When The Little Mermaid was released in 1989, it was, in many ways a movie ahead of its time. The first big step on Disney’s road back to world domination, “The Little Mermaid” used traditional animation techniques alongside modern computer generated graphics from a little organization you may have heard of called Pixar. It was the first animated movie to gross almost $100 million for its domestic release, and it was also the first movie Disney released on VHS instead of waiting seven years for a theatrical release.
While it was forward thinking in some ways, it also had one fin firmly in the past. Mermaid was the first Disney fairytale adaptation since 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, and it also went back to weaving musical numbers into the narrative. This is a formula that has since stuck so you can blame “The Little Mermaid” for the fact you know all of the words to “Let it Go.”
Times change of course, and we age and see things differently. So, just for fun here is a look at “The Little Mermaid” through the lens of a dispassionate adult and 2018 thinking. This list is entirely tongue in cheek, but we found plenty of evidence to show things aren't necessarily better down where it’s wetter, that Prince Eric was actually a bit of a meanie, and that Ariel is not the lovely little lady we all thought.
18 Friendship Is A One Way Street
Let’s start out by looking at those good friends Ariel and Flounder. This cute little tropical fish is the only character in the movie who offers unconditional support to Ariel and her obsessive interest in the human world. Flounder is unquestionably loyal and does whatever he can to help his best friend, from giving her a statue of Prince Eric to moon over, to helping her battle the evil sea witch, Ursula.
However, this rosy friendship is pretty one-sided. Ariel seems to be entirely oblivious to anything Flounder wants or needs and instead expects the little fella to follow her around in both the undersea and human kingdoms to do her bidding. No wonder he is the most anxious and worried fish in the ocean. He never knows when his friend is going to drag him into trouble.
Then, when Ariel marries Prince Eric, she kisses Flounder goodbye because he is no longer of any use to her.
17 Work It, Mama
When Ariel discovers that the payment for a human form is going to be her voice she wants to know how she is going to woo Prince Eric. It was, after all, her singing that the Prince became enamored with and if she is unable to sing, how will she ever win her man?
Ursula's answer is simple, body language. The sea witch launches into her musical number “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and begins to undulate her human, octopus hybrid physique. Showing Ariel that if she is unable to convey to Eric who she is through words, all she has to do is wiggle her butt in his face a little bit and he will be so smitten that he’ll turn to putty in her hands.
So the lesson for our daughters would be, men are simple creatures who are slaves to their hormones and if you want something you just need to use your body.
16 Body Reflects Personality
It is a technique that has been used forever, the visualization of a personality type or situation. From the old cowboy movies that had good guys in white hats and bad guys in black, to red items indicating significant scenes in “The Six Sense”, filmmakers have used a kind of shorthand to let us know things without having to tell us directly.
In “The Little Mermaid” Ursula is depicted using all of the time-honored negatives. The sea-witch is fat, dark, and what would traditionally be seen as unattractive to indicate that she is evil. Ariel is shown to be thin, fair, and pretty to prove that she is a kind and innocent person.
This technique, when used in multiple media, teaches us over time that appearances are important, it is better to be considered pretty and that overweight people are dangerous and lazy.
15 Believe Everything You Are Told
While Ariel is floating about under the sea, picking up human artifacts and pretending she is an earth walker, Scuttle the seagull confidentially tells her all about the items she finds. The fact that he knows nothing about them and only feeds her misinformation doesn’t seem to matter; Ariel is unquestioning of someone who professes to be an expert and takes his word for everything.
Scuttle picks up a fork and when Ariel asks him what it is she is told it is a "dinglehopper" and that “humans use these little babies to straighten out their hair.”
Presumably, the mermaids have some form of a hairbrush, so this should seem a little suspect to our girl, but no, Ariel swallows his explanation hook, line, and sinker. The moral of this scene? Girls, if a man tells you something with enough authority it must be true, don’t question what you are told.
14 Seduction Is Key
While we are on the subject of dodgy advice from dubious sources, let's take a look at the scene where Sebastian tells Ariel all about what she needs to do to seduce Prince Eric. First of all, there is never any question in Sebastian's mind that Ariel should be herself, get to know Eric and allow him to get to know her, then see if they are compatible. Admittedly Ariel only has three days to get a kiss before Ursula claims her soul, but this is a Disney movie so anything could happen.
Instead, Sebastian hatches a plan to get the Prince to kiss Ariel the next day. As she falls asleep, he tells her “ Tomorrow, when he takes you for that ride, you gotta look your best. You gotta bat your eyes - like this. You gotta pucker up your lips - like this.”
