…looking back on it now, I’ve realised that I didn’t really like Ariel all that much.
Oh, I liked pretending to be her when I was playing. I liked colouring her in and drawing her. I liked singing along with her. I liked dressing up as her – my sister and I once went to a fancy dress party as Ariel and Belle, though for the life of me I can’t remember which of us was dressed up as which princess. It was quite a while back.
Yes, I liked doing all that…but still, I didn’t like Ariel herself, as a person, all that much.
It wasn’t because she essentially sold her soul for legs and a boy she thought was pretty. Though she did do that, the film does at least give her a fascination with the human world before she rescues the guy; Eric’s just the extra push she needs to get the desire to go ashore. The extra pretty pretty prince push.
But I digress.
It wasn’t because she learned precisely nothing, didn’t grow as a person at all and got everything that she wanted without having to work for it…
…admittedly that’s sort of the case, but not the whole story. She does learn a few things, such as what forks are really for, and how to drive like a maniac, and not to trust someone with the word ‘witch’ in their name, and that her father really does love her and wants only the best for her. Presumably she’s slightly wiser now after the whole traumatic nearly getting killed experience.
And, come on; she nearly drowned after getting turned into a human (and should, by all rights, have gotten the Bends/decompression sickness), but did she let it get her down? Hell no! Nor did she let the lack of a voice keep her from getting Eric to very nearly kiss her, whereas in the orignal fairytale the prince regarded the little seamaid as a sort of exotic pet that he let sleep on a cushion outside his bedroom door. And, when push comes to shove, she does at least try to attack Ursula for turning her dad into…whatever that slimy thing was.
In fact, out of all the Disney Princesses, Ariel’s possibly one of the bravest. Mulan goes to war in place of her father, Belle stays with the Beast and gives up her freedom to save her father – Ariel gives up her whole world, everything that she’s ever known and understood, to become a part of the human world. (Which, yes, just so happens to have Eric in it.) And her voice into the bargain. Say what you like about selling her soul for a vagina and a man she didn’t know, that took guts.
And that, I think, is why I didn’t like Ariel all that much.
Because the world she’s giving up? That includes her friends and family. When Ursula offers the deal, Ariel specifically says this: ‘If I become human, I’ll never be with my father or sisters again.” And you know what? If things had gone as Ariel hoped – getting Eric to love her in return and thus winning the deal – that’s exactly what would have happened. She would have stayed a human forever, and Triton and all the sisters whose names began with ‘A’ would possibly never even know what had happened to her.
This was a big problem for me in the original fairytale as well, where the seamaid doesn’t even have the excuse of having a huge fight with her father to spur her into becoming human. Admittedly she had an even bigger excuse, in that she wanted a soul, but she was still prepared to leave her family behind forever, and caused them no end of grief in trying to get her back. She broke their hearts, and she didn’t care.
Back to Disney, even though Triton’s behaviour towards Ariel was horrible and quite scary, I still didn’t understand how Ariel could just leave her family behind like that, without so much as a goodbye or a hesitation – although, fair’s fair, she was probably distracted by the awesomeness of ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’.
I hated that, when Triton was worried sick about Ariel and trying desperately to find her, Ariel was snuggled up in bed, grinning in satisfaction, or having a great time with Eric. ‘Who cares if my family might well think I was eaten by a shark or something? I’ve got my legs, I’m walking around being human, I’m going to get my guy, I’m on a roll!‘
And even when Triton gave Ariel legs again at the end and came to her wedding and hugged her, all I could think was, ‘Why couldn’t Eric and Grimsby come to live under the sea, like the book?’
(In case you did a double take at that last sentence, this was another version of Anderson’s story; a picture book, in which the seawitch isn’t nearly as wicked as the original or Ursula, and gives the seamaid’s sisters a potion which restores the girl’s voice so she can tell the prince who she really is, and another potion for the prince to drink so that he could breathe underwater and they could live together happily ever after under the sea, even though they both still had legs. Because for some reason the witch didn’t conveniently have a potion to give them tails.
I swear to god, hand on heart, I am not making a word of this up. I loved that book. It had great pictures.)
Getting back to the point; I didn’t understand why Ariel still had to give up her friends and family just because she got married. Her dad likes humans now, so why did she have to say goodbye to him? Why can’t they visit each other a lot and stuff? Eric lives in a castle next to the sea, what’s stopping Ariel from going swimming and seeing her father all the time?
As a little girl who adored her daddy and mummy and big sister, and as a huge girl who still adores all of the aforementioned, it didn’t sit right with me. It still doesn’t.
I like the Disney version of ‘The Little Mermaid’. I like the songs. I like Ariel’s journey, and I suppose I’m okay with her happy ending. But…I just don’t like her.