Movie_poster_the_little_mermaid

Disney Reviews with the Unshaved Mouse #28: The Little Mermaid

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Wow. We’re finally here. Have you been looking forward to this? I know I have. After all, we’re finally going to review the movie that unquestionably, I repeat unquestionably, ushered in the Disney renaissance…

I’m sorry, a mob of angry Disney contrarians has amassed below in the comments. One moment please.

Alright, let's hear it.

Alright, let’s hear it.

Cat

Who framed Roger Rabbit? was the real start of the renaissance!”

"No! Basil the Great Mouse Detective!"

“No! Basil the Great Mouse Detective!”

"Oliver & Company revived the Disney musical!"

Oliver & Company revived the Disney musical!”

Toad

“The Renaissance didn’t start until Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture!”

"THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE IS A MYTH! IT NEVER HAPPENED!"

“THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE IS A MYTH! IT NEVER HAPPENED!”

"GIVE US BARRABAS!"

“GIVE US BARRABAS!”

Okay, okay. I hear all your points so let me just give my response now that I've lured you all into one place.

Okay, okay. I hear all your points so let me just give my response now that I’ve lured you all into one place.

boom

No. I’m sorry, I’ve taken some controversial positions in my time but on this one the conventional wisdom is right. The Little Mermaid marks the beginning of the massive leap in quality in Disney animation that is known as the Disney Renaissance of the late eighties/early nineties. How did this come about? Well it was a perfect storm of a million different things and people coming together but I’ve got a lot to say on this movie so I’ll try and boil it down to the main causes.

1) Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Now, I don’t consider Who Framed Roger Rabbit? the start of the Renaissance because it wasn’t wholly a Disney movie. It was a Disney/Amblin co-production featuring not just Disney characters but Warner characters and those of many other studies and also it isn’t considered part of the canon. But it did lead directly to the Disney Renaissance in a very important way. Remember last review I mentioned how the makers of that movie brought in their own animators because they didn’t think the regular Disney animators were up to the task? Well after Roger was wrapped many of those animators were brought in to work on Mermaid which meant a huge transfusion of energy and talent. This is why Mermaid looks so much better than the films that came immediately before it.

2) Kaaaaaaaaaaaatzenberg!

Jeffrey Katzenberg is a controversial figure in animation and with good reason. He is in many ways the quintessential Hollywood executive, brash, abrasive and confrontational. His artistic instincts could also leave a lot to be desired (he wanted to cut Part of Your World, a choice that would have absolutely gutted the movie and which saner heads were thankfully able to talk him out of). But credit where credit is due, Katzenberg knows how to create entertainment if not always art. His track record before and after Disney is one of a man who knows how to make real crowd pleasers. Also, Katzenberg brought an energy and a drive to a studio culture that had perhaps been a little indolent. If you worked for Katzenberg you fucking  WORKED for Katzenberg. I think of Katzenberg as a Blue Lantern.

And you guys need to stop letting me use MS Paint because my God but I suck at it.

What do I mean? Okay, well in Green Lantern comics you have these alien beings that wear power rings that are fueled by different emotions. The Green Lanterns have green rings fuelled by willpower that allows them to create incredible energy constructs. The Blue Lanterns have blue rings fuelled by hope that do jack shit on their own but when they’re near the Green Lanterns gives them an incredible energy boost because hope fuels willpower. Wow, this is probably the longest and nerdiest explanation I’ve ever given to anything. What I’m trying to say is, Katzenberg is not much of an artist on his own. But if you have him working with talented people he provides the energy and drive to push them to dazzling creative heights. Also, he’s extremely vulnerable to yellow fear energy (citation needed)

Jeff! Behind you!

Jeff! Behind you!

3) Howard Ashman and Alan Menken

Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken created the sound of the Disney renaissance, which was important because with one notable exception, all the Disney films of the Renaissance era were musicals. There had been Disney musicals before, of course, but Ashman and Menken created something very new; Broadway Disney. The movies of this period are Broadway musicals in ink and paint. Everything about them, the big emotions, belting musical numbers, the dance numbers, the spectacle…it’s pure Broadway. Ashman and Menken, probably more than any other individual person, defined the feel of Disney movies of this period. And it all started with The Little Mermaid, whose success basically ensured that it was the template for every Disney movie that came after, triumph after triumph after triumph… until the whole formula was basically squeezed to a desiccated husk and everything came crashing down like a house of wet cards. But we’ll get to that eventually. For now, let’s take a look at The Little Mermaid.

Okay, not to brag but…my wife is fucking awesome.

It was her birthday recently and you know what she wanted to do? Go on a shopping spree in a comic book shop.

She is completely, utterly amazing and I lucked out so much to end up with her I’m a little jealous of myself. But…she’s not perfect. In fact, she has one very grave flaw that has at times threatened to destroy our otherwise rock solid marriage. I mean, we don’t let pretty much anything get between us. Religious or political differences? Mere trifles. The ongoing debate on the merits of a vertical toilet seat versus a horizontal model? Love conquers all. The occasional extramarital liaison with certain unnamed persons slash national sports teams? Hey, the Venezuelan basketball team are on my list and no backsies.

No, the source of this friction is…

God…

I can barely bring myself to say it…

My wife…my wife hates The Little Mermaid. Not, The Little Mermaid I hasten to add. The Little Mermaid. Ariel. My wife hates her. Can’t stand her.

And I…

I fucking love Ariel. Sad as it is for a twenty-nine year old man to admit to the world, but there you go. I absolutely love her. This puts me in a bit of a bind because I am…

Ah jeez.

You know, being a guy and being asked “Are you a feminist?” kind of puts you in a lose-lose situation. You say “No” and it’s “WHY NOT?”, you say “Yes” and it’s “OH YEAH, PROVE IT! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?

But yeah, I’m a feminist, for what it’s worth, and I know that the character of Ariel raises a lot of hackles amongst feminists. And…sure, I can see why. But I don’t actually think the character is nearly as bad from a feminist perspective as some make out. Let’s take a look at some of the arguments against her.

She trades her voice for a man and a vagina.”

Wait, vaginas are bad now? I…I thought vaginas were good. Wasn’t there a bafflingly successful play about how vaginas are symbols of feminine power and so on? Would you feel better if she was given legs and no vagina? Would that be better? Okay, all joking aside it’s the fact that she gives up her voice. And yes, that can be read as a rather troubling subtext. Legs open, mouth shut. But you remember back in my Jungle Book review when I said the first thing that we need to consider when addressing troubling subtext is whether it was intended by the author or not? Now, some will argue that authorial intent doesn’t matter and that any reading of subtext is valid regardless of whether the author intended it or not. And that’s fine as far as it goes. But in cases like this where the piece in question (and by extension its creators) is being charged with misogyny or racism, then that question becomes very relevant. So. Did Disney have an anti-feminist agenda in having Ariel selling her voice, and if not why is it in the movie?

Well, that’s easy. For starters, it’s in the original Hans Christian Anderson tale, and secondly, if Ariel didn’t sell her voice the movie would go something like this:

"Hey, are you that chick that saved me?" "Yup!"

“Hey, are you that chick that saved me?”
“Yup!”

Ending

Yeah. That took five seconds and there was no giant octopus-lady battle. Good job everybody.

Sure, you can read negative subtext into it if you want, but I think it’s pretty obvious that Ariel losing her voice is just there because it’s necessary for the plot to function. Now, the sentiment that Ariel should simply shut up and sleep with Eric to get what she wants is expressed in the movie, but it’s expressed by Ursula (the villain, I remind you) who subtly hints it by braying “Don’t underestimate the importance of the BODY LANGUAGE!” and thrusting her hips like she’s riding the mechanical bull. The only overtly anti-feminist statement comes from the villain, and the scene where Ariel trades her voice to Ursula should leave you in no doubt that what she is about to do is a very bad idea.

