Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Nitpickery: The Little Mermaid

Hey y'all.  So how many of you have actually seen the Little Mermaid in the past ten years?  Sure, maybe some of you have kids and managed to get hold of it, but for many of us I suspect its one of those movies we think fondly of just because it's Disney.  We just assume for the rest of our lives that it's a classic, without realizing that we haven't seen it with a matured, adult mind.

Well, I saw it again the other night, and overall, it holds up pretty well against my memories of watching it when I was little (my most potent memory of it is accidentally drinking a roach that fell into my tea).  There are a few problems here or there, but nothing that destroys the movie or makes it one of those films you cringe to think that you once liked.

Though personally, the original story is horrifyingly great.  Like a frilled shark, the original tale is a frightening beast that is too fascinating not to know about.  Hans Christian Anderson made his story not about love or wanting to be human, but of a mermaid who wanted a soul and the afterlife.  While her story eventually became about love, this mermaid's story ended badly, with the prince marrying another.  The poor girl must then choose between killing her love to become a mermaid again, or dying herself.  She makes the right choice, and in doing so, becomes a wandering spirit that must sojourn 300 years before going to heaven. A smile from seeing a child do good would shorten the sentence by a year, but each tear shed from seeing a child do bad things added a day.  Sure, it's a bit of a morality play, but it's super creepy.

Not that the Disney version doesn't have its charm.  It's the story of a rebellious girl who makes every effort to become a human and be with the man she loves.  Unfortunately, this involves making a quick deal with a sea-witch, and she ultimately ends up putting her undersea kingdom in the witch's hands.  Thankfully, her and her prince save the day, and her father consents to letting her marry him.

Upon watching it again, I noticed that in the lyrics of "Part of your World", Ariel hints at being something of a feminist that must rebel against her home rules. Granted, it's not particularly feminist to rebel for the love of a random stranger, so those lyrics are very odd.  But given that feminism itself is often a shallow cover-up of a woman's personal issues, it makes psychological sense.  That's why chicks such as myself don't jump on the bandwagon.

Of course, the modern feminists are apparently horrified by the old Disney movies, as they prefer that the girl in question not depend on a man.  Hence the whole Frozen thing.  Quite frankly, I think they have their panties in a bunch to an extent, but there's no question that Ariel was pretty stupid in this film.  Though I wouldn't call it a feminist issue so much as I would call it Ariel portraying the perfect dumb teenager.

That's the glory of this movie.  It portrays, with stunning accuracy, the mind of a teenage girl who is caught up in what she thinks is love.  Maybe not all teenage girls go through this, but there's a stage of inexperience with dating where a girl is obsessive over a guy, and she has to learn that the first guy she sees isn't her true love, and marrying him tomorrow won't make her life better.

Huh, I've seen a tad bit of Frozen, and it touches on this subject matter.  I need to watch the whole thing.  In any case, let's make a list of all the stupid things that Ariel does, shall we?

1. Obsess over a guy she doesn't know.
Seriously, chick, how well do you know Prince Eric?  Sure, maybe you've watched him on his boats a few times, but if you've watched him enough to have any idea who he really is, you're a creepy stalker.

2. Treat her father like crap.
Granted, Triton is very harsh on humankind (we'll touch on that later), but this guy is the powerful king of the sea.  Maybe, just maybe, he knows something about humans that Ariel doesn't know.  Had she talked to him reasonably and told him herself that she saved Eric's life, then they could have at least had an understanding. By pursuing her own ends in a really dumb way, she endangered herself, all of the sea, and anyone who wanted to sail on it.

Fathers are not stereotypes.  Sure, sometimes they don't know how to handle their girls, but that doesn't mean they don't care and don't have advice about the true nature of males.  And about the true nature of priorities.

3. Makes a huge, risky commitment for a guy who barely knows she exists.
The other points I made aren't really issues with the movie itself, but are rather compliments to how this film portrays a dumb, wistful teenager.  This part I have to question a bit.  Okay, so we have Ariel going to an evil sea witch, giving up her voice, and risking becoming a shriveled sea critter for Prince Eric, who only got a brief glance of her once.  Eric doesn't know who she is.  He hasn't made a single promise to her.  And she's more than willing to throw her life away in the slim chance she can force him to like her after three days.

Holy crap, that's stupid.

