I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time but I have been so busy I didn’t have time to do it justice. Let me give it a shot. Recently over on a popular blog a woman wrote about 3 Disney female “role models’ that aren’t really deserving of that title”. I want to add my two cents of why with all due respect I think she is wrong and that the 3 she has chosen are worthy characters to emulate in many ways.
Her first target is Alice
She says of Alice “She always has her head in the clouds and it took seeing her wildest fantasies realized to knock some since into her. Even when she becomes hopelessly lost in Wonderland and desperately wants to leave, she still lets her curiosity get the better of her”
Hmmm… well, let’s ignore the fact that there would be no movie if she didn’t let her curiosity be the better of her. But I propose there is more to Alice than mere wild fantasies and curiosity over a rabbit.
Alice doesn’t just wander absent mindedly into Wonderland. She proposes at the start of the film that a world with nonsense would be better. The whole point of Wonderland is to then test out this worldview. She meets one form of nonsense after another whether it be philosophic nonsense in the caterpillar or a tea party that never ends with the Hatter.
There is actually something bold about the mental exercise Alice undertakes. The great philosophers and minds of our time have gotten to greater understanding because they dared to test the world out in a new way. For example, Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Inferno, Moore’s Utopia all put on new goggles to hopefully understand the world better. This should be encouraged and makes Alice a good role model for girls.
The thing that sucks about the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland is they forget about this part of Alice’s character and make it a meaningless adventure with a prophecy and chosen one. Alice is escaping her own problems in that version but in the Disney animated film she is seeing the world in a whole new way.
Next up is Aurora
The writer is so bold as to say “I think it’s pretty obvious that Aurora doesn’t set a very good example for young girls”. Her main beef with Aurora is that she falls in love with a man over a dance and she seems to think they are going to run away together. I guess this writer must not like Juliet, Isolde, Guinevere or any number of classic romantic heroines who fall in love quickly.
But where does it say that Aurora is planning to run away with the Phillip? She has plans to meet him later that evening and is twitterpated but I don’t think it is ever clear she is getting married that night. She’s excited about a dance with a boy. What’s wrong with that? She’s then sad when she finds out she will never see him again. Pretty natural response if you ask me.
Also, the author claims Aurora “is beautiful and can sing…That’s literally it”. I disagree. Animals do not take to people very easily but who do the animals love? Aurora. The Fairies adore her and feel sad when they have to turn her over to her father. Do you think they would feel this way if she was a ditzy nothing?
Then the author faults her for giving into the curse. “And the fate of her entire kingdom rests on her not pricking her finger on a spinning wheel; *sighs* you had one job!” This critique is by far the most baffling as even Merrywether an actual faerie can not reverse Maleficent’s magic. How is an ordinary girl like Aurora supposed to do that? It’s an outrageous claim!
Part of the problem with Aurora is we simply don’t see that much of her what with her being SLEEPING BEAUTY!! But what we do see is a loving, caring person who is elegant and graceful. How she is a bad role model is beyond me.
And then we get to the one that really fired me up!- Ariel!
The author’s qualms with Ariel aren’t particularly original, but I reject them nonetheless. She says “you should never go so far as to change who you are to get what you want, especially not for a guy”
Ok. Let’s talk about this. The first time we see Ariel she is missing the concert for what? She is off collecting treasures from a ship. This is where she finds the dinglehoffer and snarfblat. Then we first see her entering the grotto and singing Part of Your World BEFORE SHE MEETS ERIC!
She has hundreds of items in her grotto and what does she tell Flounder? ‘I just don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad’.
You can make the argument that Ariel is short-sighted when she follows the Sea Witch but why does she do it? Not to get a man but because her father has just destroyed her grotto- her one connection to the human world. Eric is simply the catalyst that gets her to make a decision she has always wanted to make.
I don’t know if it is canon or not but in Ariel’s Beginning we also learn that her mother had a fascination with human artifacts- particularly a music box, so that may explain part of it as well.
Ariel is definitely smitten with Eric but how you can say it is the reason she gives up who she is I just don’t understand. I think she has always felt uncomfortable in her own skin. Again before she meets Eric she says “I just don’t see things the way he does”. It is no accident that Ariel has become a ROLE MODEL for many LGBT teens who also feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.
When she sings Part of Your World she says ‘lookin around here you think sure, she’s got everything” but then adds “I want more…”. Again, all before Eric. I think that’s a great thing to look up to. Someone who fights for where they belong and who they truly are. Triton recognizes this at the end and that is why he changes her over.
Even Sebastian says it is either Ariel be human or “be miserable for the rest of your life”. That’s a good role model in my book.
This whole thing baffles me when you have such easy fodder as Pocahontas who is actually partly responsible for an innocent man’s death. She is older than Ariel or Aurora and is consistently a poor listener to those warning caution. She does selfless things at the end but if you had to pick a bad role model of a Disney woman she’s at the top of the list.