Again, this is teaching our daughters to look good to nab themselves a fella, because that’s all they have to offer and that’s all that men are looking for.
13 You Need Love To Be Complete
King Triton is convinced that something is going on for his youngest daughter, Ariel. When he hears from her older sisters that the reason for Ariel swimming about in a dreamlike state is that she is in love, the King is disproportionately happy about the news.
Apparently, in the underwater world of Atlantica, it is entirely reasonable for a 16-year-old girl to be convinced that she is in love with someone she has never even met. More worrying is the fact that King Triton is so pleased with the news. He has no idea who “the lucky merman” is, so he obviously doesn’t keep track of her friends but still, he is floating about, grinning from ear to ear because he thinks his youngest daughter has fallen for a guy.
12 Choose Anger
When King Triton discovers that Ariel has not nabbed herself a macho merman, but instead has fallen head over tail for a human, he is instantly almost apocalyptic with rage. There is no effort to speak with Ariel and find out what has happened and the reasons behind her actions, no, her dad just throws a screaming hissy fit.
Triton takes his trident and uses it to smash everything in Ariel's cage that came from the human world. It would seem like he thinks that by using violence and anger to destroy all of the items that mean the most to his daughter, he can get her to behave as he feels is correct, through fear. Great example for everyone right there. If somebody does something you don’t like, get angry; if that doesn’t work, get violent and smash things, they’ll soon be too scared to defy you.
11 Triton Can't Help Himself
While we are talking about the mythical Greek god, let’s also examine his blatantly racist personality, shall we? When King Triton believes his daughter is in love with a merman, he is as happy as a pig in muck. There are no reservations about her age or the suitability of the unknown merman; the fact that he is a merman is obviously enough to render him suitable.
However, when Sebastian accidentally spills the clams and lets Triton know it is a human Ariel has fallen for, the King loses it. Ariel tries to tell her father that she didn’t go in search of a human but that he would have drowned had she not saved him and she points out that her father doesn't even know him. Triton responds with “Know him? I don't have to know him. They're all the same. Spineless, savage, harpooning, fish-eaters, incapable of any feeling.”
10 Give Up Who You Are For Love
The central premise for “The Little Mermaid", if you think about it, is that you should give up all that you are in order to win the love of someone who wouldn’t look twice at you otherwise. While love and relationships are about compromise and making sacrifices for each other, that is not the same as giving up everything and everyone you have ever known and becoming a completely different person in order for the object of your affections to love you back.
Ariel believes the only way to get Prince Eric to fall in love with her is to change from the mermaid she is into a human like him. The poor girl even modifies her body, swapping her tail for legs so that Eric will love her. Not cool.
9 Eric Was Only Interested In One Thing
Grimsby, Eric's advisor, says that the whole kingdom is waiting for him to settle down and marry, which is obviously what we should all aspire to do.
Eric, however, just knows that when he meets “the one” he will be knocked off his feet by a lightning bolt of love and passion. It will be a glad and passionate moment, and he WILL KNOW. The prince is then involved in a shipwreck and is saved by a mysterious rescuer with a beautiful singing voice. He then becomes convinced that he is in love with the owner of the voice and almost marries Vanessa, Ursula's human form because she has Ariel's voice. The rest of her doesn’t matter as long as she has the right voice, she’s the one with whom Eric wants to spend the rest of his life.
8 Ariel Was An Unstable Stalker
Not only does Ariel fall truly, madly, and deeply in love with a man she has only met while he was unconscious, she then plans how to track him down and make him hers. Being only 16 and a mermaid, she doesn’t consider trying to discover where he hangs out or what his interests are in the hope of “bumping into him” and finding out they have plenty in common.
Instead, the youngest daughter of King Triton asks a witch to help her snag Prince Eric through magical means and sets about disguising herself so that he’ll like her. Ariel orchestrates a situation where Eric has to help her and put her up in his castle, with the sole intention of getting him to marry her. Classic stalker behavior. Look out, Eric!
7 Eric Isn’t The Brightest Crayon In The Packet
On the other side of this strange stalker relationship, we have Eric, the Prince whom Ariel rescued from drowning and the man who is besotted by her voice. Ariel may have fallen for what she perceived to be his handsome good looks but there doesn’t seem to be much going on in that raven-haired head.
In a matter of a couple of days, Eric falls for a woman's voice, disregards that and “settles” for Ariel, dumps her for Vanessa with the beautiful voice, then goes back to Ariel. All a bit flighty if you ask me.
Add to that the fact that when Ariel is in his castle, she doesn’t know how to use cutlery and brushes her hair with a fork; Eric doesn’t run a mile in the opposite direction from the obviously mentally disturbed girl under his roof.