“Ah ouis!” I hear you cry “But you forget, at ze end of ze movie, she marries ze prince, and lives ‘appily every after, so validating ze stupid and reckless decision to sell ‘er voice!”

To which I reply….

What’s with the accent?

But also, sure. Yeah. It does all work out. A happy ending in a Disney movie. Which means…tell ‘em what it means Walt.

Jack Fucking Shit!

Jack Fucking Shit!

Fuckin’ aye. It’s a Disney movie. Of course there’s a happy ending.

Her only motivation is to get a man.”

This perplexes me a bit. Tell me if you’ve heard this before. Character A meets Character B and falls instantly in love. But Character B lives in a world so different and removed from that of Character A that their chances of being together are practically nil. But Character A is determined, makes a deal with magical Character C to be changed so that Character A can woo Character B. After a few twists and turns and perhaps a giant monster battle, true love conquers all and Character A and B end up happily together. Oh, why am I being so coy, you know who I’m talking about, right?

tumblr_mcotp1psOo1rj55gzo1_500

So, is it somehow demeaning to all men that Aladdin’s only motivation is his love for Jasmine? Would it somehow be more feminist if instead of Ariel playing the Aladdin role, she was more like Jasmine waiting in Atlantica for Eric to scam a pair of gills and join her in the ocean? Roger Ebert, God rest his soul, articulated very well why Ariel is such a step up from the last three Disney princesses. She’s active. She goes, she seeks, she fights for what she wants. She’s not someone who stuff happens to. Incidentally, “someone who stuff happens to” still describes the vast majority of female characters in every damn medium so you’ll forgive me if it irks me ever so slightly to see a character I love belittled as being anti-feminist just because her motivation stems from love. Love is not anti-feminist. It just seems like such a confused argument to me. Sorry, I realise I’m probably just not getting it. I mean, the only other possibility is that  “feminism” has become a catch-all term for a vast array of differing and often contradictory standpoints leaving the movement fatally prone to infighting and utterly unable to coherently articulate what it actually wants.

And that would be just downright nutty.

And that would be just downright nutty.

Okay, in all seriousness, yes. There are parts of the movie that are definitely problematic from a feminist perspective. A big one for me is that Ariel gets progressively more passive as the movie goes on.  She starts out a rebellious, shark dodging treasure hunter and ends up pretty much totally helpless, needing Eric and Triton to rescue her. So yes, minus points for that. But…I still think the character gets a raw deal, and that there’s a lot more to love than to loathe.

He's going to start actually reviewing the movie any second now folks.

He’s going to start actually reviewing the movie any second now folks.

Okay, okay. Dismounting from my soapbox now. Let’s take a look at the movie.

We open with a ship sailing across the ocean blue and a strapping young youth declaring to his puking aged guardian that it’s a perfect day to be at sea. This is Eric…

fangirls

…voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes who was only sixteen years old at the time. Which means Eric is a minor, so please  fangirls, let’s not make this weird. Barnes has got one of those voices that pops up in animation all the time and you can never quite place it and the question lingers, always there. Like a splinter. In the back of your mind.

Driving you mad.

Driving you mad.

So let me put your mind at rest. He’s Peter Parker.

You know, the guy who has a thing for red-heads and fights octopus people.

You know, the guy who has a thing for red-heads and fights octopus people.

The sailors take in a catch of fish (rather low-level work for a vessel carrying the Royal Prince, no?) and the ship’s maritime law mandated Old Sea Dog (ya gotta have one) tells Eric about King Triton, ruler of the merpeople. Grimsby, Eric’s…butler? Legal Guardian? Sugar Daddy?

Well anyway, whatever he is, Grimsby tells Eric not to listen to listen to this “nautical nonsense” and Old Sea Dog responds in the time-honoured way of his people.

He isn't going to like where that fish is going. Fish ain't gonna like it much either.

He isn’t going to like where that fish is going. Fish ain’t gonna care much for it, neither.

But he drops the fish and it escapes overboard into the ocean, presumably to write a book and go on the lucrative undersea talk show circuit.

The music leading up the reveal of Atlantica is phenomenal, working the main theme from Part of Your World into a wonderful rippling melody that perfectly evokes water and depth before building up to the big crescendo where we see our first merperson.

Merman

All the merpeople are gathering at the palace for a big concert being held in honour of King Triton. Triton is voiced by Kenneth Mars which I just found out literally this second and I cannot believe because holy shit I would not have guessed that in a million years.

Haben si gehort das deutsche band?

Haben si gehort das deutsche band?

I’ve heard it argued that The Little Mermaid is actually Triton’s story, not Ariel’s and sure, there’s something to that. He certainly grows more as a character than she does. Mars does absolutely fantastic work with Triton, making him by turns badass, frightening, loving, and heartbreakingly vulnerable. I do have one tiny regret, though. Brilliant those he is, Mars was not the first choice to play Triton. In fact, were it not for scheduling clashes our Triton would have been…

Patrick Stewart

Sigh. A Mouse can dream.

We’re also introduced to Sebastian, a crab, who’s Triton’s court composer. Sebastian would probably rank among my all-time favorite Disney supporting characters. Partially that’s just down to nostalgia. This was the first Disney movie I ever owned on VHS and I watched it again and again to the point where I’m reasonably sure I can recite it from memory and Sebastian was always my favourite.  But Sebastian is something quite unique. Disney supporting characters tend to be stereotypes. I don’t mean that in a racist sense, goodness no!

That is CRAZY TALK.

That would be CRAZY TALK.

 I mean, they tend to fit pre-defined character types. Which makes sense, they’re mainly there as comic relief and they don’t have as much screen time so it makes sense to use stereotypes. Sebastian was originally going to have a posh British accent, which they felt would suit his roles as both a composer and as Ariel’s royally appointed cock-blocker. But Howard Ashman wanted Sebastian to have a Jamaican accent to suit the reggae-influenced Under the Sea and so both character concepts were merged. Sebastian is refreshing because he defies stereotype. You don’t get many uptight, highly strung Jamaicans in movies and Samuel E. Wright makes good use of the accent for comic effect. At the same time, it never feels like we’re supposed to be laughing at the accent itself, it just gives a little extra kick to the gags.

Wow. You know, some reviews I feel like I have to pad a lot so the review isn’t too short? This is not going to be one of those.

Anyway, Triton says he’s really looking forward to his daughters’ performance, particularly Ariel’s. Because you know how parents shouldn’t play favourites? Triton isn’t “parents”. The concert starts and we get Daughters of Triton, a brief, zippy little piece where Triton’s various daughters set up Ariel’s big entrance only to realise that she’s pulled a Von Trapp Family and hasn’t bothered showing up to the show. And as a theatre man I have to ask; NOBODY CHECKED THAT THE STAR OF THE SHOW HAD ACTUALLY TURNED UP?! WHO THE FUCK WAS STAGE MANAGING THIS THING?!

Hmmm...can't shake the feeling that I'm forgetting some...OH CRAP!

Hmmm…can’t shake the feeling that I’m forgetting some…OH CRAP!

The show is a disaster and Triton is absolutely furious.

And Mickey, Donald and Goofy are all "We traveled to the bottom of the ocean and learned to breathe water for THIS

And Mickey, Donald and Goofy are all “We traveled to the bottom of the ocean and learned to breathe water for THIS?!