And then there are other questionable characters. How about the girl in the Jungle Book who is perfectly happy to get the water and care for her man her entire life?
As much as I love Frozen, Anna is much less developed and is manipulated by men more than Ariel.
Megura in Hercules sells her soul to the devil to get a man. That’s pretty bad and Esmeralda in Huncback dances provocatively before men.
The truth is I don’t think any of these women are bad role models because their characters have arcs that teach good lessons. With proper parenting kids can gain all kinds of lessons from ANY Disney film.
You may think I am fangirling here but I think that’s the case with Dreamworks too or Don Bluth or any film designed for children. I have yet to see one that is so bad that there isn’t something a parent can use to teach or role model off of. Even the dreaded Chicken Little has lessons in there.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’ll keep my role models to the end. 🙂
I was testing out some new lighting and so did this Disney Princess Tag. I think it turned out fun but would be curious for your feedback. Still got to work on this whole lighting thing but it’s going to make my videos much better in the end.
What would be your answers to the Disney Princess tag?
Who is your favorite Disney Princess? (top 5)
What is your favorite Disney Princess movie?
Which Disney Princess not included in the princess line up should be included?
What is your favorite Disney Princess song?
Which Princess are you most like and why?
What Disney Princess dress is your favorite?
If you could have any of the Princesses sidekicks which would you pick?
What ethnicity or country would you like to see a Disney Princess from?
What is your favorite Disney princess sequel?
Which princess do you think had the best home life?
Who has the most attractive prince?
Anyone who wants to do the tag consider yourself TAGGED!
I will be reviewing Snowtime in the next couple of days on this blog, as I didn’t want to take anything away from the Rotoscopers review. I have previously reviewed Rocks in My Pockets on this blog (but I would still love it if you checked out the Rotoscopers review).
But I also posted 2 new videos on my youtube channel. I created a tag called The Little Mermaid tag and my fellow youtuber Aly did it with me. It ended up being really fun and if any of you want to do it I would love to hear your answers. (My cannon review of Little Mermaid is here)
Here are the questions if you want to do the tag.
Little Mermaid Tag
Favorite Ginger actress?
Have you ever had ginger hair?
What world from movie or book would you like to be a part of?
What teenage movie or book is your favorite?
If you could be a mermaid would you want to?
Best name- Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Attina, Adella, Alana or Ariel?
What would you wish for from Ursula?
What human device could you picture using in a new way?
Favorite Disney song?
Favorite Disney couple?
Favorite fish recipe?
Could you convince someone to love you without speaking?
What is your ideal date/proposal/kiss?
Best father/daughter combo in a movie?
Belle vs Ariel? Lumiere vs Sebastian?
Is Little Mermaid feminist or not?
Who should play Ariel in live action Little Mermaid?
Why do you love Little Mermaid?
I also posted my review of Dumbo in my Disney Canon Project on my channel this morning. I worked really hard on it and would love if you gave it a look.
So a bit of a jumbled post today but I hope you enjoy all the content. I had a blast making it!
This weekend should be very busy coming up as well with Kung fu Panda 3 and The Finest Hours, which I will review. Will look forward to your feedback.
I’m very excited to tell you about an exciting collaboration over on my youtube channel. My friend and fellow youtuber LondonCityTVGirl and I have done a collaboration on our five favorite musicals! It was so hard for me to narrow my list down to my top 5 and I don’t know if it really is my top 5 or just 5 that I like. I love her 5 choices also.
My Top 5 Musicals
Simantha’s Top 5 Musicals
If you have an account it would be awesome for you to like both of our videos and subscribe to our channels. You will enjoy both of our content I am sure of that.
What are your favorite musicals? There were so many I could have picked and I honestly debated it for about a month but I am happy with my list. I would love to hear from you. Thanks!
Over at AMC Movie News they are doing a fun project in honor of March Madness which is a college basketball bracket tournament but in this case it is Animation Madness! They have selected 32 animated films and you have the chance to vote on different pairings at their website
Here John Campea and the team debate the value of different movies and what their picks would be. I especially liked when all the girls started singing Little Mermaid (I would have done the same). Some of the pairings are unfortunate as films would go a little farther if not initially up against such strong competition. But here’s what they have to say.
I watched Akira tonight so I have seen all of the films in the bracket and they are all worthwhile although I would have made a few changes but there isn’t a bad film in the bracket IMO. So I have filled out my bracket with their 32 and I also created a bracket with my own 32 films. The interesting is that despite being very different I ended up with the same final 4, 2 and winner on both! I guess my favorite animated movies are Up, Little Mermaid, Spirited Away and Fantasia however you shake it.
My Best 32 Bracket
It would be fun if a bunch of my fellow bloggers put up their own brackets. You might be surprised with how things work out. Brackets are different than making a list because you are thinking about 2 movies at a time instead of an overall top 10. Anyway, it’s all in fun so go and vote for your favorites and share your brackets.
Best Side Characters- This list is just the Disney Canon so no Pixar or Tim Burton included!