But it isn't exactly outside the bounds of a foolish young girl, now is it?  It echoes real life, where a girl might sleep with a guy or move to a new town just for some loser with charm, except here slathered in Disney saccharine.  In Frozen, a similar scene was exaggerated to the point of being nonsensical: Anna getting engaged to a guy after one day was too cartoonish.  It worked for that movie, I suppose, but it feels a bit more realistic in The Little Mermaid, given as Ariel knows of Eric for a while and has long enough to secretly obsess over him before going stir-crazy.

That's where I'm iffy, though.  In this film, Disney made it so it turns out alright for Ariel, despite her making just about every single stupid choice on the way.  Sure, she learned her lesson, but that's only because an evil witch spelled out clear and obvious consequences for her.  In real life, witches apparently have better things to do with their time.  Guy issues won't seem clear for girls, especially ones who have either bad fathers or bad relationships with them.  Or no father at all.  Many times girls make their dumb decisions, and then start preaching false morals about sexual liberation or anti-inhibition just to cover up their own guilt (which, I must point out, is not a trick limited to relationship matters or women).

Also, if you're a feminist and you have problems with this movie, keep in mind that the movie knows Ariel is being stupid.  Heck, the part at the end where she simply watches the prince instead of trying to convince her father or kiss on him proves that she knows she was dumb before.  This movie has a lot of talking points for a parent to discuss with their child.  Notice how when Ariel is rebellious, she screws everything up.  But when things are done her father's way at the end, she gets her dream man and wedding.  And then they begin the year of hell because they hardly know each other, but that's beyond the scope of the movie.

I'm getting too deep for a Little Mermaid review.  For now, let's just say that Ariel is pretty dang lucky that Eric is not only a nice guy, but willing to be in love with a random mer-girl.  He could have been a jerk, or a nice guy who's completely incompatible, or someone who just honestly doesn't love her.  Nobody owes anyone romantic love.  Seriously, Ariel should go to Vegas with that luck.

I already mentioned one area where this movie fails: Prince Eric.  He's not that bad, and for a Disney prince he's pretty well characterized.  Still, I don't believe his obsessive quest for a mystery girl that saved his life.  I probably should, as the original story was written by a man and he decided that Eric (or whatever his name originally was) should be obsessed, but for this film I don't quite buy it.  He's a bit too much the romance novel male: everything a girl wants, and nothing she doesn't.  And it's kinda silly he doesn't notice singing crustaceans in the boat scene.

Triton is a bit of a stereotype.  He's very anti-human for reasons that aren't clear, and his fear of the surface was not from the original story.  Sure, it's fine due to how movies have to adapt the original stories, but it would be better if Triton either had reasons to hate humans, or was just wary of them because of something one of Eric's men did.  Still, Triton was very dramatic, and I love how he just trips up over any matter involving his girls.  I know fathers like that, and it's pretty funny at times.

So yeah, the main failures with this movie were with the characters.  Not that there were many failures.  Like I said, it holds up really well.  Though I do think it's creepy that when Ariel is first made human, the filmmakers try as hard as they can to emphasize her nakedness.  Seriously, animators, she's a sixteen year old girl.  Freakin' pedos.

In any case. The overall plot and the changes they made to the traditional tale were pretty cute.  I really liked Ariel's collectibles, Sebastian's musical obsessions, and the general art style of it.  The film isn't the greatest thing ever, but it's at least above average for children's stuff, and doesn't treat children like idiots.  As a kid, I really enjoyed figuring out how manipulative the sea witch was, and she's my favorite Disney villain to this day -- great song, great design, great personality.  Though I will say that sometimes the animation puts her into positions that are pretty impossible for an octo-maid, such as one point where her purple suckers appear above her shoulders.

The sad thing about this movie is that it does have a subtle indication of where children's animation is going to go: the really hyperactive, super sugar-high actions scenes with painful stunts on pointlessly stupid characters. Specifically, the bits where Sebastian is running for his life from a nuts chef.  Yeah, those bits aren't long, but they just bother me.  Maybe it's a personal problem.  Though I suppose they needed a break or two from the main plot.

Another thing that bugged me was the fact that Eric had to be brainwashed by the witch to get him to marry her.  This seems cheap.  If he really was so obsessed with the mystery girl who saved his life, then certainly he'd want to marry who he thinks is the one.  It works just as well without his personality being stunted. Though I guess it may seem weak later on if they have "true love's kiss" when he was about to marry someone else.

Well, I've ranted out all my problems with The Little Mermaid.  It's not as fantastic a romp as I thought it as a child, but it did spark a love of storytelling.  And I had some really good smelling Mermaid soaps when I was a kid, so the memories of it will always make me feel fondly of it.  It's a basic story, told pretty well.

And forget anyone who says 2D animation sucks.

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