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Disney classics reviews part 1: The Little Mermaid

This article will start a monthly series where I review Disney classics. I have a few that I have not watched and there are also some Disney classics that I haven’t seen in a long time so I will discuss them in a random order based on which movies I like and have seen recently. I generally really like Disney classics and they include some of my favorite movies, though some of them are of course better than others. I will kick the series off by reviewing my absolute childhood favorite, the Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid was released in 1989 and is loosely based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. The main character is Ariel, a teenage mermaid who admires humans and wants to venture to the surface despite her fathers warnings. One day she rescues a handsome prince from drowning and falls in love with him. When her father forbids her from seeing the prince, she seeks the help of a sea witch who grants her legs but wants her voice in return. Ariel has to get the prince called Eric to kiss her in three days or the spell will break and Ariel will become the sea witch’s property, I guess. Of course the witch called Ursula then tricks Eric to fall in love with her instead and the situation starts to seem hopeless, but in the end Eric brutally murders Ursula and he and Ariel live happily ever after.

Like I mentioned, this movie was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. I was obsessed with mermaids then so Ariel was like the coolest character there was. Also, she was a princess and rebelled against her controlling dad. I think the message that teenagers should find their own path and dare to dream big is great. I also still love watching the movie every now and then for the nostalgia and bangers such as Under the Sea. However, the movie is in many ways hugely problematic in modern context.

Firstly, Ariel falls in love with prince Eric without ever talking to him or connecting with him in any way. Basically the only reason why she finds him interesting is that he is handsome. Then Ariel goes and throws away her life as she knows it because she has to be with this man she knows literally nothing about. Of course, Eric turns out to be heroic and thoughtful and all that because it is a movie but Ariel’s actions were just plain dumb. I used to hate Ariel’s dad for trying to keep her away from her true love but he does have a point when he says that humans are horrible barbarians. Many humans eat fish and considering Ariel’s best friend is a fish, she should probably be kind of worried about that. Also, everyone in this movie is conventionally attractive and extremely thin/muscular, except for the villain who is overweight. Way to go demonizing fat people!

It has to be remembered that this movie came out more than 30 years ago and is a product of its time. Though 30 years is not that long ago, we have come such a long way in that time regarding women’s rights, for example. Ariel is in some ways an okay protagonist who dares to act on her own accord and follow her heart, but it is a fact that her actions are foolish and her whole story revolves around a guy. At the final battle where Ariel and Eric go against Ursula, Ariel doesn’t really do anything but looks terrified while Eric saves the day. That really bothers me to this day, because it makes Ariel a very traditional damsel in distress. I also do not understand why Disney has to make their protagonists so young. Of course, their viewers are often children and they try to make the characters relatable to them, but a 16-year-old like Ariel should not be getting married! Either make them actual adults or settle for a relationship rather than marriage.

In conclusion, the Little Mermaid most definitely has some misogynistic stuff going on in it. But then again, it also showcases a somewhat empowered and confident female lead. Luckily some later Disney movies have cut down on the sexism part and made their female protagonists less dependent on men. More on those movies next month!

Lotta Nieminen

Helsinki '24

I study social science and when I don't I really like to look at butterflies, take naps and think about how I'm going to make the world a better place some day.
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