Coming to Terms With the Fact That Your Fav Disney Princess is Problematic

Before I start, I just want to say that I love Disney. I love Disney Princesses, I love Disney World, I love Disney Channel, I love it all. And quite honestly, I still love Ariel (even though she is extremely problematic). The Little Mermaid hit theaters in 1989, and thankfully, quite a bit has changed since then. I know deep down in my heart that had the movie been released in the past 10 years or so, Ariel would have a completely different character arc, and I hold onto that as I write this article. 

It hurts my heart to say, but in The Little Mermaid, Ariel is the antonym of feminism. The entire plot of the movie is based on a very small encounter with a handsome (okay … VERY handsome) sailor—who turns out to be prince—that Ariel rescued from a burning ship. While this was very heroic and kind of her (yay Ariel!) she pollutes her good deed by throwing her family, and essentially her entire life, away for a man that she has yet to have a conversation with. While her father, Triton, may not have handled the situation in the most elegant way, running to a sea witch in search of legs and deserting her entire family probably wasn’t the best choice Ariel could have made … but that’s not even the biggest issue at hand. 

As we all know—at least if you’ve seen the Disney classic—in exchange for her legs, Ariel gives up her voice. So, when found on the beach by her “knight in shining armor” Ariel has to rely solely on her looks and body language to get the guy. As Ursula not-so-subtly sings, “the men up there don't like a lot of blabber / They think a girl who gossips is a bore.” While the line is sung beautifully, it doesn’t come across as the best message to teach younger children. 

Whether you realize it or not, the entire decent-sized chunk of the movie when Ariel has no voice is based on Ariel being attractive enough to keep the prince’s attention, since he’s desperately searching for the girl who saved his life in the beginning of the film. The plot is quite literally based on getting and keeping a man based on your looks with little to no conversation ... not a cute look. 

Again, I get that this movie came out in the 80s, and things are a lot different now, but it’s still important that we have these uncomfortable discussions. Personally, even after all of the negative things I’ve said, The Little Mermaid is still one of my favorite Disney movies … and that’s okay. You’re allowed to like whatever you want, but it’s important that we acknowledge the not-so-great parts of whatever that thing may be.