18. Pain and Panic (Hercules)- very clever devilish side characters that change their shape and are literally all about pain and panic. Every scene they are in makes me laugh and they are probably my favorite villain sidekicks in Disney.
17. Jiminy Cricket (Pinocchio) the warmth that is desperately needed in Pinocchio. Jiminy is crucial to the story as the moral compass in a morality tale. He gets frustrated when Pinocchio won’t listen just as I’m sure God gets with us when we are stubborn.
16. Jock and Trusty(Lady and the Tramp)- Everything in Lady in the Tramp is oh so lovable including the sidekicks Jock and Trusty. The dialogue for them is very well written and when they decide to propose to Lady to make her feel better it is a sweet moment.
15.Mushu (Mulan)- I still think it is Eddie Murphy’s best voice performance. He is insecure and manic without being annoying. Gets a lot of good laughs and helps to narrate throughout the film. He starts out with selfish motives but the more he gets to know Mulan the more he grows to care for her and think less of himself.
14. Timothy Q Mouse (Dumbo) – I love Timothy. He sticks up for a total stranger, an elephant no less, and pleads with others to understand things that are different. It frustrates me Dumbo is discounted as racist by many when the heart of the movie is about embracing diversity.
13. Thumper (Bambi)- There are a lot of characters you could pick from Bambi but Thumper is probably my favorite. He is a smart alek who always gets in trouble and has to apologize. He introduces Bambi to a lot of new things and has a courage and general cheerfulness that is very appealing. In a movie which is pretty sad Thumper’s optimism and cheerfulness is desperately needed and appreciated.
12. 7 Dwarves (Snow White and 7 Dwarves)- The first Disney sidekicks that set the standard for not only all Disney but all animated movies. The Dwarves are easy to understand yet charming and when they are grieving it is remarkably touching for characters that should be one-note. Plus their singing is still one of my favorites. Love the harmonies!
11. Sebastian (Little Mermaid) – I want to put him higher because I love Little Mermaid so much but Sebastian isn’t that varied of a character. Most of the movie he is yelling after Ariel trying to get her to stop misbehaving. That said it is done with a lot of humor and flare. As the reggae crab who is also a symphony conductor he is kind of a strange mixture of personalities but that makes him so charming. When he sings Under the Sea it is one of the most joyous moments in all of Disney canon.
10. Atlantis Crew (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)- Yep, I know some of you will be outraged but I call it like I see it. I loved these guys! I thought they were hilarious and I loved the diversity and their unique personalities. Moliere is so funny as the mole man always wanting to dig and Audrey is a tom boy but still managing to be vulnerable.
Vinny is great as the cynical Italian who also likes to blow things up and I liked Joshua Sweet is a doctor and not much is made about his race. Helga is a seriously tough woman who beats the tar out of a couple people. I just love the combination of characters for a treasure hunting movie and I thought it totally worked for the type of story they were telling. This group kind of reminds me of a more diverse older version of the Goonies and I loved it. I know I’m in the minority on that but I don’t care! Hey it proves I’m not just spewing out what is popular but giving my own unique opinion.
9. Olaf (Frozen)- I love Olaf. He has such heart and is a sweet and sincere. He dreams of being in summer despite being a snowman. How more hopeful can a character be? His vocal performance by Josh Gad is perfect and his song is funny and sweet. They also use Olaf just enough so he stays charming and isn’t annoying. When he is willing to melt for his friend it makes me tear up every time.
8. Timon and Pumbaa (Lion King)- On the surface our 2 sidekicks from The Lion King are silly characters who sing about flatulence and being lazy but they serve an important part of the story by offering Simba an alternative philosophy on life. He can be carefree and happy or he can risk being miserable but actually do something with his life. The choice is actually a tough one. They are also loyal and very funny (and the only characters aside from Jeremy Irons that actually sing their songs in Lion King!).
7. Gus Gus and Jaq (Cinderella)- a lot of people find the mice in Cinderella annoying but I love them. They are loyal and have such a sweet desire to help their friend. They risk serious peril to get her dress made and when it is all destroyed it is one of the most devastating moments in all of Disney both for Cinderella but also for the mice who worked so hard to make it happen.
6. The 3 Faeries- Flora, Fauna and Merrywether (Sleeping Beauty). Watching the disastrous Maleficent made me realize how key to the story of Sleeping Beauty the faeries are. They are the emotional heart of the film. With the exception of maybe Phillip, the rest of the characters are kind of one note. With the faeries we have anger, fear, jealousy, joy, silliness, courage, and hope. Yes the scene baking the cake is comic relief but when you think about what comes after the audience needs that lightness. They are smart and capable and the one’s who truly defeat Maleficent in the end. The fact the new movie made them negligent idiots still burns me up!