We finally see Ariel, exploring a sunken ship with her best friend Flounder.

Flounder

You know, when Pixar started working on Finding Nemo, the animators essentially took a degree course in ichthyology in order to accurately animate the different species of fish. I’m guessing the Disney animators who worked on Mermaid did not do that, otherwise they might have known that flounders actually look like this:

Bleh!

Bleh!

Ariel is voiced by Jodi Benson, probably my single favorite female voice artist. As well having an absolutely phenomenal singing voice (hell, they work the fact that her voice is amazing into the damn plot!) she’s a brilliant performer and has some pretty awesome comic chops to boot.

Barbie

Yep. This was her.

Animator Glen Keane, who was mostly known for animating child and animal characters, overheard Jodi Benson singing Part of Your World and was so entranced he pretty much demanded that he be allowed to animate Ariel. Despite never having animated that kind of character before, Keane created one of the single most beloved and influential animated characters of the Disney renaissance. You only have to look at the Disney princesses that came before Ariel and after her to see the impact that she had. The animators also used footage of astronaut Sally Ride in zero gravity to get the animation for her hair floating just right. In short, she’s a work of art.

 Ariel’s something of a humanity fan-girl, and as they explore the galleon she finds a fork and a pipe to add to her collection. They get ambushed by a shark but Ariel manages to lure it into the ring of an anchor, trapping it. And now that I think of it, since sharks need to be constantly moving forward in order to breathe, he’s almost certainly now dead.

He's devouring the angels now.

He’s devouring the angels now.

Ariel takes the swag to Scuttle, a seagull who’s basically been posing as an expert on human paraphernalia despite his only experience with humans likely being enjoying their many scenic landfills. Scuttle spins her some BS about the fork being a hair straightener (“a dingle-hopper”) and the pipe being a musical instrument called a banded, bulbous Snarfblatt. The mention of music reminds Ariel that she really should be standing in front of thousands of people wowing them with her vocal awesomeness, so she swims back home with Flounder. As she goes, she’s watched by Flotsam and Jetsam, two moray eels who work for Ursula. Now, I get asked this question a lot so in case you’re wondering; Flotsam and Jetsam are male, but they’re voiced by a woman named Paddi Edwards. They’re two of the most sinister villain sidekicks in the Disney canon, creepy and almost never comedic. They’re also very effective. Even the best Disney villains have been let down by incompetent henchmen (Maleficent and her pig-orcs, Scar and the hyenas, Rattigan and Fidget) but when Ursula tells Flotsam and Jetsam to do shit, shit get done, yo. They also work as a kind of organic CCTV feed, with Ursula able to watch Ariel as she swims. Ursula tells the eels to keep an eye on Ariel, as she may be the key to ruining Triton’s day.

Triton’s day is already a hot mess, and he tears into Ariel when she finally gets home. Flounder tries to help, but ends up making things worse when he spills the beans that Ariel went to the surface. Triton is furious, saying “You could have been seen by one of those barbarians, by one of those humans!” and I am absolutely, 100%, on Triton’s side with this. Seriously. I mean, think about it. Triton is the ruler of a kingdom of sentient, thinking fish. That scene at the start of the movie where Eric’s ship hauls in nets full of fish? How many of Triton’s citizens were killed in that moment? Four hundred, five hundred? And that was from one ship! How many millions of his people are being slaughtered every day by these things? No wonder he doesn’t want Ariel going to surface! And when you look at it this way, Ariel’s fascination with human beings is kind of creepy. She’s like those weird scientists who keep popping up in the Alien franchise who are in love with the xenomorphs because they are the ultimate killing machines.

I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.ts structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

After a blazing row, Ariel swims off. Triton worries that he may have been too hard on her but Sebastian says “Hell No!” and suggests that she should be under constant supervision.

Two words: Chastity belt. Let's see her swim to the surface now.

Also: Chastity belt. Let’s see her swim to the surface now!

Triton, liking the cut of Sebastian’s control-freaky jib, puts him in charge of constantly guarding his daughter which I would have thought was a job for the secret service, but whatever.

Sebastian sees Flounder passing off a bag to Ariel (and teens passing each other bags never looks unsuspicious) and follows them to the cave where Ariel keeps her secret stash. Ariel pulls the rock away from the entrance and WHAT THE FUCK??!

?????

?????

Okay, thin-as-paper sixteen year old girl moving a giant rock bare-handed? Borderline impossible. Doing it on the ocean floor? Flat out impossible. Doing it when there’s differing water pressure on either side of the rock? No, no, no, no…

I mean, I suppose you can rationalise it when you remember who her father is.

The young Triton.

The young Triton.

So okay, Ariel has super strength. But this just raises all kinds of troubling implications. You ever read Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex? Eric better watch out on the wedding night, that’s all I’m saying. That girl will snap him like a cracker.

Sebastian follows Ariel into the cave and is shocked to discover that she’s been hoarding artifacts from that voracious fish-eating race of nightmare creatures from up top. Ariel sings Part of Your World which just…umph.

My God this song. This song, this song, this song. One of the virtues of doing an animated musical is that it gives you the chance to be subtle. Howard Ashman walked Jodi Benson through every line of this song, helping her bring through the emotion of each verse. Onstage, you don’t really get to do that as every line has to be belted loud enough to be heard in the cheap seats. But here, Benson can whisper as well as roar. It’s a magnificent song, the heart of the movie.

Sebastian is furious, and probably not a little creeped out…

Still blood on it. Oh God, just keep smiling...

Still blood on it. Oh God, just keep smiling…

…but before he can read Ariel the riot act a shadow passes overhead and Ariel swims up to see what it is.

She sees Eric’s ship, launching fireworks into the sky in celebration of Eric’s birthday.

One of my favorite stories about this movie is that when directors Ron Clements and Jon Musker were first contemplating the idea of doing The Little Mermaid they wondered why Walt had never considered the idea for adaptation. It was only later when they were going through the Disney archive that they found lost treasure; concept art for an unproduced  Little Mermaid short from the 1940′s. This sequence with Eric’s ship and the storm were largely inspired by these pieces of concept art. I just love the idea that the film that returned the Disney studio to its former glory had a little help from the master himself.

You're welcome, you incompetent slobs.

You’re welcome, you incompetent slobs.

Ariel climbs up the side of the ship and watches the party. She sees Eric and is instantly smitten.

Grimsby presents Eric with his birthday present, a massive marble statue of himself.   Grimsby’s a little pissy because it was supposed to be a wedding present, but Eric laughs that off saying “You’re not still sore I didn’t fall for the Princess of Glowerhaven, are you?”

Jeez. I kinda feel sorry for the Princess of Glowerhaven. I mean, that’s the thing about royals, it’s not like you can just privately tell someone you’re not into them. Your relationship choices basically decides the future of two kingdoms. And if you get rejected, everyone knows. That must be pretty rough. I just hope the Princess of Glowerhaven didn’t grow up to be embittered and utterly self-conscious about her appearance.

604038_10152735255635187_732400883_n

She put the “glower” in “Glowerhaven”.

 Grimsby says that the whole kingdom wants to see him married off, and Eric says that when he meets the right girl he’ll know, and that the realisation will hit him, like lightning.

Well, because Eric is apparently a thunder god, lightning strikes and the ship catches fire. The crew escape into the lifeboats but Eric goes back for his dog Max and gets caught up in the explosion when the fire sets off the ship’s gunpowder stores. Ariel rescues the unconscious Eric and pulls him to shore. Scuttle lands and performs a medical examination.

