I grew up in the nineties, and I had my fill of animated films. I’ll always think that the classic 2D animation is the best. The renaissance of Disney occurred towards the end of the 80s when a fresh new idea came to Disney in the form of an adaptation of the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid. I was never fond of the actual fairy tale. The somewhat poignant climax is diminished by the schmaltzy spiritual ending – but whatever. Despite this one having a happier ending, I find it more touching. I can’t remember the first time I saw this movie, but for a looooooooong time I was obsessed with Ariel. I used to seek out people with the name just because I’m sure we would be betrothed – and my name is not even Eric. I’ve moved on from that stage, thank God. But I still find this movie particularly enchanting. From the plight of Ariel, Triton’s fatherly affection, the wonderful machinations of Ursula and the charming score. I am a big fan of this.
Let’s begin with Ursula. Disney films hinge on villains – they range from the two dimensional to the profoundly human. Many of them are quite enticing, but the two villains that have had the most profound effect on me are Maleficent [Sleeping Beauty] and the aforementioned Ursula. There’s that scene towards the end where she becomes gigantic as the waves…that was some scary shit as a child. As an adult now, I just find it comical. I’m always one to look for hidden subtext in everything, and now I find Ursula’s plight quite tragic. The culmination of her character is in the under loved and sinister 'Poor Unfortunate Souls'. The song is played for ostensible dramatic flair, but now when I hear it I feel this acute sense of pity. This woman is pathetic; this deformed looking, beige Octopus thingy with those repulsive eels for company. If I was her, I’d want to destroy Triton’s life too.
Ariel represented a turn from the heroines of yore – she was not silent like Aurora, insipid like Snow White or even dutifully reticent like Cinderella. She was a stepping stone for future heroines [Jasmine, Belle, Mulan], though she was not quite as unwaveringly brave as they were. Like all these heroines though, she was particularly bound to her father. At the end of all the dilemmas when Ursula has gone, Ariel realises that to have Eric she must give up her father. She gives Eric a sad, longing look. We can only assume what she’s thinking… and then her face goes into shock as she realises that she has legs. It’s a bigger moment than we may realise. Obviously it represents that moments in all parents lives when they must let their children go and it is profound as we see that bittersweet look on Triton’s face.
There are only four songs in this movie…well four and a half ['The Daughters of Triton'], and I really don’t know how 'Under the Sea' was the one Oscar chose. 'Under the Sea' is a nice frothy filler number, but it is never the song that jumps out at me. It’s a wonder that anyone can resist that sensual melody of the Caribbean crab Sebastian’s crooning in 'Kiss the Girl'. The rhythmic beats, the slow soothing sounds – it’s captivating and words well with the movement of the film. The diva ballad 'Part of Your World' is easily written off as generic, but you have to smile at the irony of lyrics like “Bet you on land, the understand. That they don’t reprimand their daughters” and the use of puns like “bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand”. And all this is within the first fifteen minutes.
And this film is not long. In typical in and out form Disney wraps it up in below 90 minutes, making you wish it was longer but satisfied nonetheless.The film is definitely flawed, but who looks at Disney films to unearth some deeper psychological moment. Never during the short time do you question the reality of the characters plight. Your feelings do not waver, and male or female you do feel 'nice' when Ariel grows her legs. Poor girl though, if she only knew. Being human ain't all that it's cracked up to be.