Behind the Fairy Tale: The Little Mermaid

mermaid poster

Ah, The Little Mermaid.  Before I start properly trashing this movie, I must admit that when it first came out, I loved it.  I was also twelve-years-old, so take that as you will.  It was the first full length fairy tale animated feature since Sleeping Beauty, so it was a pretty big deal.  There were some great songs, the best ones being sung by a crab – “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl”.  Finally, the girl had a great name.  I still believe Ariel is one of the most beautiful names ever.

But looking back at it now, I have a few questions.  Oh, what am I saying?  I have a LOT of questions.  First of all, how do mermaids go to the bathroom?  Oh, come on, you know you’ve thought of it.  For that matter, how are, um, little mermaids made?  I’m just not seeing it. I’d say they lay eggs, but if you’ll look closely, you’ll see that under her cross- your-heart mollusks, Ariel has a definite belly button.  They never get into this in the movie, but Ariel’s parents were obviously fertile, having seven daughters and all.  Weirdly, they all seem to be exactly the same age too, though Ariel is supposed to be the youngest.

Okay, it's tiny, but note that is a definite belly button.  WTF.

Okay, it’s tiny, but note that is a definite belly button. WTF.

You know how the youngest sibling is almost always the brattiest?  I can say this because I am the youngest sibling.  They’re always getting away with stuff, because cute, right?  Ariel is no different.  On the day of her first concert in front of the whole fishy kingdom, where is she?  Goofing off with a fish appropriately named Flounder.  That’s like naming your dog “dog”.  But whatever.  She’s off exploring a sunken sea ship, in an area known for sharks, and tells her buddy “Oh, don’t be such a guppy!”  So, what, guppies are like second class citizens here?  Also, I’m gonna have to side with Flounder on this one.  Hanging around in shark infested waters sounds pretty stupid.

And it is, as she is chased by a shark and narrowly makes her escape.  Only after her first near-death experience of the movie does she remember her concert.  Oh, d’oh!  Daddy, King Tritan, is super cheesed off, so assigns Sebastian the crab to babysit.  I’m not exactly sure what Sebastion’s actual job is besides say conducting fish orchestras, but I’m thinking babysitting is not what he was hired for..  I’d be asking for a transfer if I got that kid, personally.

See now THAT'S his job.  Get out, Sebastian, get out now!

See now THAT’S his job. Get out, Sebastian, get out now!

He sucks it up, though, and tries to convince her that living underwater is best with such wisdoms as “It’s bettah down where it’s wettah.”.  Hey, I’m convinced.  Ariel is not, and wanders off while he’s doing his whole big production number. Um, rude!  She sees a human ship and decides, HEY, how about I go check that out?  This makes even less sense when you consider that in a prequel to the movie, we see that her mother is killed by a human ship.  But no one said Ariel was exactly tops when it comes to common sense.

So she hangs out on the side of the ship and spies Prince Eric and his extremely small crew dancing around and bazinga – true love.  Oh, I forgot to mention she has another extremely annoying friend, Scuttle the sea gull, who identifies all her human “treasures”.  But he gets them all wrong, cause he’s a freaking sea gull with a pebble for a brain.  He thinks Eric’s dog is a human, a fork is a comb, and that you can find a pulse in someone’s foot.  I really hated that bird.

Hate that bird.  Haaaate him.

Hate that bird. Haaaate him.

There is, predictably, a storm, and the tiny ship is tossed, and so is Prince Eric.  Ariel rescues him and brings him to the beach, where she sings a song about how much she wants to like, totally be part of his world, even though she just met the guy.  At no point does she wonder about any of her, say, friends.  You know, the crab, or the fish, or even the stupid bird that hang out with her all the time.  Nope, it’s all about the guy.

He starts to wake up, so she hops back in the water.  Now she’s more determined than ever to become human.  As Sebastian says “the sea-weed is always greener in somebody else’s lake.”  She goes to her secret hiding place, a grotto where she keeps all her human junk.  Holy crap, Ariel’s a hoarder!  Her favorite thing is her most recent acquisition, a statue of Prince Eric that sank from the boat.  She has a big singing number and starts talking to the statue.  Fortunately, Tritan intervenes before it gets super weird.  Sebastian told him about her little visit with the humans, and he’s understandably ticked off.  I mean, he’s just trying to keep the kid from killing herself.  Still, he kinda loses it, blasting all her junk to smithereens.  Look, Tritan, I’ve watched the show, and this is not going to cure her habit.  Oh, well.

