It was at the point of The Little Mermaid‘s release when Disney had entered a new era for their work, as it kickstarted their Renaissance period. When I was much younger I always remembered The Little Mermaid to be amongst the first few films that I have watched that have formed a budding love of film and after years of having not seen it since, to at least see it still stands strong only makes me smile. I always referred to Ariel as one of my own favourite Disney characters alongside Belle and Mulan (both of whom would be seen under their “Disney Princesses” label) and the sentiment still rings true to this day. It may not be my very favourite of Disney’s animated films but it still ranks amongst the best of the best for what it’s worth.
Based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, we are being told the story of the sixteen-year-old mermaid Ariel. Ariel isn’t like her many sisters, for she seeks much more within her life to the point she wants to experience our own world, after falling in love with the human Eric. Disney’s intentions with Ariel being their protagonist are clear, and on the count that she’s not a girl who wants to stick only to conformation within a set lifestyle, so by going ahead to focus on her growth as she fades away from her world in the sea and comes into our own. This growth ultimately becomes what sets The Little Mermaid in motion and to an admirable level, it establishes perfectly well a character arc that would become a catalyst for the ideal Disney Princess figure.
Ariel, our protagonist, has grown to become one of Disney’s most iconic characters and for good reason. All throughout The Little Mermaid she is shown to the viewers as an ambitious dreamer who believes her life is worth much more than just being underwater. In a strange sense I came back to The Graduate and how it utilizes water as a motif to get everything set in motion. In The Graduate, water is a motif representing entrapment without being listened to. In this same sense that it shows Ben Braddock trapped within a void of uncertainty, water is what traps Ariel from becoming herself. With this coming into mind, at the same time what power is given to Ariel’s own desire allows for something more to shine amidst her arc, a perfect catalyst that carried along with many of Disney’s female protagonists.
Maybe age might have helped The Little Mermaid in carrying its wonder but I’ve always loved how even through the animation it all feels so old-fashioned. If it were the intention of both Ron Clements and John Musker to create a vibe that would throw back to the much older animated Disney musicals of their golden age, it ends up feeling so much more lively when one looks at all the work for as it mixes together with the many musical numbers composed by Alan Menken with the lyrics by Howard Ashman coming in, we are brought towards what would have grown to become some of Disney’s signature tunes – not merely limited to the delightful “Under the Sea” or the lovely “Part of Your World.” As time went on, the animation on The Little Mermaid has already grown to become more distinctive especially amongst many of Disney’s best features for it still looks stunning.
Yet there’s a whole lot more to which The Little Mermaid chooses to explore all throughout that makes for something more mature. Given the whole rounding towards Ariel, what we also explore in relation to her in turn makes for a more relatable protagonist. Take Triton, for example, as a figure representative of parenthood only wanting the best for their child much to a point that they shelter them. It was clear already from Triton’s demeanor as a frightening figure whom their children always will listen to only wanting the best, but Ariel knows under here it still hinders her from becoming herself, especially after she falls in love with the human Eric. She mistakes Ursula for help as Ariel ends up letting the best of her emotions drive her away and her rationale is gone, just like her voice during her first moments on land. It was interesting just to watch how such ideas were developed in here and on that count it still holds its value as one of Disney’s most magical of their work from the Renaissance era.
Perhaps it might just be a nitpick, but I feel like the romance between Ariel and Eric especially after her first moments on land are a little bit rushed – for we still have a dose of Disney’s knack for comic relief in its side characters (notably Sebastian and Scuttle in this case) and for how entertaining their bits are, I feel there’s a bit much that ends up distracting The Little Mermaid from moving along inside of its second act. I was proven wrong the moment in which “Kiss the Girl” had come along, and it hits out a more emotional response that ultimately feels earned. It wasn’t until then I bought into the romance for one because after Ariel’s voice disappears a certain depth to her ends up going away at the same time – only to be regained once again at this one moment that solidified everything for myself.
Quite frankly I’m inclined to speak highly in regards to The Little Mermaid for it was one of the first films I have a fond memory of watching so often when I was a child and after years of not having seen it, it was pleasing enough to see it still holds up wonderfully. Yet that’s something we can already apply perfectly to all of the best of Disney films, when we were raised by such films and they still feel like they stand out amongst many others even at this point of our lives, they have never lost a bit of their magic. The Little Mermaid may not be my favourite of their films during their Renaissance period but it’s easy to understand why it has grown to become one of their most recognizable titles for it takes its magic under the sea and then some.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Screenplay by Ron Clements, John Musker, from the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen
Produced by John Musker, Howard Ashman
Starring Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Paddi Edwards, Buddy Hackett, Jason Marin, Kenneth Mars
Release Year: 1989
Running Time: 82 minutes