Yeah, ain't so pretty now, are ya pretty boy?

Yeah, ain’t so pretty now, are ya pretty boy?

Ariel sings a reprise of Part of Your World and Eric wakes up just long enough to get a glimpse of her before she escapes into the water. Grimsby arrives and Ariel watches from a safe distance as he takes Eric away.

Ariel now completes the reprise of  Part of Your World and if you get a chance I want you to watch what happens next and really listen to Jodi Benson’s voice. Listen to how much anticipation, and fear, and longing and hope she manages to work into those first few lines, “I don’t know when, I don’t how, but I know something’s starting right now.”

And then the music swells, and the wave builds up behind her, and the orchestra and the animation and the music and Benson’s voice join together to build in one perfect, joyous, ecstatic crescendo…

PART OF YOUR...WOOOOOORRLLLD!

PART OF YOUR…WOOOOOORRLLLD!

sPEAKER

Goosebumps. Every time. Every damn time.

Back at Atlantica, Triton notices that Ariel is acting a little funny, and the other daughters tell him that she’s obviously in love. Or that Flounder is getting her some better weed. One or the other.

Sebastian is getting increasingly nervous because sooner or later Triton is going to learn what happened and he is going to (as my junior infants teacher used to put) fucking murder him. Ariel swanning around like a lovesick…swan isn’t helping his odds of survival, so Sebastian tries to set her head straight with the reggae infused awesomeness of Under the Sea. Jeez. What can I say about this one? The most popular Disney song of all time? Maybe not, but certainly up there in the top five or so. It’s just Ashman and Menken at the top of their game and the brilliant, intricate lyrics are complemented by the animators going nuts showing all the different fish and marine life who want Ariel to stay with them under the sea, the carp, the ray, the fluke..

The blue-finned Minstrel Fish.

The blue-finned Minstrel Fish.

Alice Facepalm

Well, that notwithstanding, it’s still a phenomenal song. With his big number over, Sebastian looks around to see that Ariel’s disappeared. To make matters worse, a message arrives for Sebastian. Triton wants to see him. Something about Ariel.

Game over man. Game over.

Game over man. Game over.

Triton grills Sebastian for information on Ariel’s boyfriend, but gets more than he bargained for when Sebastian cracks under the strain and confesses everything.

Meanwhile, Flounder has brought Ariel to the cave because he has a surprise for her.

Surprise

And yeah. The fact that a small fish was somehow able to transport a massive marble statue weighing many tonnes into an undersea cave with only two entrances, one capped with a massive stone and the other a little skylight far too small to fit through…that would indeed qualify as a surprise. I am genuinely surprised by that. You might almost call me “dribbling with shock and confusion”.

HOW THE HELL DID FLOUNDER DO THAT?!

Cocaine is a hell of a drug, innit?

Cocaine is a hell of a drug, innit?

Anyway, Ariel is overjoyed but her delight is cut short when Triton arrives and he is PISSED when he sees the statue. He starts yelling at Ariel and things quickly go south when Ariel blurts out that she loves him.

Triton…does not take that well, and proceeds to blast the shit out of everything in sight, finally destroying the statue.

STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY DAUGHTER, STATUE!

STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY DAUGHTER, STATUE!

Triton leaves and Sebastian tries to console Ariel but she tells him to screw off. Sebastian leaves with Flounder and Ariel is left alone, sobbing in the cave. Flotsam and Jetsam slink out of the shadows and tell her that Ursula can help her. At first Ariel is outraged at the very idea and this is something that always fascinated me. There’s obviously some backstory going on here that we’re not being let in on. Ursula mentions earlier in the movie that she used to live in the palace but was banished. And Ariel has clearly heard of Ursula and knows that she is very bad news. What happened? What did Ursula do? I would love so much to know what these characters were doing before the movie began…

Actually, you know what? I'm fine.

Actually, you know what? I’m fine.

Outside the cave Flounder and Sebastian look up to see Ariel swimming away with the two eels. Sebastian demands to know what she’s doing with “this riff-raff” and Ariel coldly tells him she’s going to see Ursula. Sebastian’s reaction to this, sheer terror, is very telling. He tries desperately to talk her out of it, but she says “Why don’t you tell my father? You’re good at that.”

Actually, that’s a wonderful idea. And he is good at that. He maybe should have followed her advice. But no, Sebastian and Flounder tail Ariel to Ursula’s lair. How fantastic a villain is Ursula? While other Disney villains are content with dark rambling castles or abandoned riverboats,  Ursula has an undersea stegosaurus skeleton for a lair.

Go hard or go home, bitches.

Go hard or go home, bitches.

Ursula is right up there in the top tier of Disney villains. Maybe not quite my favourite, but a very strong contender. It helps that she’s very distinct from all those frosty, refined, pencil-thin villains. Ursula is a sensualist, a creature of massive appetites and she’s wonderfully voiced by Pat Carroll, who manages to imbue her with both camp and real menace. Which is doubly impressive when you remember that Pat Carroll is humanity’s sweet old granny.

While you were looking at this picture, she made you a pie.

While you were looking at this picture, she made you a pie.

Ursula sings Poor Unfortunate Souls, a fantastic villain song where she tries to convince Ariel that she’s changed her ways and only wants to help her. Again, Ashman coached Pat Carroll on how to sing the song, and many of Ursula’s bitchy asides (“Pathetic!”) were originally ad-libbed by Ashman and then incorporated into the performance by Carroll.

Ursula sets out the deal; She’ll turn Ariel into a human for three days. If she manages to get Eric to fall in love with her and give her the kiss of true love before the sun sets on the third day, human forever. If not, then she’ll turn back into a mermaid and Ursula will turn her into one of the creepy anemone things she keeps around to brighten up the place. And of course, Ariel has to give up her voice. Ariel, having come this far, agrees, and signs the contract without being able to bring herself to look at it.

I hereby

“I hereby grant unto Ursula, the witch of the sea, one voice for all eternity, signed: aPrie~*el”

Once she has the contract, Ursula makes this face:

No no no. They never come back...as MERMAIDS!

No no no. They never come back…as MERMAIDS!

Ursula takes Ariel’s voice in one of the eeriest and most beautiful images in a movie chock full of ‘em and transforms her into a human.

I want YOU! To come to Bahia...

I want YOU! To come to Bahia…

Of course, being a human, Ariel can’t breathe now, and Sebastian and Flounder have to get her to the surface before she drowns. Which makes me wonder, what exactly was Ursula’s plan if they hadn’t been there? Would she just have watched Ariel thrashing and flailing for a few minutes and wondered why she was turning blue?

Ah jeez, why does this keep happening?!

Ah jeez, why does this keep happening?!

Oh, as an aside, have you ever played “Breathe When They Breathe”? It’s a game my brothers and I used to play. Basically , when you’re watching a movie and a character can’t breathe, you have to hold your breathe until they can breathe again. This scene where Ariel is being raced to the surface by Sebastian and Flounder is pretty tough, but it’s doable.

This scene from the Princess Bride? This was our Everest.

This scene from The Princess Bride? This was our Everest.

Up on land Eric is playing the theme from Part of Your World on his flute, a sign of just how much Ariel has gotten into his head. Max leads him down the beach to where Ariel has been getting herself dressed in some sails from the shipwreck.

There’s a pretty instantaneous attraction, but Eric has sworn eternal fealty to the woman he briefly glimpsed for one second through a sea-water raddled haze and seeing as Ariel is now mute, he figures that’s not her. He does, however bring her back to the palace.

