Do Over: The Little Mermaid
If anyone ever suggests that you read Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, politely decline. The experience will depress you so much you’ll wonder if you’ll ever smile again. As with many adaptations, it’s probably best to stick to the Disney version.
The Little Mermaid (1989) is the story of Ariel, a young mermaid princess, who lives in a gigantic golden sea palace with her sisters (Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella & Alana) and her father, King Triton. We are left to assume her Ma was hit by a speedboat.
Ariel is fascinated, for God knows what reason, with life on land. She keeps a secret trove full of assorted human-world trinkets such as forks. Sure everyone loves forks. Although most people with a ‘collection’ should be treated with suspicion, Disney manages to make Ariel’s cave of human artefacts (and her evidently untreated hoarding problem) an endearing quirk. She also sings a lovely song about her ignorance and we all learn a lot.
Sebastian, a wise Jamaican crab who can see where the plot is going, tries to convince Ariel that ‘it’s better down where it is wetter’. His words. However no amount of calypso music and singing, slightly racist fish can convince her that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
One night, disregarding Sebastian’s advice again, Ariel takes a trip to the surface. Through a series of unfortunate events, Ariel saves the handsome Prince Eric from certain death and eventually becomes his stalker. She even has a large statue of said Prince installed in her cave which is passed off as romantic rather than alarmingly creepy.
Eventually King Triton discovers Ariel’s treasure trove and, of course, the statue of Eric. Discovering that your mermaid daughter has a thing for a man is probably the human equivalent of finding out your teenager has developed a relationship with a goat. Understandably he goes mental and destroys everything. Ariel is heartbroken and in an act of defiance, she goes to Ursula the Sea Witch to ask her to make her human.
Here we realise that nearly everything is King Triton’s fault. His overprotective nature causes Ariel to rebel. He failed to install a fearful respect for humans in his daughter that could have easily have been put there with the words “John West Tuna”. His reluctance to indulge her fascination with humanity only encourages her to put herself in dangerous situations to find out for herself. By destroying her collection, which was in the grand scheme of things, doing next to no harm, he pushed Ariel to seek desperate assistance from the Sea Witch. The trident, which we later learn has incredible magical powers, could have been used to destroy Ursula decades ago thus eliminating her evil presence from Atlantica leaving his only problem having to explain to his love struck teenage daughter how the practicalities of fish/human relations just don’t make any logical sense. NICE GOING DA.
Meanwhile we learn that Ariel is an idiot, firstly for repeatedly ignoring the wisdom of Yoda-like crab Sebastian and secondly for blatantly missing clear warning signs about Ursula. If an ominous smoking sea cave doesn’t inform you that you are not about to be treated to a pleasant evening of tea and biscuits then you deserve your inevitable demise. Inside the cave, the weeds (which she later learns are merpeople punished for failing to uphold their end of their bargains with Ursula) literally wail and groan and pull at her tail to warn her she’s getting herself into. Sebastian (AGAIN) tells her that no good can come from making deals with a Disney villain but noooOooo, Ariel knows better. Speaking of said weeds, why didn’t any of the merpeople realise that many of their mates were ‘dropping by to visit Ursula’ and never returning? Didn’t anyone notice they were missing or is Disney trying to tell us that the losers in society will not be missed? Probably.
ANYWAY Ursula agrees to make Ariel a human in exchange for her voice under the condition that she only has three days to make Eric fall in love with her otherwise she’ll turn back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula. It’s a fairly hefty deal that relies quite heavily on whether Eric fancies gingers and/or stupid girls. Luckily HE DOES.
Life on land goes well enough between Eric and Ariel until ‘Vanessa’ (i.e. the Sea Witch in disguise) appears, and puts Eric under a curse making him want to marry her. Lots of dramatic things happen but naturally the story winds to its natural happy ending conclusion.
Ariel sadly does not become wiser with time. After all the horrible consequences of her stubbornly going against the advice of those smarter than she is, including but not limited to her father losing all his powers, the object of her affection nearly drowning and the world coming to an end as she knows it, she still sits on the rocks obsessing over Prince Eric. Writing off his daughter as a lost cause, King Triton declares to Sebastian how much he’s going to miss her. For a brief, terrifying moment we believe he has decided to explode her with his magic trident. Sadly this is not the case as he merely decides to cut her out of his will, leave the Penis Palace to the other marine Kardashians and turn her into a human himself which he could have done in the first place. Ariel and the Prince live happily ever after presumably until their wedding night when Eric realises his bride reeks of seaweed, her socially ignorant ways made her unfit for Royal society and he hits the drink.
It’s not nostalgia that fuels the affection for this beloved animated classic. It’s easily the best adaptation of the tale for the catchy songs alone. As a child, the general message is ‘Follow your heart’ but as an adult it’s hard to single out just one. Messages you pick up on as an adult include ‘Change everything about yourself so boys will like you’, ‘It’s ok to make deals with the devil if you want to succeed’, ‘You are always right even when you are wrong’, ‘Fuck everyone else especially your family’, ‘Give up all that you know and love for your other half’ and my personal favourite ‘Stalk someone enough and they will give in eventually’.
All jest aside there is one moral lesson which we should all take heed of – Take crabs seriously.