Revisited: The Little Mermaid

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Ariel, a sixteen-year-old mermaid princess, is dissatisfied with life under the sea and curious about the human world. With her best fish friend Flounder, Ariel collects human artifacts and goes to the surface of the ocean to visit Scuttle the seagull, who offers very inaccurate knowledge of human culture. She ignores the warnings of her father King Triton and his adviser Sebastian that contact between merpeople and humans is forbidden, longing to join the human world and become a human herself.

One night, Ariel, Flounder and an unwilling Sebastian travel to the ocean surface to watch a celebration for the birthday of Prince Eric on a ship, with whom Ariel falls in love. In the ensuing storm the ship is destroyed and Ariel saves the unconscious Eric from drowning. Ariel sings to him, but quickly leaves as soon as he regains consciousness to avoid being discovered. Fascinated by the memory of her voice, Eric vows to find who saved and sung to him, and Ariel vows to find a way to join him and his world. Noticing a change in Ariel’s behavior, Triton questions Sebastian about her behavior and learns of her love for Eric. In frustration, Triton confronts Ariel in her grotto, where she and Flounder store human artifacts, and destroys most of the objects with his trident. After Triton leaves, a pair of eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, convince Ariel to visit Ursula the sea witch in order to be with Eric.

Ursula makes a deal with Ariel to transform her into a human for three days in exchange for Ariel’s voice, which Ursula puts in a nautilus shell. Within these three days, Ariel must receive the “kiss of true love” from Eric; otherwise, she will transform back into a mermaid and belong to Ursula. Despite her claims that she’s doing this out of the kindness of her heart, Ursula is plotting to use Ariel as a bargaining chip to challenge Triton’s right to rule. Ariel is then given human legs and taken to the surface by Flounder and Sebastian. Eric finds Ariel on the beach and takes her to his castle, unaware that she had saved his life earlier, assuming her to be a mute shipwreck survivor. Ariel spends time with Eric, and at the end of the second day, they almost kiss but are thwarted by Flotsam and Jetsam. Angered at their narrow escape, Ursula disguises herself as a beautiful young woman named Vanessa and appears onshore singing with Ariel’s voice. Eric recognizes the song and, in her disguise, Ursula casts a hypnotic enchantment on Eric to make him forget about Ariel.

The next day, Ariel finds out that Eric will be married to the disguised Ursula. Scuttle discovers that Vanessa is actually Ursula in disguise, and informs Ariel who immediately goes after the wedding barge. Sebastian informs Triton, and Scuttle disrupts the wedding with the help of various animals. In the chaos, the nautilus shell around Ursula’s neck is broken, restoring Ariel’s voice and breaking Ursula’s enchantment over Eric. Realizing that Ariel had saved his life, Eric rushes to kiss her, but the sun sets and Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Ursula reveals herself and kidnaps Ariel. Triton confronts Ursula and demands Ariel’s release, but the deal is inviolable. At Ursula’s urging, the king agrees to take Ariel’s place as Ursula’s prisoner. Ariel is released as Triton transforms into a polyp and loses his authority over Atlantica. Ursula declares herself the new ruler and a struggle ensues in which Ursula accidentally kills Flotsam and Jetsam. In her rage, Ursula uses the trident to grow into monstrous proportions.

Ariel and Eric reunite on the surface just before Ursula grows past and towers over the two. She then gains full control of the entire ocean, creating a storm with a maelstrom that causes shipwrecks, one of which Eric commandeers. Just as Ursula attempts to destroy a trapped Ariel in the maelstrom, Eric runs Ursula through the abdomen with the ship’s splintered bowsprit, killing her. Ursula’s power breaks, causing Triton and all the other polyps in Ursula’s garden to revert into their original forms. Realizing that Ariel truly loves Eric, Triton willingly changes her from a mermaid into a human. Ariel and Eric marry on a ship and depart.

REVIEW:

There has been some debate about this, but one of the most significant things about The Little Mermaid is that is signifies the start of the Disney Renaissance (which would end 10 years later with Tarzan). Some argue that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is the start of it, and that is a valid argument, but not correct.

What is this about?

Winner of two Oscars for Best Score and Best Song, this colorful adventure tells the story of an impetuous mermaid princess named Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) who falls in love with the very human Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) and puts everything on the line for the chance to be with him. Memorable songs and characters — including the villainous sea witch Ursula (Pat Carroll) — helped make this an instant Disney classic.

What did I like?