Ariel has a little trouble adapting to all the wonders of the human world. Although to be honest, she seems so lost and mesmerised by everything I’m starting to wonder if Ursula didn’t take her memory too.

Oh for crying out... It's a BUBBLE. You know what bubbles are!

Oh for crying out… It’s a BUBBLE. You know what bubbles are!

At dinner time she makes a few faux pas like combing her hair with the fork and trying to play Grimsby’s pipe which needless to say, does not go over well.

My dear, in this house the Snortblatt is played after dinner. We are not savages.

My dear, in this house the Snarfblatt is played after dinner.
We are not savages.

I love these scenes, and the later ones where Eric shows Ariel around the kingdom, because holy crap! She’s actually getting comic business! Quick, name me one time Snow White, Cinderella or Briar Rose were allowed to be funny. Another reason why I think Ariel is such a step up from the previous princesses.

They end up on a boat in the middle of a lagoon, but Eric is still being a perfect gentleman, the bastard. So Sebastian decides to take matters into his own claws and gets the whole lagoon to play Kiss the Girl.

Ah Morgan Freeman, is there nothing you can't do?

Ah Morgan Freeman, is there nothing you can’t do?

Another all-time classic (my God but this movie has awesome songs). It was nominated for an Academy Award but lost it’s more famous big brother, Under the Sea, but I think I may like it even more. I love the way it starts off small and intimate with just Sebastian singing before building to a riotous crescendo with all the animals in the lagoon joining in.

We're about to be eaten, and still we sing for love!

We’re about to be eaten, and still we sing for love!

And it almost works. Eric and Ariel are just about to kiss but Flotsam and Jetsam capsize the boat (see? Shit getting done.) Watching from her lair, Ursula realises that Ariel is in it to win it and that it’s time to bring out the big guns…

Okay, now we get one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie. Eric is standing out on the balcony, playing that damn tune over and over again. Grimsby comes out and gently says:

“Eric, if I may say…far better than any dream girl is one of flesh and blood. One warm, and caring, and right before your eyes.”

I always find this line striking. Disney movies are often accused of promoting an unreal, fairytale vision of love. And yeah, fair enough, they totally do that. This movie as much as any of them. And yet, there is something very grounded in Grimsby’s line to Eric. Sometimes the impossible dream, or the unattainable dream girl, is not a noble quest but a distracting chimera. Sometimes obsession with someone you can’t have, and who probably really only exists in your own mind, can blind you to the fact that someone wonderful and amazing is right under your very nose.

Eric looks up to see Ariel, combing her hair with a fork. And he smiles.

Yeah, she’s nuts. And she can’t speak. She’s not some perfect, idealised goddess. She’s better than that. She’s real.

And he flings the flute into the sea, the wind catching it and making it sing one last time (such a lovely, eerie touch.)

Eric turns to go to her. And then he stops.

And he hears a voice on the wind.

Eric made his choice. He chose the real girl. But obsessions are not so easily discarded.

Vanessa

The next morning Scuttle flies excitedly into Ariel’s room to congratulate her. He’s heard it around town that the Prince is getting hitched that afternoon and assumes it’s to Ariel. Ariel is overjoyed and whoah whoah whoah back up.

Ariel?

Do you really think that if you were getting married today he wouldn’t have told you? Hell, don’t you think he would have actually, you know, proposed? I mean, I’m glad you’re happy, but if he actually was the kind of guy to do that you probably shouldn’t marry him. Surprise proposals are romantic. Surprise weddings, not so much. You know what kind of asshole arranges a wedding without even asking the girl if she wants to marry him?

Behold.

Behold.

Ariel runs down the stairs only to see Grimsby giving Eric and “Vanessa” his blessing. I love how progressive this kingdom is. Grimsby doesn’t seem bothered that Eric is marrying a commoner at all. Or maybe he’s just so desperate to ensure the royal line continues he doesn’t care at this point.
You'll do.

You’ll do.

Later that day, as sunset fast approaches, a heartbroken Ariel watches the wedding ship depart from the dock (she didn’t even get an invite? Harsh.)

Scuttle flies past Vanessa’s window and hears her singing with Ariel’s voice to her mirror.

Oh man, I got a mirror like that.

Oh man, I got a mirror like that.

Jodi Benson only gets a few lines as “evil Ariel” but she’s clearly having a blast with them. Scuttle flies back and tells Ariel and the others what’s going down and Sebastian immediately springs in to action. He tells Ariel to grab on to a floating barrel and gets Flounder to toe her to the ship (given her weight relative to a marble statue that should take all of five seconds). Meanwhile, Scuttle rallies an army of birds and sea creatures to stall the wedding.
On the boat Vanessa and Eric are about to be married…
God I hope that's pixelated enough
…when at the last second Scuttle and his creatures attack. Ariel climbs onto the boat just in time for Vanessa’s shell to be broken and to reclaim her voice. Eric is free of the spell and realises that Ariel is the one he’s been looking for all this time. They’re just about to finally kiss when PSYCHE! The sun sets and Ariel turns back into a mermaid. Watching this as a child, this was always such a huge rug pull. The mood whiplash is absolutely savage; one minute everything is going to be fine, and then suddenly the sky goes black and Ursula is screaming “TOO LATE! YOU’RE TOO LATE!”
Vanessa transforms into Ursula and pulls Ariel back into the ocean. She’s about to drag her back to her lair when Triton suddenly bars her way with the business end of his trident. Triton demands that Ursula let Ariel go but she shows him the contract. Triton reacts to this the way he usually reacts to things that bother him, blasting it with his Trident. But the blast has no effect and Ursula gloats and tells him that the contract is completely unbreakable.
So...aim at her head?

So…aim at her head?

Ursula’s been playing a long game, and she now has Triton exactly where she wants him. She offers the deal; his daughter’s freedom in exchange for his. And of course, Triton accepts. She turns him into an anemone and claims his crown and trident. Ariel flies into a rage, screaming “YOU MONSTER” and is just about to tear Ursula’s head clean off with her super strength but Eric arrives and flings a harpoon at Ursula that just nicks her arm. Flotsam and Jetsam try to drown Eric but Sebastian and Flounder manage to fight them off. Ursula raises the Trident to blast him, but Ariel yanks her hair, causing the shot to go wide and disintegrate Flotsam and Jetsam. Devastated and enraged, Ursula watches Ariel and Eric escape to the surface, checks her watch and sees that it just turned Not Fucking Around O’Clock.

MAGIC WAND, MAKE MY MONSTER GROW!

MAGIC WAND, MAKE MY MONSTER GROW!

Ursula grows to massive(er) proportions and towers over the terrified Ariel and Eric like Cthulhu’s lesbian aunt.

Ursula r'lyeh fhtagn!

Ursula r’lyeh fhtagn!

Ursula summons a whirlpool that descends all the way down to the ocean floor and raises sunken ships to the surface. Ariel falls hundreds of feet down the whirlpool onto the ocean floor. Which should kill her but…fuck it, if she has super strength who’s to say she doesn’t have invulnerability?

Oh what, so I’m forgiving of nonsensical bullshit in movies I love, sue me.

Eric manages to climb onto one of the raised vessels (I had actually forgotten just how much of a badass Eric is) and Ursula raises the trident to strike the final blow, bellowing “SO MUCH FOR TRUE LOVE” which I have decided will be my last words.

And then ERIC STABS HER WITH A FUCKING SHIP.

And not a single solitary fuck was given that day.

And not a single solitary fuck shall I give this day.