5. Tinker Bell (Peter Pan)- Probably the most iconic sidekick of them all Tinker bell is probably the second character people associate with Disney after Mickey Mouse. I really enjoy her own series of movies and the strong but sweet character there but I also find her fascinating in Peter Pan. Aside from Tink dying they keep pretty close to the faerie in the original play. She is jealous, angry, frustrated and yet she provides pixie dust and magic. It’s kind of an interesting paradox. In a strange way she is actually a very complex female character in an era when not many existed.
4. Alice in Wonderland Cast (Alice in Wonderland)- I know a bit of a cheat but basically Alice in Wonderland is her meeting a series of great minor characters. That’s the whole story and they all work equally well. Whether it is the white rabbit, Cheshire cat, blue caterpillar, singing flowers, cards soldiers, March Hare and more they are endlessly engaging. Some of them are mean, others cheeful, most complete nonsense and I love it! I think people that complain Alice in Wonderland has no story are missing the entire point of the story. I didn’t appreciate it as much as a child but it is one of my favorites now and it isn’t because of Alice but all the wonderful characters she meets.
3. Baymax (Big Hero 6)- Call it recency bias if you want but I can’t think of a character I responded more to the moment I saw them than Baymax. He is a symbol of the love of a brother and in many ways he symbolizes love and the need of all of us to be loved and taken care of. That said, he isn’t really schmaltzy as you might expect. Everything he says is simple and to the point but with great concern. It strikes just the right note and the script allows him to be a part of humor as well as tenderness. Most of these sidekicks I would never want in my life but I want my own Baymax. I loved Big Hero 6 and you could certainly include the entire team as dynamic wonderful sidekicks but Baymax takes the crown! I haven’t felt such affection for a character since the mice in Cinderella.
2. Lumiere (Beauty and the Beast)- really all the characters in Beauty and the Beast are great side characters- Mrs Potts, Cogsworth, Lefou ect are all fantastic. But if I had to pick my favorite it would be Lumiere. He is on one hand a smug showman who doesn’t listen but on the other he is generous, kind, and so much fun. He definitely has Disney’s greatest sidekick song (with Under the Sea being a close second). The voice performance by Jerry Orbach is one of the best ever and all in all he is simply charming.
1. Genie (Aladdin)- The reason I picked the Genie as the greatest sidekick is he is the only one on this list that single-handedly makes the entire movie work. Without Robin Williams manic performance in Aladdin there would be no movie. Every other film I’ve mentioned I could take out the side character and the movie would suffer but be able to continue. Without the Genie, Aladdin as a character never gets challenged or given an opportunity to grow. Without Genie 2 of the songs wouldn’t exist and all the humor would be gone. He is the magic for the story and in hoping for his freedom provides the real heart of the story. I’d say it is not only the greatest Disney side character but one of the greatest period in all of movies. We would expect nothing less from the late great Robin Williams.
I already did Best Villains so in honor of Halloween it seemed appropriate to talk about some villain music. Particularly my favorite villain songs. Actually there aren’t as many as you’d think. Classic villains like Lady Tremaine and Maleficent don’t have a villain songs.
Special Notice- Hellfire- I could not put this on my list but I know everyone will ask about it. I just can’t support a song that is openly supporting the rape and murder of a woman. I’ve talked about it so much on the blog. It crosses a line I am not comfortable with. That said, it is very well sung and the animation is haunting, so for that reason I am honoring it as separate from my list.
So that said- my list.
10. Trust in Me- One of the first villain songs in any Disney film and it is close to an Adam and Eve type villain as Disney gives us. Like the serpent in the Biblical story, Kaaa oils and slithers his way around the jungle, hypnotizing his victims with his beguiling song. It is made all the more creepy by the fact it is Sterling Holloway, the voice of Winnie the Pooh claiming to be Mowgli’s best of friends.
9. Gaston- Perhaps the funniest villain song. It’s a big pep talk for our town hero. The fact that we know he wants to make our heroine unhappy at whatever cost gives it an eery undertone.
8. Heffalumps and Woozles- One of the spookiest moments of Disney. We’ve got a true nightmare with all the minor chords and inflections of a haunted house song. There is also always something creepy about toys like jack in the boxes. Plus, they want to steal Pooh’s honey! This song is especially effective when you think it is aimed at toddlers. It’s in every shape and size, size, SIZE!
7. Prince Ali Reprise- While a reprise and not a complete song it is very effective. A joyous number from earlier in the film is now used to control and manipulate. At this point in the story Jafar has total control of the Genie and everything else. It all looks very bad for our heroes.
6. Mob Song- An extremely chilling song because it’s an entire town taking on our heroes that are basically household items. How is this going to work? As the music escalates the tension gets tighter and stronger until we feel real panic, like a mob would feel. The animation is striking and captures the darkness and increasing madness of Gaston and the crowd.
5. Savages- Perhaps the most thoughtful Disney villain song and it is the redemption of Pocahontas which made my bottom 10 Disney movies. It is a cliche ridden historical travesty but in this song they reach some emotional truth. Some criticize it for the way it stereotypes people but that’s the whole point of the song. Both sides have rationalized why the other is the villain and needs to be done away with. It’s very profound and beautifully drawn and sung.