Musical. When this was released, I wasn’t anywhere near the fan of musicals that I am today. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even into music that much at this period of time (a few months later, I would join band to get out of P.E., and that opened many cans of worms, good and bad). As such, I have gone on to become a fan of the musical genre, and this, along with many other Disney masterpieces, is responsible for that. When characters randomly burst into choreographed song and dance, it is great, especially when the music is a joy to listen to. Only thing missing was Gene Kelly dancing! The showstopping “Under the Sea” is sure to be stuck in your head for days (or years) after watching. On a personal level, “Kiss the Girl” is hard for me to stomach. High school homecoming…need I say more?

Villain. Most of us “Disneyfiles” have agreed that Maleficent is the greatest villain. Well, they agreed on that, I say Jafar (ignoring those direct-to-video sequels). Many people have Ursula ranked pretty high in the villain hierarchy and can you blame them? The sea witch is so cruel that she gives Ariel what she wants, but at the expense of her voice. Then, just as she is about to break the curse, intervenes and takes the prince for herself until the 3 days of the curse are over. Can I just say that Ursula as Vanessa was not half bad-looking? As I was saying, after all that, Ariel is destined to become part of the witch’s polyp garden. If you don’t think this is an effective villain, I don’t know what to tell you, my friend!

Come together. After the last film Disney had direct influence on was released, the company went on a bit of a downward spiral, culminating with the flop that is The Black Cauldron (I actually like it, though). With the release of this film, it is obvious that things were back in synch at the House of Mouse. Everything about this picture works like a well oiled machine, the music, the voices, the comedy, the drama, the action, all of it. Is it any wonder that it is held in such high esteem and started the Disney Renaissance?

What didn’t I like?

Whine. Maybe this is just me showing my age now, but Ariel comes off as a whiny little brat for most of the picture. Being the youngest, and obvious favorite, of her father, it appears she gets away with more than her sisters. I seem to recall this being brought more into the forefront with that horrible cartoon series that was spawned from this. She whines to the sea witch about not being human, and I’m sure she whined to Eric after they were married about something or other. All I have to say is, where is the cheese to go with all this whine?!?

Controversy. I have to bring up a couple of controversial alleged images with this film. The first is on the original box art (which you can see that I used in this post). For some reason, it is believes that one of the spirals on the towers resembles a penis and that this was done on purpose. I won’t deny the similar design, but I highly doubt this was done on purpose with malicious intent, contrary to what many parents believed. There is a reason this film was put back into the vault, aside from the usual rotation, and it is because of those damn parent watchdog association that think there is something wrong with everything. Also, during the wedding, apparently the priest has an erection, according to this same organization/group of people. I actually did a paper in college on the hidden meanings of things Disney related and this is one that came up. We were supposed to bash Disney, but I couldn’t do it….still can’t as a matter of fact, unless you’re talking about the princes at Disneyworld, or the “music” they churn out, but that’ a topic for another blog. Back to the priest, if I recall, it is not an erection, but rather his knee. If you look closely, this is quite obvious, but because someone saw an erection and blabbed their mouths off, everyone assumes it is a hard on. Amazing what the power of suggestion can do, eh?

Family. I’ve always wondered about this, so bear with me. We see Ariel’s father, Triton, especially when he overreacted and blows up everything in her treasure trove (still a mystery to me how Flounder got that Eric statue in there). We see her sisters in the opening, but what happened to her mother? Is she one of those mystery cartoon mothers that popped out the kids and then only exists when you go to Toontown? Think about Donald’s nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie. We’ve never seen their mother, but they had to come from somewhere, right? In that same vein, Eric is only a prince, so where is the king and/or queen that is keeping him from ascending to the throne? Can it be that they are dead and he just needs to get married? If so, then they should have made that known.

What else can be said about The Little Mermaid that hasn’t been said before? This is one of those feel good films that is sure to put a smile on even the most hardened, gruff, curmudgeon. The few things that I have negative to say are nitpicky. I can’t help but reiterate a point that I said earlier. Everything about this picture works like a well oiled machine, the music, the voices, the comedy, the drama, the action, all of it. Is it any wonder that it is held in such high esteem and started the Disney Renaissance? I highly recommend this as something you should see before you die!

5 out of 5 stars

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One Response to “Revisited: The Little Mermaid”

  1. […] the little robot Weebo is the same as another well-known redhead in the Disney Universe, Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Yes, Jodi Benson lends her voice to this film, and I think she appears as Weebo is […]

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