Revisiting The Little Mermaid— 30 Years Afloat

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, a coming-of-age story loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name. While the latter ends tragically, the movie is a fantastical adventure in which our heroine, a mermaid named Ariel, makes an ill-fated deal to have her heart’s desire. It’s unclear whether that desire is to be with Eric (a prince she rescues from drowning), or to become human and part of the fascinating world above.

As is wont to happen with watching movies from our childhood, revisiting these stories as an adult reveals their questionable and borderline absurd aspects. As part of Ariel’s deal with Ursula the sea-witch, she has three days to make a man fall in love with her — I am hard-pressed to write one formative essay in that time. She agrees to lose her voice to be with Eric. Most importantly, she isn’t careful about what she signs her name to. To be fair, she is not alone in that: who knows what we all have signed away unknowingly with every Apple update.

Ariel possesses wonderful qualities: her curiosity, love of adventure, and willingness to take her fate into her own hands marks a definite change from Disney’s usual fare. Ariel is different from the older generation of princesses with kindly, passive personalities: Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora. She makes way for characters like Belle (Beauty and the Beast) and Jasmine (Aladdin). The same can be said for Eric who frankly had me at swimming back to a burning ship in the middle of a storm to rescue his dog.

Ariel’s friends, Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle are a wonderful supporting cast. Furthermore, Ursula as the villain is delightfully wicked. While taking advantage of the ‘miserable, lonely, and depressed’, she satirises the Disney model of love and romance — it’s about your pretty face, not your conversation. The exchange between her and Ariel is certainly the highlight of the movie.

Finally, the music remains memorable; ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ is possibly the best Disney villain song; Ursula lies (and doesn’t at the same time) with incredible élan. Conversely, ‘Part of your World’ is uplifting and captures the soul of the movie. The Little Mermaid still holds that charm, the yearning for more that I felt it as a child. I still feel it now.

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