4. World’s Greatest Criminal Mind- Brought in a series of villain songs in movies that would go nearly uninterrupted for the next decade of Disney movies. Ratigan is a hilarious villain with Vincent Price as one of the best voices ever. The fact he kills a mouse for calling him a rat when his name is Ratigan is so funny. Kind of like Gaston it is a funny villain song but very effective. Ratigan is the closest Disney has ever gotten to an over-the-top Bond villain and I love it!
3. Mother Knows Best- As far as straight singing this is probably my favorite Disney villain song and one of my favorite songs. Donna Murphey is amazing as Mother Gothel. It is Sondheim level quality. It takes the nurturing of motherhood and uses it to control and manipulate a child. Is there anything colder than that? It’s so effective. I just love it!
2. Poor Unfortunate Souls- One of the most brilliant voice casting in Disney history. Pat Carroll gives Ursula a mix of a truck driver and a drag queen. She is on full saleswoman mode and uses every sweet and conniving method she can muster to tempt Ariel into her web. She would have said she’d cured cancer if it would have gotten her the ending she wants. That’s my kind of villain. The animation is brilliant and funny and I love that ursula is the only octopus we see aside from a brief glimpse of one in Under the Sea. There is nobody who looks like her. She is blackness, overweight, with red lipstick. Got to like that!
1. Be Prepared- In a movie where almost nobody did their own singing (even Broadway star Matthew Broderick didn’t), it is especially compelling Jeremy Irons sang Be Prepared. It is as close as Disney gets to a Hitler villain. He even has Nazi hyenas. He oils and defines his plan dripping with disdain for everyone including his brother. He is a sociopath who has no guilt throughout the movie for any of his choices. All he cares about is himself to the detriment of the entire kingdom.
So I recently finished reviewing the Disney Renaissance and I know how everyone loves lists, so I will do my best at ranking these films (and I will try to not have everything be Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid.
Silver- Beauty and the Beast
Bronze- Hunchback of Notre Dame
Favorite Lead Character/Hero-
Favorite Side Character-
Even More Minor Characters-
Gold- Wilbur, Rescuers Down Under
Best Vocal Performance-
Gold- Robin Williams, Aladdin
Silver- Samuel Wright, Little Mermaid
Bronze- Pat Carroll, Little Mermaid
Honorable Mention- John Candy, Rescuers Down Under
Best Original Score-
Gold- Lion King, Hans Zimmer
Silver- Rescuers Down Under, Bruce Broughton
Bronze- Little Mermaid, Alan Menken
Best Song- (this is tough)
Gold-Part of Your World- Menken and Ashman
Silver- Be Our Guest- Menken and Ashman
Bronze-Friend Like Me- Menken and Ashman
Honorable Mentions- Out There (Menken and Schwartz), Under the Sea (Menken and Ashman), A Star is Born (Menken and Zippel), You’ll Be in My Heart (Phil Collins), Reflection (Wilder and Zippel)
Best Villain Song-
Gold- Poor Unfortunate Souls, Menken and Ashman
Silver- Be Prepared, Elton John and Tim Rice
Bronze- Savages, Menken and Schwartz
Honorable Mentions- Gaston (Menken and Ashman),
Gold- Mufasa’s death
Silver- Quasimodo getting mocked and tied up by gypsies
Bronze- Beast dies
Bronze- Rescuers Down Under (not a comedy but the funny moments were so funny)
Gold- Mcleach and the knife throwing, Rescuers Down Under
Silver- Mob Song, Beauty and the Beast
Couldn’t think of anything else scary in Renaissance. That’s strange.
Gold- Burning down house with family in it, Hunchback
Silver- Hellfire, rape and murder song, Hunchback
Bronze- Pocahontas teaching John Smith about how gold is stupid, Pocahontas
Honorable Mention- Basically all of Pocahontas except Savages number
Gold- Rescuers Down Under
Most Romantic Moment-
Gold- Belle and Beast dancing
Silver- Kiss the Girl
Bronze- Jasmine and Aladdin kiss
Best- Beauty and the Beast
Co-Best- Little Mermaid (I love both so much!)
I just finished reviewing Dinosaur (oh my…) and here’s how we currently stand rating-wise
A+ we have 6
B+ we have 4
C+ we have 2
D we have 3
A we have 9
B we have 1
C we have 3
D- we have 3
A- we have 2
B- we have 1
C- we have 3
F we have 1
What are your favorites from the Renaissance? Please share.
Thank you to everyone for your comments. We might not always agree but I enjoying conversing with all of you!
Here we go. How to talk about a favorite film? It’s tough. I’ll have you all know I watched it 3 times for this review . Once to enjoy, once with commentary and once to take notes. There are a lot of ways I could go with the review and even now as I am writing I’m not sure what way the words will take me but that wouldn’t be the first time in my blogging career and it won’t be the last.
