The Little Mermaid (1989)

I want to be objective about this movie. I really, really do. The thing is…I just can’t do it.

This was my favorite movie growing up.  Coincidentally, it’s also the very first Disney film released in my lifetime, debuting almost exactly one year after I was born.  I watched this VHS tape over and over, absolutely loving Ariel’s journey to becoming human.  I love the musical numbers, the varied characters, the whole story. It was amazing.

And can I just tell you?  All these years later, still amazing.

That being said, I am a more discerning adult, so I can at least approach the story from an adult perspective.  I’ll do my best to be fair and keep the fangirling to a minimum, but I’m making no promises.

Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story, The Little Mermaid tells the tale of Ariel, a young mermaid who is fascinated by all things human.  Her father, the overpowering King Triton, doesn’t understand or support this fascination, believing humans to be barbaric creatures (they do kill fish, so you can at least sort of see his point there).

Ariel, ever the rebellious 16-year old, goes up to the surface anyway and sees a handsome hunk of man, Prince Eric.  Eric’s ship gets caught in a hurricane, catches fire, and ultimately explodes when the fire reaches a trunk of fireworks (because of course), and Ariel ends up saving the prince’s life.

At this point can we just say yay, girl power!  Ariel’s not some complacent doorstop, she’s out doing things! She’s even saving a man’s life! She dashes back off into the water before actually talking to Prince Eric, but he clearly makes an impression.  Ariel falls hard, and like any teenager, winds up making an extremely rash decision: she goes to the sea witch, Ursula, for help.

A word on Ursula: she is probably the most well-developed Disney villain up to this point.  Not only is she evil, she’s malicious and is shown to enjoy causing pain to those who seek her help.  What’s really odd then is that she still operates under some moral code, granting Ariel a wish and getting a signed contract, all in order to get King Triton’s crown.

Seems a little over the top. If she’s got that much power, couldn’t she just zap Triton and take his crown?  But alas, that’d be an entirely different (and far less awesome) movie, so moving on…

Ariel’s life on land is exciting, albeit quiet (since she gave up her voice in exchange for human legs).  She turns on the silent charm to woo Eric, and in just two short days is seems to be working, with the pair almost kissing.

Girl doesn’t mess around.

Of course,  Ursula can’t allow Ariel to keep her end of the bargain, so of course she transforms herself into a human, hypnotizes Eric, and decides to marry him herself.

Again, with this kind of power, why did she need Ariel to sign that stupid contract again??

The last 10 minutes of the movie are where all hell breaks loose. Ariel turns back into a mermaid, Ursula goes full-on Goldar as she grows 100 times her regular size, Eric stabs her through the stomach with  the pointy end of a sunken ship, and King Triton saves the day by being an understanding father for once and doing what he should have done in the first place if it was this easy: he makes Ariel human.

Two seconds later they’re getting married (they move fast over at Disney) and the movie ends with the happy couple waving to all the merpeople as they literally sail off into the sunset together.

It’s almost too cute to stomach. Almost.

Yes, I can see some more of the absurdist humor in the movie now that I’m an adult, but don’t get me wrong, I still love The Little Mermaid.  “Part of Your World” still chokes me up, and I can still relate to Ariel’s “nobody understands me or my passions” attitude (not sure what that says about my maturity level).  The movie has a wonderful mix of humor and emotion, with the adventure and excitement that is so often lacking for previous Disney female leads.

It’s impossible to not see a difference in quality between this and some of Disney’s earlier works.  Watching the films in order, it’s clear to see that this is indeed the start of the so-called “Disney Renaissance”.  I’m more excited than I can say to continue with this period of films, though I think a few of the movies coming up will be hard-pressed to live up to my love of The Little Mermaid. It’s absolutely amazing, crazy flawed logic and all.

-Jess

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