With Ursula dead and the storm over, Eric is washed up on the beach, because he gets washed up on the beach more often than six pack rings.  Ariel watches him from the rock, and Triton watches her, and Sebastian watches Triton, and I watch Sebastian…

But who watches me?

But who watches me?

Anyway, Triton finally realises just how much Ariel loves Eric and sadly sighs that there’s now only one problem left.

“How much I’m going to miss her.”

Triton turns Ariel into a human, the pair get married, Sebastian narrowly escapes being killed by the chef who I didn’t have time to mention because my fingers are bleeding and they all live happily ever after.

***

Alright.

So as you can probably guess from the fact that this review is longer than some editions of the King James’ Bible, I absolutely adore this movie. This was my entry point into Disney. Without this movie, this blog would not exist.

And...yeah, some other stuff wouldn't have happened either.

And…yeah, some other stuff wouldn’t have happened either.

Not since Snow White had a Disney movie received the kind of critical acclaim that greeted The Little Mermaid on its releaseIt was instantly recognised as a classic of the genre and almost overnight Disney was once again a focal point in American popular culture. The animation department, for so long considered the weak sister of the Disney company, was now the the golden child. A new wave of creative energy and enthusiasm and (not least importantly) money swept into the animation wing. The animators couldn’t know what they had created and how it would ultimately come crashing down. But as the curtain fell on what had been a largely miserable decade, they could be sure of one thing;

Something was starting, right now.

Scoring
Animation 17/20
Glen Keane’s work on Ariel in particular is just phenomenal.
The Leads 17/20
Say "hi" to the couch for me.

Say “hi” to the couch for me.

The Villain: 18/20
Fabulous, darling.
Supporting Characters 19/20
While they paved the way for the unfortunate epidemic of sidekickitis that afflicted so many later Disney films, this still has one of the best secondary casts of any film in the canon.
The Music 19/20
Wall to wall classic songs and a wonderfully evocative score.
FINAL SCORE: 90%
NEXT TIME: The Rescuers finally get around to saving that poor kid. Rescuers Down Under is next. 
NEXT UPDATE: 16 May 2013

Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin. The blog updates every second Thursday. Thanks for reading!

88 comments

  1. Enjoyable post as always! Hmm, so the unshaved mouse is 29 years old…interesting!

    I agree with you that this movie is the start of the Disney Renaissance. The other movies that are mentioned definitely HELPED, but this I think was the last straw to break the camel (the bad Disney film quality camel)’s back!

    Count me in the group against Katzenberg! If this were a movie, I can see fanboys and fangirls everywhere starting a Team Katzenberg, Team Disney (Roy E.), Team Eisner, and Team Wells battle!

    I can somewhat understand the overtly feminist’s reactions against Ariel; but I still like the character.

    A cool fact is that Ben Wright who did the voice for Grimsby also did the voices of Roger Radcliffe in “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” as well as Rama in “The Jungle Book”. And nobody knew that when he was working on “The Little Mermaid”; he ended up having to tell them that this voice work isn’t new to him, lol!

    Jodi Benson is my favorite female voice actress as well, even though she’s voiced some annoying characters in bad movies…Thumbelina…cough…cough!

    Another cool point to mention is that comedian Buddy Hackett was the voice of Scuttle.

    I actually did a whole post about the Princess of Glowerhaven.

    Jodi Benson has said that the “Part of Your World Reprise” was her favorite part of the movie.

    Can’t wait for you to get to “Beauty and the Beast”! Well, we gotta go through “The Rescuers Down Under” first, huh?

    1. I’m firmly team Disney! I think without Roy, the company would have lost their way more than they already have (I bet that Walt would spin in his grave if he knew about the cheapquels, the one-street marketing and some of the decisions made for the parks). Katzenberg and Eisner were never a good fit for the company. One is too much concerned with making movies popular, without understanding that you really have to take a risk to make an outstanding movie, that you have to step outside mainstream. And the other is too interested in a quick buck and has no understanding that Disney is a legacy, which shouldn’t be just about money, but also about creating something special – and a name which stands for quality.

      1. I’m glad you avoided those puns. There’s already too much of those in bad animated movies (cough, cough, “Shark Tale”). (Disclaimer: “Shark Tale” is a guilty pleasure movie for me. Come at me bro.)

      2. Speaking of comedies, BTW, have you seen Anchorman 2 yet, just out of curiosity? I just saw it yesterday and I hated it.

  2. Oh, this movie! :D So much I love about it — the watery world of Atlantica, the music, the gorgeous animation, the little details like how Ariel’s hair floats and billows underwater, the characters . . .

    OK. Confession: I have a love/hate relationship with Ariel. She’s inquisitive and adventurous But she’s also heedless and thoughtless. She’s determined, and when she wants something she goes for it 100%. But what she wants is to get her own way and damn the consequences — even if it puts her friends and family and even the entire kingdom in jeopardy. She’s the most dynamic princess/heroine that Disney had up until that point. But she doesn’t grow or change or learn any lesson by the end of it. (See, Aladdin learns that lying only gets you blasted into Siberia with nothing but a monkey and a rug for company. Ariel learns that if she causes enough mess and heartache, Daddy will cave and give her what she wants.) Sooooo . . . while I have no problem with a flawed protagonist, I have a problem with a flawed protagonist whose flaws are never addresses or faced.

    Still, though. Awesome movie. And I agree with you — this is the official start to the Renaissance. So there!

    Ursula’s backstory never got addressed in any of the movies or the TV series, but I hear the Platinum DVD has deleted scenes showing that originally she was supposed to be Triton’s sister and she was banished for trying to overthrow him or for practicing black magic or something like that. Adds a whole new level to the crazy family dynamics, don’t it? :)

  3. Loved it Mouse, and I can let you borrow some sheets and covers for that couch. But its nice to know that like me, the movies of the Disney Renaissance were some of the first that came out and were enjoyed. First movie I ever owned on VHS was Aladdin, and the copy I had had the original lines in the opening song, before they were changed to be more “Politically Correct.”

    The Little Mermaid itself was a great example of what one could do with the then modern technology, great acting, great animation and the phenomenal directing could accomplish, not just at the box office, but with creating a recognition that is known the world over.

    From the 28 year old in Oklahoma, I wish you many happy nights on the couch Mouse. Can’t wait till the next post.

  4. Great write-up. I agree with you that Ariel is a fantastic character, Sure, she may act foolishly at times but that doesn’t mean she deserves an unhappy ending or anything. Also, I think people are a little too caught up with her age of 16 which while in the modern world, would lead one to still be considered a child, in a movie based of a fairy tale, it is an age in which people are capable of making their own life choices.

    Curious as to whether this is your favorite animated movie then. Given that it apparently starts with a T (from a previous post) and has the highest rating thus far IIRC.

  5. You made good points, but I still maintain that it was truly TGM (not necessarily the movie in itself, but the year it hit the theaters) which ended the “dark age of animation”…after all, the “dark age” mostly started because it wasn’t possible to produce high quality animation and still making enough money doing it. The computer made it possible. TGM was also the movie which introduced the concept of a villain song. Think about it, the only villains of the classics who did sing were the ones who nobody took serious, the one who were played for laughs. Rattigan demonstrated that a villain can sing menacing.
    But on a larger scale: It was also the year in which Don Bluth’s brief success started. An American Tale and late Land before time where the kind of concurrence Disney needed to get out of its funk.

    TLM was the star of a now generation of princesses…the “I want more” princesses. And I have a hate/love relationship with them, because most of them are crossing the line to being utterly selfish and irresponsible.