Aside from being a massive hit, The Little Mermaid was important for Walt Disney for a number of reasons:
1. It marked the beginning of a yearly animation offering from Disney which to 2015 has only missed a few years. Previously a film would take 4-7, even 10 years to finish
2. It was the return of the ‘girl movie’. After Sleeping Beauty failed Disney was convinced movies for girls weren’t successful, which is why we went from 1959 to 1989 without a solo female leading character, and most of the time it was just a male lead and the female would be thrown in for the last minute as a love interest only (you all know how I hate that!). At one point Jeffrey Katzenberg was so concerned about it being a ‘girl movie’ he warned the directors Ron Clements and John Musker to not spend very much money because it was unlikely to do well at the box office. (Amazing in retrospect right?)
3. It marked the return of the broadway style Disney musical which hadn’t been seen since Cinderella. You certainly had pictures with songs, many by the Sherman Brothers but there weren’t any ballads or traditional scores like a musical.
4. Computer animation was used in a new way. Scenes like the ship scene at the beginning and the climatic battle were done using CGI, which had just been invented by Pixar. It is the last movie to use hand painted cells. But even so bubbles and other special effects were revolutionized to create the lush look of the picture.
5. It would inspire Disney to keep on progressing in their animation quality and storytelling ability. The next decade is what is known as the Disney Renaissance where we see such classics as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King and others. Really Disney would face no competition until Dreamworks had it’s first megahit with Shrek in 2001. Pretty impressive.
So that’s some of the 411 behind The Little Mermaid. Even if you are one of those poor unfortunate souls who doesn’t like this movie you can’t deny it was very important.
As we discussed in the Oliver and Company review, Disney executives had gathered animators for a brainstorming session and green-lit the ‘oliver twist dog movie’ and the ‘little mermaid’. As I said, executives were skeptical could appeal to boys limiting your audience. However, they had decided to embrace the musical and Splash had recently been a big hit in live action for the studio.
Walt Disney had actually thought about doing Little Mermaid as a package film of Hans Christen Andersen shorts. They had even commissioned some storyboards which 1989 directors Ron Clements and John Musker found and the changes they had made to the original story were largely the same as the 30s version (cool right?). In both cases the story had been softened from the book to have a happy ending.
Once they had decided on a Broadway style musical they had worked with Howard Ashman previously on Oliver and Company and he had worked with Alan Menken on Little Shop of Horrors. If you ever get a chance listen to the audio commentary on the diamond edition dvd because I was amazed at how much influence particularly Ashman had over the film. He is even credited as writing ‘additional dialogue’. I figured he was just the lyricist but evidently he would preform each of the songs in costume and insist the animators and their body doubles (Little Mermaid used human forms for the first time in many years too) mimic his acting.
Little Mermaid is also a movie that is ‘underscored’ meaning the music was written to dictate the animation, not the other way around. This also hadn’t been done in many years at Disney.
For the first time in many pictures there weren’t any celebrity voices except for Buddy Hackett who played Scuttle. Jodi Benson who voiced and sang for Ariel was a broadway performer who had worked with Ashman before. Her and Samuel Wright who plays Sebastian did not audition before the main team but sent in tapes from New York and they were so impressed they go the jobs. Kenneth Mars who plays Triton had been a working actor but not well-known and Pat Carroll was a replacement for Ursula. They originally wanted Bea Arthur from the Golden Girls.
I’ve mentioned on the blog how much I admire Walt Disney Studios risk taking. Despite initial nervousness Little Mermaid was the most expensive animated movie ever made and with the flop of the previous expensive film, the Black Cauldron, you have to admire them for taking a risk again.
The animation is so detailed. After decades of xerox films to have a million bubbles surrounding the characters under water, and the iridescent look of the light on the rocks is amazing.
Even just the movement in Ariel’s hair is incredible. There isn’t a moment under sea where it is static. It always moves and flows. No small task even today.
If you listen to the audio commentaries it becomes clear Little Mermaid was a labor of love especially for Clements, Musker, Ashman and Menken, and I for one am grateful because it meant a lot to me growing up.
The Little Mermaid was also the first movie to be released on VHS only 6 months after it’s release. At the time Disney was very nervous about doing this because it would prevent profitable re-releases which they had done of their other classics; however, it was a huge hit selling 7 million in the first month!
It also started a track record of Disney winning Oscars again (first nomination since 1977 Rescuers) with wins for best score and song (Under the Sea). They would win again in 91, 92, 94, 95, and 99. Not bad!
Ok. Enough of the delicious backstory. Let’s talk about the actual story. This is probably less interesting for some of you as most everyone knows the story of the Little Mermaid (I mean even if you don’t care for it could you get through the 90s and not see Little Mermaid?)
Let’s talk about the story by going over the songs.
We start out with Prince Eric’s boat and a sea shanty which introduces us to the myth of Triton and his ‘fathoms below’. Immediately we are immersed in the feel of the water and the melodies we will be hearing throughout the film.
