teenage at the time it came out, I couldn’t relate to wanting to defy my parents THAT much for the sake of a boy.
But I’ll get to that in a bit.
In a high school English Literature OAC class (yes, I’m old enough to have had OAC classes), I decided to do my independent study on The Little Mermaid and got to dig a little deeper into why I’m not so in love with the red-headed teen princess.
Here are a few reasons why I’m not a fan of The Little Mermaid:
- She has a good life. I mean, her father is the king of the ocean. She’s not cleaning after two wicked step-sisters or anything. Yet, it’s not enough. Typical, right?
- She gives up a part of herself. She very easily hands over that one thing that makes her special – her voice, in order to get what she wants. That is her one talent, and something she is known for, but when told that men prefer quiet girls, she willingly hands it over.
- She changes herself completely! She can’t be human, yet this is something she yearns for. It’s one thing to want to change socio-economic classes; go from poor to rich (right, Cinderella?!), but to change from one thing – in this case a mermaid, to a human, is something totally different? She wants what she wants so badly, she’s willing to physically change her body to get it. And all this before the plastic surgery obsessed world we live in now.
- Number 2 & 3 are all for a boy she doesn’t know.
- She’s a brat! While I do agree that she depicted teenage behaviour more realistically than the princesses that came before her, I think her selfishness and entitlement is unforgiving. Not only do her friends help her out of a jam (breaking that shell to get her voice back), but her father agrees to become Ursula’s slave in exchange for Ariel’s release. And she barely utters a thank you for that. She’s ungrateful, rude, demanding and all that behaviour is just tolerated and not addressed.
- She runs away to be with a stranger. Okay, I can’t hold this one against her too much, since so do Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. So that one I blame on Disney’s bad storylines of the past.
- She never learns a lesson. She acts horribly to her friends and family, is willing to give herself up entirely for a boy, is stubborn and a brat and that’s okay. Never once does she realize that she should have acted differently. Instead, she happily changes herself and walks into her new life. (Pun intended).
This is not the kind of role model I want for my kids. I don’t like the message that Ariel represents.
And with that being said, both of my girls love Ariel. The Little Bird has an Ariel doll, a costume and shoes and at one point subjected us to listening to the CD on repeat until our ears bled! We even met Ariel twice at Disney World, once as a mermaid in her grotto and once as a human at the castle.
What are Ariel’s good points? The red hair is hard to ignore, as she stands out among the rest. She isn’t soft spoken, stands up for what she wants and is fearless (to a fault). I suppose you could argue that she is a leader, not following her sisters and other mermaids, feeling like she doesn’t fit in and is willing to do whatever it takes to change that.
But it’s that part I can’t let go of. The ‘whatever it takes’ attitude of this teenager outshines those strong character traits.
So I try to get my kids to watch Brave more often, as Merida is brave, strong-willed and fearless too. In addition to not needing or wanting a man at all, Merida certainly didn’t want to change herself, her body or even her mind about that fact.
In the meantime, Ariel remains on the shelf, and in the viewing rotation. And since it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, happy anniversary Little Mermaid!
I still remain hopeful that one day my girls will see her the way I see her and realize there are better role models out there than a red-headed, back-talking, insecure little mermaid who is so willing and eager to change herself, when she was perfectly fine the way she was!