    It works mostly with Ariel, because Ariel is a teenager and a lot of her character flaws (and I love that she isn’t perfect) can put down to her inexperience. It nevertheless bothers me that the movie makes a point of showing that Triton has changed, but they never show that Ariel has learned something from her experience, too. That’s what bothers me about her, there is no character development – and yes, I know, the Classic princesses didn’t have character development either, but those were straightforward fairy tale movies, nobody really got character development in those. But the “I want mooooooore” princesses never changed, instead the world around them changed. I love TLM, but if there is one thing about the movie I dislike is that it shies away from the negative aspects of Ariel having to adjust to the life on land. She doesn’t even seems to be bothered that she nearly gets Sebastian served as a meal.

    I don’t think that the movie is anti-feminist, though. I’m just not sure if it send the right message.

      1. I don’t think they are comparable…Belle is the ultimate relatable character, she basically stands for every single one of us who ever had the feeling that they are the outsider, that they have nobody to really talk to. If she had a quirky personality, it would be less easier to telegraph the own experiences onto her.

        A last word about the animation in TLM: I agree, Ariel is gorgeous (I especially like the very first shot of her…and the way the movie builds up to it) and the final battle is stunning. But I think the backgrounds are a little bit bland, most likely a hang-over from the more sketchy era.

  6. When I read about how they rediscovered some of Disney’s concept art for a Little Mermaid I got goosebumps. As I history nerd I think its absolutely class that the first movie of the Disney Renaissance featured some long forgotten work from Disney’s Classical age (I hope you see where I’m going with this) because the historic Renaissance occurred in part because of the discovery of documents etc from the historic Classical ages. Love when stuff like that happens.

  7. When I was younger,and even to this day I ADORED this film. I loved the characters, and animation, and most of all the soundtrack (i’d even argue and say it might be the best soundtrack that Disney’s done) Now tragically, I lost this film a long time ago, and to this day, I’m still looking for a new copy that’s cheap without my parents noticing. (as they don’t really care for disney as much as I do)

    But any who, good review, and as for the next film- I’d say it’s 10x better than its original. (even if there aren’t any songs. ^_^)

      1. It’s not that they hate Disney, as much as they view it as just “For Kids”.
        Yeah, because something “just for kids” can’t be well made and can’t have breathtaking moments that puts you on the edge of your seat, nor can they be entertaining. (as you can guess, i’m being sarcastic)

  8. Even though this film is not considered to be one of Disney’s Top 5 Best Films, this is a lot better than I remembered and would dare say it is better than BATB and Aladdin.

    Even though I do not like Ariel because she does not gve a crap about anyone else’s opinions and the fact that she does not really think before her actions, I do see why people like her, and all the other characters are cool too. King Triton is an overprotective, developed character, Ursula is a badass, Sebastian and Flounder are funny, and Prince Eric is your generic prince.

    The plot is fast-paced, interesting, and well-performed, which I think is the base of a good movie (with good characters)

    The animation is pretty good, but far from excellent, but it is also A LOT better than the animation in Disney films the 30 years prior. Th soundtrack is divine, fun, expressive, and just perfect.

    Great review again unshaved mouse.

    1. I do agree that this is the start of the Disney Renaissance. The Great Mouse Detective was just a high in between a few lows and was a sign that the end of an era was approaching. Roger Rabbit helped, but it is not a WDAS film, so it does not really count, even though it helped a lot.

      1. I volunteer as your second, TAC. Between TLM and BatB, I take the latter, especially since it made the original story better instead of just different.

      2. I say that because BATB and Aladdin have a lot of inconsistencies and plot holes, while The Little Mermaid avoids this issue. All three are great, but the movie has to me consistent all around, especially in the story. Since those two are supposed to be “Disney’s Best”, it is a bit of a disappointment.

      3. I won’t defend Aladdin…this is about BatB.
        TLM is not free of plot holes either. Some minor ones (like: Why is singing Sebastian that Ariel gets her voice back after the kiss when she actually gave it away as payment or How stupid is Ariel that she is still using the fork as a comp after dinner) and some bigger ones (If Ariel can write, why doesn’t she write down who she truly is? And if Triton is so powerful, why can’t he find Ariel?). But above all, it has something BatB doesn’t have: Filler scenes! Especially the whole scene with Louis the cock is pretty much pointless. In BatB everything has a purpose. AND BatB has an Acid Scene – for me, an interesting Acid Scene automatically makes the movie better.

      4. It’s one of the less crazy one, but yes…just remember the part when the whole screen is covered with dinner plates.

    2. The kitchen scene is for mere comic relief. I guess Ariel liked using the fork, so she continued. My problem is that BATB has major plot holes. Did the castle stop aging? How could Chip have been there when the Beast was cursed when that took place 10 years prior? How was the Beast 11 Years old when he was cursed, but in the stain glass and portrait, he looked like he has not aged at all from the ending? How could Maurice and LeFou survive for months in the cold (since the movie took place within weeks/months)? Unless it was only really a few days. This is only a few plot holes. I will discuss the rest of this topic on the 31st.

      1. Maybe Chip was born when Adam was cursed, so he’d be ten years old at the time the film takes place. The rest I can’t explain.

  9. Wow. After reading this I had forgotten how much I liked this movie. (I haven’t seen it in years)

    Some people have complained about this film, saying “Oh, it’s ridiculous, she traded her family/her body for a man.”. Which, no that didn’t happen! If they were actually paying attention, they would of noticed that Ariel didn’t change for Eric! Did she have a crush on him? Yes. But she had no intention of actually physically changing for him. If her father hadn’t totally freakin’ destroyed her treasure cove, she probably would of stayed under the sea. Only after he did that, did she rebel as she did. She did it partially to spite her dad, partially because she had a genuine interest of Land Culture, and because the cute guy as well.

    Speaking of which, the voice actor for Eric was only 16!?! He sounds waaaay older.

  10. This review gave me massive amounts of feels since this was my first favorite Disney movie (one of the my earliest memories is asking my mom if I could rewind it and watch it again). It would later be supplanted by The Lion King two years later (which would then be supplanted by The Hunchback of Notre Dame several years later) but this movie holds a really special place in my heart.

    I think one point for the “Ariel is anti-feminist” camp doesn’t have much to do with Ariel herself but with the overall storytelling trend of women sacrificing essential parts of themselves (or themselves entirely) in order to achieve or assist a man, and having this portrayed as a positive thing. To that end Ariel is not the last in a long line of fictional ladies to fall into this trope, and it creates a storytelling atmosphere where it’s *expected* that women will suffer and sacrifice themselves to attain a man, whereas the man–whose only role is to reject or accept her love–has complete power over her happiness. And since art informs reality just as much as vice-versa, it creates a worrying role model: is it okay to teach girls that one guy has or SHOULD have that much control over your happiness, and that it’s normal, acceptable, and expectable to give up everything in pursuit of him?

    Now this might not be an entirely fair criticism to level at The Little Mermaid, since historians believe Hans Christian Andersen wrote the story because of his unrequited love for a man, and couldn’t rightly publish a story about a male little mermaid in love with a prince, considering his time. But he and Disney unwittingly perpetuate the “man controls women’s happiness and by extension her entire life by giving or refusing love” trope just by the set-up and execution of their plot.

    And more than TLM in particular, or even the trope discussed, is how unevenly it’s applied across genders. There are a LOT more stories about women who sacrifice and change themselves in the pursuit of men than there are about men who do the same in pursuit of a woman. And in stories where men do that, it’s often portrayed as comedic and faintly emasculating. When women do it, it’s noble, even when it’s done tragically. The message that comes across isn’t “Love is so powerful that it can make you feel like you need to be a different person and compromise yourself, but in the end you have to present your whole, true self in order to be truly loved”; the message that comes across if “Women play a xanatos gambit to get a man’s attention and hopefully it pays off, men can try to do that but that’s women’s work, and anyway if his object of attention didn’t love his true self immediately she’s probably a frigid bitch.”