Then the melody takes us to Triton’s castle and the concert. We learn Ariel is headstrong and doesn’t come to practices. We meet Sebastian and Triton and get a brief glimpse at Ariel’s sisters.
This scene is not only humorous but it tells us a lot of Triton’s relationship with Ariel. She is clearly the favorite of his girls and she isn’t there. This doesn’t just disappoint Triton but it angers him. That is a lot to learn about characters in what is essentially a comedic scene.
Then we get to see Ariel. She is searching for human treasure and is willing to face a shark for it. She goes up to the shore to find out what the items are from Skuttle. Again this is a humorous scene but it also tells us a lot about her . She is brave (perhaps carelessly so), rebellious, inquisitive and naive. These are all huge traits that makes her vulnerable later on to the manipulations of Ursula.
Triton is upset with her of course so he assigns Sebastian to take care of her. He a musician is insulted to watch over a ‘teenager’. Evidently Menken and Ashman decided on a Jamaican voice because reggae was very popular and they felt it would give a swaying feeling of the sea to Under the Sea and Kiss the Girl sung by Sebastian and I think they were right. Plus, it makes Sebastian an interesting character. Most characters with that accent are relaxed and chill but he’s high strung. It’s funny.
Sebastian follows Ariel to her secret grotto where she sings of her desire to be human, to be part of that world. Originally this song didn’t test well in focus groups but Ashman, Menken, Clements and Musker told execs neither did Over the Rainbow, so the song stayed. In the audiocommentary one of them says having Sebastian there during the song adds a level of tension and even suspense which helps tone down the cloyingness that might otherwise be there if she was unheard. I had never thought about it before but it makes sense.
I’ve heard some people object to Ariel because she is selfish and whiny. She can be selfish but where do you draw the line between knowing who you are and what you want out of life, and being selfish? She certainly does selfish things but it is from a good place. She doesn’t feel at home in her own skin literally. How many of us have felt the same? I certainly have and that’s why I related to the movie so much. I remember looking through my Mothers wallet and wishing I could be taken seriously by someone. I hated being a kid and being told what to do all the time. I wanted to try things my way and maybe that is selfish but it is also what produces great human beings.
To me her yearnings come from a deeper place than just whining and complaining and I think it is why girls related so well to Elsa in Frozen too. It’s the same kind of yearning to be who you are supposed to be but the world won’t allow it.
Getting off track…
She hears some fireworks, leaves Sebastian, and heads up to see what the noise is about. This is her first time looking at Prince Eric and she is immediately taken with him.
Eric is one of the most present Disney Princes. Evidently for some reason men are hard for the animators to draw and that is why they were avoided in films like Cinderella. (It’s strange but I’ve read that more than once). I know technically it is only a few days but for a Disney movie we get a lot of time spent between Eric and Ariel.
He actually has a fair amount of dialogue for Disney Prince. We know he is waiting for the right girl despite his adviser Grimsby’s yearnings for him to settle down. They establish quickly Ariel and Eric are a match in spirit not just appearance (which is something the instant love trope usually misses. I have no problem with instant attraction but that should just be the beginning and with Ariel and Eric it is).
An unexpected storm comes and Ariel jumps to Eric’s rescue saving him from drowning. We get a reprise of Part of Your World which is stirring and had every earnest little girl singing along!
Again, I related to this song because I felt like Ariel- a kid who wanted to break out of the kid body and be taken seriously by the world.
Her session with Eric makes her twitterpated and she flirts around the castle to the notice of her father and sisters. This stresses out Sebastian as he knows the King will be enraged if he finds out Ariel’s secret love.
So Sebastian tries to convince Ariel that she should stop wishing to be on the ground. He then sings to her the Oscar winning song Under the Sea. The animation in this song is amazing. Every fish plays a different musical instrument and they all combine together for one sound. How they recorded it I will never know but everything from tubas to steel drums make for a great song.
On the audio commentary they mentioned how the backdrops in under the sea are many colors. I guess Katzenberg was concerned they weren’t all blue but it totally works. In fact, the more creatures involved the more colors the sea is until we have seen purple, gold, green, pink and of course blue. And seriously watch the bubbles in Under the Sea. It is amazing!
Of course she doesn’t listen and leaves with Flounder before the song is even over but Triton requests Sebastians presence because he wants to know who Ariel is in love with. By a slip of the tongue Sebastian tells him Ariel is in love with a human. Of course, he is angry and worried.
Fearing for his daughter and completely incapable of communicating with her Triton destroys Ariel’s grotto and leaves her devastated.
Again think of this from her perspective- everything she knows in her heart she is to be has been destroyed and told is wrong. To me it makes perfect sense she would be vulnerable at such a moment to Ursula, the sea witch who sends her thugs Flotsam and Jetsam out to tempt her.
The eels are basically like the snake in the Eden story and Ursula is the devil. Ariel is willing to sell her soul, her voice, to the devil for a chance to be who she is supposed to be, and love who she is supposed to love. That is compelling stuff in my book!