This week on Hoarders . . .

This week on Hoarders . . .

Cue Ursula the sea witch, who takes this opportunity to play the “good guy” and offer Ariel everything she ever wanted!  She can be human, but there’s just a few little details like she has to get wooden headed Eric to fall in love with her in three days, and oh yeah, she can’t talk because the witch is taking her voice.  Ursula (who is one of my favorite baddies) has an awesome song convincing Ariel, with such gems as “And she who holds her tongue who gets a man!”  Yeah, like what guy wants a girl to talk?  Just look pretty, Ariel, that’s all ya need!  I mean, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White weren’t even conscious, and they got their true loves, so why not?  Facepalm.

Ariel goes along with it, of course, and is transformed into a human.  So her buddies help her up to the surface where she has this great Flashdance moment of flinging her hair back, and then they clothe her in a ship’s sail so she’s not nakey.  Poor Sebastian.  He knows he’s gonna get his shell kicked for this, so he has to try to help the kid win her man.  Sebastian, dude, get a resume and quick.

What a feeeeeling!

What a feeeeeling!

Eric finds her and takes her back to the castle.  He’s been looking for that chick with the beautiful voice that saved his life.  He’s totes in love with her, cause she sings pretty, and really, what more do you need?  Yet Ariel can’t be that person, cause she’s mute.  Still, she’s cute and apparently Eric doesn’t have a lot of other girls competing for him.  He doesn’t even seem to have parents, and yet he’s a prince.  I’m not sure what that’s all about.

They eat dinner together, and Ariel brushes her hair with her fork while everyone stares at her like she’s freaking insane.  She puts the fork down sheepishly, no doubt thinking about how she’s going to shove the fork into that stupid sea gull’s eye.  Then Eric takes her on a tour of the castle, and a romantic boat ride.  Sebastian gets together with a bunch of other sea life and they sing the song “Kiss the Girl”.  Super subtle there, guys.  What I do love is how the scene gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger with more and more sea creatures coming out of the woodwork to sing along, and yet Eric doesn’t seem to notice.

Yo, Eric, uh, anything unusual around you?  No?

Yo, Eric, uh, anything unusual around you? No?

He’s all ready to kiss her, maybe so the song will stop, when Ursula’s henchmen eels turn the boat over.  Ursula is ticked. “The little tramp – she’s better than I thought.”  Ah, Disney, I do love your family films!  She disguises herself as a human and with Ariel’s voice in a shell necklace, walks right in and hypnotizes poor, dopey Eric.  They board a wedding ship – of course there’s a wedding ship – and the stupid sea gull realizes that the girl is actually Ursula (well, duh) and so Ariel with the help of the friends she’s put in danger countless times, goes off to rescue him again.

She almost succeeds, but then time runs out, she becomes a mermaid, and Ursula takes off with her.  Ursula tells Tritan she’ll give him back his daughter if he’ll just give her his trident.  You know, the thing Tritan uses to control THE ENTIRE FREAKING OCEAN.  No biggie.  Yo, Tritan, you’ve got six other kids, and we’re talking the lives of thousands of merpeople and fish and whatnot and really you should consider . . . crap, you just gave her the trident.  Brilliant.

Oh, good one, Tritan.

Oh, good one, Tritan.

So Ursula goes all power crazy and starts stirring up the ocean, and she’s having a really great time until Eric rams his ship through her.  And that’s all I’m gonna say about that imagery.  Ursula is dead, and Tritan gets the kingdom back (I’m sure his subjects were all thrilled he was willing to lay it all on the line for the little brat) and he decides to turn his daughter into a human like she always wanted so that she can be with her true love.  On the plus side, he doesn’t have to put up with her anymore.  On the other hand, what if she realizes marriage is really pretty boring and she sees some cute merguy and decides she wants to be a mermaid again?  Let’s face it, Ariel’s never really been one for having a lot of forethought into these things.   Oh, well.

So they get married, the end, happy ever after. But there’s still some questions.  Once Ariel marries Eric, does she eat her former fishy friends?  I mean, Sebastian was nearly killed by the French chef in a slightly disturbing musical number involving a bunch of cleavers.  Or does she stick to an all-seaweed diet?  I’d think she’d have to, cause cannibalism is really not very Disney-like.

