The Little Mermaid
Film released 1989
Directors: Ron Clements & John Musker
Writers: John Musker & Ron Clements
Based on the fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen
Music & Lyrics: Alan Menken & Howard Ashman
Starring: Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Samuel E Wright, Kenneth Mars
We’re back to the classics today!
Let’s dive into the deep with this one.
First, we’ve got the walking and talking human world with Prince Eric and his regal cohorts. Then, we’ve got the swimming and fishies of the underwater world, complete with trident.
Queer vs norm is always difficult when we are dealing with two worlds because the main character usually transitions from one world to another. Let’s start at the beginning with Ariel.
Evidence of Ariel’s queerness lies in her love for Eric (it’s kind of creepy stalker love, but oh well), Trident’s reaction to it, and finally Ursula. Let’s break it down.
Ariel is a total misfit amongst her royal mermaid family. She’s late for her singing debut, she doesn’t hang out with her fellow mer-teens. She’s also a total hoarder. But most of all, she wants to be where the people are. Not mer-people. People-people. She dreams of a place completely out of her reach, outside of her world. She dreams of a home for her queerness. “Part of Your World” is Ariel’s ode to her queerness and her longing for a place where she can be herself.
|I whip my hair back and forth|
It reminds me of the period in my life where I was out to myself and started exploring my queerness, but I was still hiding my L Word Netflix history and hadn’t really come out yet. I collected gay culture, researched, and read anything Google would point me to on “how to be a lesbian,” but I wasn’t actually a part of that world yet.
Side note: I wonder about the implications of a trans* interpretation here, of a girl who grows up feeling like she is somehow in the wrong body; that she should have legs instead of a fin….interesting.
|This little piggy went to the gay bar...|
And major points to Ariel for taking up the hero’s mantle and saving Prince Eric, her damsel in distress. At first I thought this was really subversive and cool, but taking another look at it, Disney is mostly just abiding by ancient mermaid mythology where the mermaid saves the drowning human-dude. Well, points for sticking to a vaguely feminist history of mythology?
|Lose some weight, why dontcha?|
On to dear old dad. When King Trident finds out about her secret human love and her collection of bits and bobs and thingamawhatsits, he flips his shit. His reaction to Ariel’s forbidden love (sound familiar) represents old school homophobic ideals that are still very real. This mentality gets out kids kicked out on the street, or in Ariel’s case, left out at sea.
|You can't sit with us|
And who comes to save her? Ursula. Or, The Drag Mother Supreme. Did you know that Ursula’s character design was modeled off of the noted drag queen Divine?!? Cool, right?
But, she’s another queer villain. Ugh. Again? Disney? I’m getting pretty tired of this trope. At least she has a kickass song? But what’s interesting about her very clear queerness in her animation is that she facilitates Ariel’s transition from the underwater world to the human world. Ursula acts as a kind of queer guide. While she fulfills Ariel’s queer wish (within the underwater world) to get rid of her fins in lieu of legs, she forces Ariel to maintain a queer status (in the human world) by taking her voice. Ariel’s differently-abled-ness (and obvious cultural naivety) keep her queer. And that’s all Ursula’s doing.
But, despite Ariel’s queerness, her character just completely falls flat in the second half of the movie.
|My bow is as big as my face...|
She loses all her agency (not that she had tons to begin with) and drive and the whole thing turns into a bitch fest between her and Ursula as her human alter-ego and the movie gets way less interesting and a little emotionally scarring between the lack of consent in “Kiss The Girl” and Ursula turning into a ship-wrecking monster.
But Sebastian always manages to keep it real.
|THE HILLS ARE ALIVE|
MVQ: First half of the movie Ursula, not human-Ursula or monster-Ursula.
OTP: Sebastian and the French cook. It’s the classic he’s-mean-to-you-because-he-has-a-crush-on-you schoolyard scenario. Except the stakes are a little bit higher.
Favorite Moment: “Part of Your World” takes the cake.