    That being said, I agree with you that Ariel is a definite step-up because she’s actually allowed a personality and, thankfully, was already interested in the human world and becoming a human before she met Eric, meaning that her obsession with the guy wasn’t totally out of left field. I’ve even argued–playfully, but it’s nifty to think about–that since Eric didn’t recognize Ariel until she got her voice back, the lesson can be that a woman’s voice makes her unique and humanizes her, so little girls should never allow themselves to be silenced.

    TLM is a vast rainbow of feminist and non-femininst sentiments, is what I’m saying.

    Two other details:

    Triton destroying Ariel’s room is seriously one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen in a kid’s movie. More than any of the unsettling cartoony creepiness sprinkled throughout the movie, actually, because you’re actually quite likely to find a controlling father who will destroy his daughter’s possessions in an unstoppable rage because he’s angry at her for disobeying *in real life*, especially ones that think massive destruction of property will “teach her a lesson”. The truly creepy thing is that I think it’s meant to be seen as merely “over-the-top” and not “abusive”, which it totally is. ymmv on that last point, though.

    “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is the third-best Disney villain song ever written. “Hellfire” takes the gold, while “Be Prepared” comes in second.

  11. Okay so after seeing the picture you had that was from the ouran host club. I sorta skimmed through the rest of the review to type this. Don’t worry I’ll go back and read it. OMG you paired a picture from my favorite anime!!! (Well one of my favorites, I can’t chose)
    Now that that’s out of the way. Do you know how hard it is to find TLM on DVD? I take drama and we did The Little Mermaid jr. (My sister and I were Floatsam and Jetsam. We killed it) So like a good actor I decided to rewatch the movie before audition. No one had the fudging film. Not any of my friends, not blockbuster, not my neighbors, not YouTube. I had to borrow the VHS from my cousins. The VHS!!! This was in, I wanna say March. I was watching something and sawthat Disney was releasing the blueray version of TLM this summer. Really Disney? They just love to screw people over. Not really sure why I told you this…. I’m chatty. It’s part of my charm. (Under the Redhood quote. I love nightwing!!)
    I haven’t had the chance to read Peter Pan yet because my library isn’t open on the weekends or Monday. Why not???? I have no clue. They are depriving the people of literature and free access to old and crappy computers.
    Okay back to the review. I love the little mermaid’s music and I totally agree with what you said about her being the first princess to do something. I am half Bahamian (my dad was born and raised) and don’t find Sebastian offensive. Yay point for Disney you can portray different races with out being racist.
    Okay going to go actually read the review now.
    Ps Steph that reviewed was me and then I was like why not and got an account. :D
    Pps I read your reviews late at night when I’m sleep deprived and when I’m sleep deprived I ramble so expect more random rambles from me in the future.

  12. Okay so after seeing the picture you had that was from the ouran host club. I sorta skimmed through the rest of the review to type this. Don’t worry I’ll go back and read it. OMG you posted a picture from my favorite anime!!! (Well one of my favorites, I can’t chose)
    Now that that’s out of the way. Do you know how hard it is to find TLM on DVD? I take drama and we did The Little Mermaid jr. (My sister and I were Floatsam and Jetsam. We killed it) So like a good actor I decided to rewatch the movie before audition. No one had the fudging film. Not any of my friends, not blockbuster, not my neighbors, not YouTube. I had to borrow the VHS from my cousins. The VHS!!! This was in, I wanna say March. I was watching something and sawthat Disney was releasing the blueray version of TLM this summer. Really Disney? They just love to screw people over. Not really sure why I told you this…. I’m chatty. It’s part of my charm. (Under the Redhood quote. I love nightwing!!)
    I haven’t had the chance to read Peter Pan yet because my library isn’t open on the weekends or Monday. Why not???? I have no clue. They are depriving the people of literature and free access to old and crappy computers.
    Okay back to the review. I love the little mermaid’s music and I totally agree with what you said about her being the first princess to do something. I am half Bahamian (my dad was born and raised) and don’t find Sebastian offensive. Yay point for Disney you can portray different races with out being racist.
    Okay going to go actually read the review now.
    Ps Steph that reviewed was me and then I was like why not and got an account. :D
    Pps I read your reviews late at night when I’m sleep deprived and when I’m sleep deprived I ramble so expect more random rambles from me in the future.

  13. K another reply in the middle of the review. In the broadway play, it’s explained that Ursula is Ariel’s Aunt and Triton’s brother (this doesn’t hold up in the sequel, screw sequels) their father promised Ursula the triton but on his death bed he gave it to Triton which makes sense. Triton’s triton. And gives Ursula the shell. So yeah I kinda stopped listening to the backstory at this poit and was just staring at amazement at the pretty backgrounds. Teehee. You can google it if your interested. Ursula is my favorite villain second to Jafar. She’s awesome and sings one of my favorite Disney songs. But Jafar is well I’ll wait til I get to your Aladdin review to gush.
    And OMG you referenced process bride which is one of my all time favorite even if it is cheesy.
    “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
    Anyway I won’t post anymore replays just because your post a picture of something I love. I promise?

    Naw I’ll probably do it again just not with this review.
    Steph

    1. And I’m on my phone and auto correct hates me. Sigh. I ment: And OMG you referenced princess bride. I’m really tired so I’m gonna go to bed now. Night mouse even though its like four in morning over where you live.

  14. I don’t know how they managed to slip a drag queen in there. Her shag moves are far too racy for a kid’s film

  15. Also you skipped over that brutal stabbing. Thought there would be more on that but it was a bit of a sidenote. I always think that is one of the more horrific endings a villain has got so far

  16. I thought I was the only one who noticed the story similarities between this film and “Aladdin.” Here’s my equation:
    Aladdin=Ariel (Character A)
    Jasmine=Eric (Character B)
    Genie=Ursula (Character C)
    BTW, I am a guy, and this film is one of my favorite Disney films, I will admit. “Aladdin” is, too.

    1. Also, at the bubbles bit, I’m surprised you didn’t make use of “FUCKING BUBBLES!” If you’ve seen the Nostalgia Critic’s commercials review, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

      1. Hey, you already stole the “Zuul, Motherfucker” joke and you’re still intact! But enough on that. Back to TLM. It’s grown a bit of a fan base with the girls at my school and it has grown to slight annoyance. They all say it’s their favorite Disney film, Ariel’s their favorite Princess, etc. It ticks my sister off more because she finds Ariel to be selfish and the whole film awful. I couldn’t disagree more.

      2. Understandable. I will say, though, whenever I watch Ursula’s transformation into Vanessa, I can’t help but think “You magnificent bitch!”

  17. It is a long review, and funny (bravo!). This was my favorite movie growing up as a kid. I played it so much my mom actually hid it from me one time on the top of the refrigerator (sometimes kids don’t understand how annoying repetition can be) but I thought when you were talking about how King Triton had good reason to be afraid for his daughter to be going up to the surface you were going to mention that. Overall, good review just needs more les poisson to make it perfect! lol

    1. Excellent review of my favorite Disney movie:-) I absolutely adore Ariel, she was the first princess I was obsessed with, as I am more of a villain person, (Yikes did I just say that out loud?). I’m 29 and will still buy mugs and shirts with Ariel on them lol.

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