First thing, fire the insane French chef.

First thing, fire the insane French chef.

Now the movie was far from perfect, but keep in mind it was based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson, the author best known for making all his readers want to kill themselves by the story’s end. In the original Little Mermaid, she gives up her voice to be human, but the prince marries someone else anyway, and her sisters give up their hair for a knife for her to kill the prince with, thus allowing her to become a mermaid again. Instead, the noble mermaid kills herself and gets to go to Heaven.

You see Andersen's name and you know you're in for happy!

You see Andersen’s name and you know you’re in for happy!

Okay, so I realize that the lesson here is that you can’t be someone you’re not, and don’t’ give away your voice, and these are very important lessons that are totally thrown out in the Disney version.  On the other hand, who the heck would have wanted to see that version?  It sucks!  I mean, if I were the mermaid, I’d have knifed old princey and gotten my tail back, but either way, you can’t say it’s suitable for children.  Or even adults.  So I still say I prefer the Disney version because if I want reality, I’ll just watch the news.

But that’s just my take on it.  What do you think of the movie?  Is there another Disney flick you’d like me to cover next?

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49 responses

  1. Haha, I loved this review! Absolutely brilliant 🙂 I had a university assignment where I had to do something similar for the film, ‘Tangled’ – I was quite upset since I didn’t want to tear it to pieces but by the end of the assignment, I was really annoyed. I love how our adult perspectives change everything.

    By the way, I did read somewhere that mermaids reproduced in a similar manner to seahorses. Though, instead of the male getting pregnant and giving birth, he sprays his “tiny soldiers” onto the female’s eggs and thus, merbabies!

    1. His “tiny soldiers” hahaha! I liked Tangled too, but yeah there’s some weird stuff there too. I think you can like something and still snark on it. I admit I will always have a fondness for that little mermaid, even if she is kind of a brat. At least it’s a personality!

      I might be losing it but I thought I responded to this earlier, but it’s like not here now. WTF.

      1. Totally. I was chatting to a friend and she did her piece on Mulan – very shocking (and interesting) discoveries to be made throughout Disney films now!

        Don’t worry about it, WordPress is a little moody when it comes to comments 🙂

  2. Merpeople. Mer-people?
    This made me laugh, and think, WT. I love these Behind the fairy tale posts. Next up, The hunchback of Notre Dame?

    1. Oh, wow, that one’s a doozy. Lustful priests, pole-dancing gypsies, family fun for all!

      1. I know you can do it.

  3. It’s bettah down where it’s wettah is one of the best catch-phrases ever. I still use that one.

    1. I love Sebastian. Poor dude got a tough break there. And then in the sequel he was having to put up with Ariel’s kid. Jeez, how long do crabs live anyway?

      1. The line I use ALL the time: “Teenaguhs, you give dem an inch, dey swim all ovah you.”

        1. I love that one! “Aren’t we in luck here, down in de muck here, under de seaaaaa!” I believe I could still remember the words to every single song in that movie. My brain retains stuff like this and loses basic math facts.

          1. Then you should go on Jeopardy and when you win, share the $$$ with me since it was my brilliant idea. You can even dress like Alice. I’ll come as the Mad Hatter and heckle you from the audience … Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t keep silly facts OR basic math in it for long, so I won’t be of any real use to you.

  4. Is it weird that this makes me want to watch the movie for the first time in years? With a whole new perspective of course, haha.

    1. Actually, me too. It has been while, though I watched it so many times as a kid, a lot of it is memorized for better or worse.

  5. Thanks for telling the TRUE story, I had no clue about the message behind. Girls always have to be silent :o) I agree wit Merbear, The hunchback of Notre Dame would be great ( I hated the 3 gargoyles, please let them lose out LOL)

    1. I’ll have to watch some of that one again. I’d forgotten how annoying the gargoyles were. But I remember all sorts of “why the frack did they think this would make a good movie for children” moments.

  6. I thought the point of the story was to sell Little Mermaid pajamas, and Little Mermaid lunchboxes, and Little Mermaid toothbrushes and Little Mermaid…

    1. Well, that too. Although interestingly enough, when it first came out in 89, they didn’t have much merchandizing for it. I actually had to search for stuff with Ariel – it was all Mickey or Winnie the Pooh. THEN came the Disney Princess line, and it all went to hell.