6 Eric Lives With A Mad Chef
There is nothing wrong with a chef enjoying their job, in fact, often the more passionate about their profession a chef is, the better their food, but Eric’s chef, Louis, takes it to a dark and creepy place.
While preparing dinner for Ariel and Eric, Louis dances around the kitchen singing and the lyrics include:
“How I love les poissons
Love to chop
And to serve little fish
First I cut off their heads
Then I pull out the bones.”
Not only is he really rather gleeful about beheading and gutting the fish but then he goes on to sing:
“First, you pound the fish flat with a mallet
Then you slash through the skin
Give the belly a slice
Then you rub some salt in
'Cause that makes it taste nice.”
Anyone who can sing “Now I stuff you with bread, It doesn't hurt 'cause you're dead” is only a step from moving to filleting people.
5 E Is For Eric And Ego
Although Eric is still just the prince and not yet the king in his kingdom, his initials appear absolutely everywhere. No matter where you look when the action is taking place in his hometown, you will see giant Es all over the place. Banners abound all around the town, resplendent with giant golden Es, maybe to show Eric which path to follow to get home. There are Es on the bow of the ship and on his carriage, presumably in case anyone is silly enough to try and steal them. Either that or it is because Eric is such an airhead that his parents had to put a massive E on everything so he would know which boat or carriage or set of towels was his. My money's on the second option.
4 Ursula Was A Drag Queen
Howard Ashman was the playwright and lyricist responsible for Little Shop Of Horrors but his follow-up musical, Smile, bombed, so when he and his writing partner received a call from Disney, offering them work on a new animated feature, they said yes. Ashman joined the Little Mermaid team and eventually became executive producer, which is how he became involved with the creation of Ursula, the sea witch.
The first incarnation of Ursula was a Joan Collins-inspired manta ray followed by a deadly scorpion fish. Then, animator Rob Minkoff drew an overweight, vampy character who looked a lot like the famous drag queen, Divine, and Ashman, who came up in the same Baltimore-D.C. gay scene as Divine, was inspired. The original version had a shark's tail, but she morphed into the part-octopus creature we now know and love.
3 Ariel Was A Hybrid
It is reasonably well known that Alyssa Milano, who is probably best known for playing Sam Micelli (“Who’s The Boss?”), Jennifer Mancini (“Melrose Place”) and Phoebe Halliwell (“Charmed”) was one of the girls that Ariel was based on, but the mermaid princess also had a number of other inspirations.
An actress named Sherri Stoner, a teenager at the time, was the live-action model but Glen Keane, Ariel's animator, referred to multiple young teens to give Ariel a look that would appeal to tweens at the time. Keane also turned to classical artwork for reference. Ariel's bright red hair color was decided upon so that she would resemble a mermaid painted by John William Waterhouse in 1901. As you can see in the picture, this mermaid is brushing her hair, but not with a fork. She was initially supposed to be blonde, but Daryl Hannah had just played a blonde mermaid in “Splash,” and the Disney studio wanted something different.
2 Science Can Be Turned Upside Down
The rainbow sent by King Triton in the final scene of The Little Mermaid is inverted (blue is at the top) and much speculation has gone into the rationale for this. Some of the possible reasons that have been floated are:
- It was a mistake which is unlikely given how obvious it is, the budget for the movie, the professionalism, etc
- The inversion is an allusion to the "reflected" nature of the undersea kingdom
- An unwillingness to upset the Christian crowd by suggesting that a classical god might have a comparable ability or to otherwise distinguish the two events.
The Disney studio was contacted and asked if they had an explanation for the blue topped rainbow, and their answer was - Nope. Although they say there is no reason, think of this. This final scene was the first produced by Disney using their Computer Animation Production System so maybe it was a programming or other error.
1 And So The End
If your first introduction to fairy tales were through Disney, then you would expect the happy ending where Ariel and her Prince marry and live happily ever after. If, however, you have read the fairy tale inspirations for many Disney movies you will know that these beautiful original stories are usually much darker.
In Hans Christian Andersen's story, the Little Mermaid gets her legs, but every step she takes feels like she is walking on knives. The princess from under the sea still saves the Prince from drowning, but he falls in love with and marries somebody else. The mermaid loses her legs, falls back into the water and turns to seafoam because she cannot fulfill her side of the bargain with the sea witch. All of her sacrifices were for nothing.
References: disneylists.com, moviefone.com, ohmy.disney.com, mentalfloss.com, etonline.com, script-o-rama.com,