From the moment we meet Ursula she is one of the great Disney villains. She is bitter, out for revenge, overweight octopus who covers the sea with her blackness. Pat Carroll as the voice gets the perfect balance of a truck driver with a drag queen and even the way she puts on lipstick is suspect. She is like a used car saleswoman but in Ariel’s case it is her soul and revenge on Triton Ursula must convince her to give up. Poor Unfortunate Souls is my favorite villain song ever (and only the second solo by a villain ever). Much copied but never duplicated, it has the perfect combo of gravitas, manipulation and salesmanship.
Once she is turned into a human Flounder, Sebastian and Skuttle must help her find some clothes (in a very well choreographed scene by Disney considering their heroine is without clothing! The score in this section is also brilliant highlighting every moment.
I’ve heard some people say Little Mermaid teaches a bad lesson because Ariel gets what she wants in the end despite making very poor choices. She does make mistakes and she realizes it when her father is taken down by them, but when she gets her legs Sebastian looks at Ariel and he says ‘or you could be miserable for the rest of your life’. Her father was never going to give her what she knew she needed and Ursula at least provided a chance.
Eric meets Ariel and thinks she is the one but since she can’t speak he discounts the resemblance to his rescuer. Nevertheless, she is invited to the castle and given a warm bed and place to stay. An unlikely contrivance I suppose but it works!
She is invited to dinner with Prince and Grimsby but first we get a little comic relief when Sebastian accidentally stumbles into Chef Louis kitchen, a kitchen hard at work cooking “les poissons’ or little fish. My brother took a french immersive class and a teacher used the word ‘les poissons’ and immediately a chorus of girls started singing the cooks song. It is hilarious slapstick and doesn’t have much to do with the story but I love it! It gives a break from some of the schmaltzy romance and very funny vocal performance by Rene Auberjonois.
At dinner Eric invites Ariel to get a tour of the village so the next day is spent driving around, dancing and getting to know Eric despite Ariel’s lack of a voice. Knowing their time is brief Sebastian tries to encourage the romance with the wonderful song Kiss the Girl. I thought this song was hilarious as a kid. We’ve got to create the mood after all… (The vocal by Wright is actually quite lovely)
Ursula realizes things aren’t going her way so she uses Ariel’s voice and becomes human to trick Eric into marrying her. She actually has hypnotized him with yellow eyes.
Ariel, Sebastian, Flounder and Skuttle all gather together to help stop the wedding and it is a funny yet tense scene.
The battle between Triton and Ursula isn’t a wizard’s duel for sport. It is a battle of good vs evil, of bitterness and revenge with the fate of the sea at stake. The tension builds so well and it feels pretty desperate and that Ariel has lost her love and her father all at the same time. What can be done if even Triton is under Ursula’s control?
Then Eric comes through and we get our amazingly drawn final battle.
Another person I read said Ariel doesn’t learn anything by the end. I disagree. She does learn that chasing your dreams requires sacrifices and that love and family are precious. She learns she is where she is supposed to be. That is huge. But her father also learns. He learns HE WAS WRONG That’s why he changes her in the end. He was thwarting his daughters destiny and he made it right. So, lessons are learned and it is not a lesson that whining gets your way. At least that’s not what I have ever taken from it. It’s that we need to fight for what we are supposed to be in life and that is more important than anything else for both Eric and Ariel.
We get our happy ending!
It probably goes without saying this movie gets the highest grade from me. It has everything you want in a Disney movie. The animation is stunning in it’s detail, artistry and light. The songs run the gambit from heartfelt to hilarious. The characters are complex and relatable, even the Prince. The story teaches important lessons to girls (and boys I suppose) about finding out who you are and where you belong in life and fighting for it. It has the classic father/daughter dynamic that goes back to King Lear (and further I’m sure).
The villain is unlike any we had seen before with a villain song that has yet to be topped. The score clips along and speaks for a character who for a majority of the film cannot. The songs are all instant classics. Every choice worked and it was magic to me as an 8 year old in 1989 and it totally holds up. I saw it 3 times this weekend and could have watched it 3 more times.
Just like Frozen is doing for modern girls, Little Mermaid inspired many from my generation to be yourself and to sing your heart out. Just like girls are singing Let it go, we were singing Part of Your World. My sister and I would have competitions at night both of us claiming that we sounded the most like Ariel. (It was me all the way).
I get that it strays from the classic story, but I think if Hans Christian Andersen saw the treatment of his work he’d be thrilled (and with Frozen too!). It certainly keeps the spirit of the story without punishing Ariel for dreaming big.
I have nothing bad to say about it. I love it and can’t wait till the day I can gather my daughters (if I ever marry) and watch The Little Mermaid together and hear about all their desires, frustrations and dreams, and to sing with them!
Overall Grade A+
PS The sequels that are usually terrible by Disney aren’t half bad for Little Mermaid. There is actually a prequel and a sequel.