  7. I don’t think I ever saw the Disney version, but I recently reread the Hans Christian Anderson story and was so pissed off it was such a lame-ass story… Lots of better stories of mermaids out in the world.

    1. No kidding. His stories are all so depressing, I want to go back in time and give the guy some Prozac. Sheesh, lighten up, dude.

        1. Very interesting piece – I hadn’t heard of a lot of that before. I did write one comparing the Sleeping Beauty story to depression. https://aliceatwonderland.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/beware-fairies-bearing-gifts/

          1. SO cool, thanks for the link.

          2. Thank YOU for the link too – I may have to check out that book. I have done a lot of study of fairy tales and archetypes (it’s of my favorite things) but had never heard the theory of the cocoon thing for a woman. Fascinating.

          3. Isn’t it beautiful? Gorgeous interpretation. As is yours in the link you gave me. I was only able to do a quick read now – I’ve got to go catch a bus now but am going to bookmark it and come back to it when I get back to town next week.

          4. Huh – tried to comment on other post, but couldn’t.
            Just to say what a fine, fine post it was….

  8. I kind of have to like it because of the redhead connection, but Eric is such a dolt. They deserve each other.

    1. Yeah, I loved her anyway, even if she was a pain. Disney’s animation, beautiful songs, and great art are enough to make you forget a lot of the rest. And she was cute. And I love that name. 😀

  9. I’ve never actually seen this one. Despite owning a ton of related merchandise, my daughter got scared when watching the movie and wanted to turn it off.

    Ariel does seem like a total dumbass, but at least she’s kind of realistic. I think most teenage girls do become total dumbasses when they have a crush on a guy.

    And yeah, the king must have thousands of subjects, and who does he leave in charge of watching his daughter? A crab. Looks like dumbassness is hereditary.

    1. That is a good point, and one people do neglect when criticizing the movie. Teenagers don’t have fully formed brains, so they’re going to be stupid. Of course in the time period of most fairy tales, most girls were married by 16 and considered adults. But I’m guessing basic hormones probably haven’t changed that much.

      Yeah, not the brightest move leaving a crab in charge of her. He should have locked her in a tower filled with water.

  10. You thought about this more than Disney! I think they are like seahorses and Dad birthed them in his mouth.

    1. Oh, gross. Well, no wonder Tritan was so protective – if you go through mouth birth, I mean, dang.

  11. Awesome! I have never seen The Little Mermaid, yet now I know all I need to know about it. Keep these informative and funny posts coming…

    1. Thanks, ES. Will do. Continue to frighten us with old commercials. I am still reeling from the six-armed Grimace.

  12. I really just liked the dick on the cover, before Disney realized it was there and changed it.

    1. Ha! I wondered if anyone would point that out. I remember the controversy here. Someone has some serious unresolved issues with Disney, but it’s kind of hilarious how it was missed for so long.

  13. I never made the correlation between Little Mermaid and Flashdance so thank you for that. I opt for Beauty and the Beast

    1. That’s a good one. Bestiality, Stockholm Syndrome, talking flatware. There’s so much to enjoy!

  14. I admire your zeal when it comes to trashing The Little Mermaid 😉

    But I must say I LOVED it as a kid and nothing will make me love it any less!

    1. Aw, I loved it too. But it’s just too easy to find all the annoying aspects too.

  15. This was fantastic. I haven’t seen the Little Mermaid since, well, I was little. And I am with Speaker7, Beauty and the Beast because that was my all-time favorite disney movie.

    1. Yes, loved that movie too – was transfixed by it as a kid. Beautiful and cutting edge animation for the time. But so much goofiness too – it’s endless!

  16. I once had a guy ask me if I was a mermaid would I prefer having the fish bits on the top or bottom? ie. fish head or fish fins. Now that is some serious flirting right there…

    I say do Snow White and trash those dwarves!

    1. Who would answer fish on top? Maybe an ancient Egyptian – all their gods have birds and whatnot for heads. As far as Snow White goes – done! https://aliceatwonderland.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/alice-reviews-snow-white/

      1. Aha!! I shall check it out. Although I have a feeling I have seen that post before.

        As for fish on top? I would consider it for the gills and still having my lady parts.

  17. This post was just excellent.

    1. Thanks, X, means a lot coming from you.

      1. That was well deserved, I really like your fairy tales series.

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