Ariel: Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun, wandering free, wish I could be, part of that world.
Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID is a pivotal film in the company’s history with animated film. Before Ariel came along and galvanized a whole new generation of little wannabe princesses across the world, you would have to go back 40 years to find another princess picture that captivated audiences (SLEEPING BEAUTY). Ariel was different though. Firstly, she sounded like an angel, which helped Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs, reach Broadway heights in terms of quality. Secondly, she was that girl, the one who is different and who no one truly understands. THE LITTLE MERMAID not only ushered in a new golden age in Disney animation but it also reminded little girls everywhere that no matter out of place they might feel, they can overcome any obstacle, like fins for example, marry the prince and live happily ever after. And truthfully, it only did this so effectively because the film was that strong to begin.
Now, some might argue that the fairy tale princess complex is detrimental to little girls growing up with unrealistic expectations about love and how meeting the right man, because there is only one, can solve all of your problems. On some levels, I’m sure they’re right. Even I’m still searching for Mr. Right and I was never a princess to begin with. On the other hand though, this argument also removes the capacity of little girls everywhere to think for themselves and make discerning decisions about the priorities in their lives as they progress. It also takes away from the beautiful artistry of this timeless fairy tale, adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen story. Under the direction of Ron Clements and John Musker, THE LITTLE MERMAID is an enchanting musical that presents many themes to its audience, like being true to yourself, wondering whether the grass is greener elsewhere, how to learn to love the life you have and basically never to strike any contractually bound deal with a sea witch. That last one never goes well so you’ve been warned, kids.
THE LITTLE MERMAID is now nearly 25 years old and it holds up brilliantly. This is in part because the story itself is truly timeless. Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson), daughter of the Sea King, Triton (Kenneth Mars), defies her father and spies on the humans at the surface, despite the danger she has heard about her whole life. (People eat fish; I’m not sure if we would eat mer-people if such a thing were possible, mind you.) She inevitably falls in love withe a handsome human specimen, a prince no less, and strikes a deal with the Sea Witch, Ursula (Pat Carroll), to trade her fins for feet in exchange for her beautiful voice. The trick here is Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) only knows Ariel by her voice and she must get him to kiss her within three days of her transformation to get her voice back and y’know, live happily ever after. To execute this difficult task, she enlists the help of a musically inclined crab named Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright).
The other reason that future generations will continue to fall in love with THE LITTLE MERMAID is because it is just a pure joy to watch. Classic songs like “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea”, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, make the viewer want to stand up and sing alongside all the other happy sea creatures. Forget about how this story suggests that in order to find true love, one has to change essential elements of one’s self and forsake all the people who have ever loved and supported you. You can choose the cynic’s point of view if you must but even the hardest of non-believers will struggle to hold back the tears when Ariel and Eric finally do share that elusive and mystical kiss before literally ride off into the sunset together.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some wishing to do at a well.