In November of 1989 I went to a movie, un-chaperoned, with my friends, for the very first time. The movie we watched was The Little Mermaid. Disney had had a dry spell movie-wise, and this was the innovative new cartoon that was supposed to revitalize the franchise. And revitalize it it did. It created a movie for the generations.
There were key things I will always remember about that first viewing. I remember my heart swelling with the opening song. I remember gasping in awe at the first merman to swim across the screen. I sympathized with Ariel’s frustration with her father and my heart dropped to my stomach when she sang the line, “maybe on land they understand, bet they don’t reprimand their daughters.” I daydreamed that I would kiss my crush doing something as romantic as the boat ride during the Kiss the Girl scene. Lastly, I remember that I was okay with the ending.
I had read the original story by Hans Christian Andersen, but I was okay with the Disneyfied ending. I wanted a happy ending for myself. I was a complete Geek/Nerd in a time when it was very unpopular to be so, and The Little Mermaid gave me hope. I didn’t fit in with the world (school) I lived in; somewhere out there was a place for me. Eventually I found that other world, met my prince, married him, and had children of my own.
This year Disney released the 25th anniversary edition of The Little Mermaid. I pre-ordered it, and when it arrived, I sat down with my boys, DJ age 4 and Dor age 18 months, to watch it. What I experienced was a whole new magic. I cannot adequately describe the beauty of watching children see something wonderful for the first time. Both of their little jaws dropped when that merman swam across the screen. It gave me a whole new set of fantastic memories.
It also gave me a whole new set of things to discuss, especially with DJ. Like: why do mer-people have arms? DJ refers to Flounder as “she”. I almost corrected him, then realized that aside from the male voice, they never reference Flounder’s gender. And Flounder is a fish, so how am I to know that DJ is wrong? I kept my opinion to myself.
When King Triton lost his temper and began destroying Ariel’s treasure trove DJ declared, “That’s NOT ok! Why is he doing that?!!” This lead to a good conversation between us about communication and how some men, like King Triton, were never taught how to express their feelings in a constructive way. We discussed the abuse of power and the need to protect your children.
Watching it with the boys I realized that Ariel did a lot of saving Erik. Yes, Erik had one really good save of Ariel in the end. However, Ariel outnumbered him on saves in that movie. It made me smile that the movie was forward thinking enough not to go with the Damsel in Distress trope.
I haven’t talked much about Dor’s opinion of the movie. I bought him an Ariel shirt. He cried when we took it off him to wash it. When he sees anything Ariel he brightly shouts, “Little Mermaid!” That should give you an idea if he likes it or not.
Overall the film still retains the magic it had when it was first released. It remains a Happily-Ever-After story that can be enjoyed and shared by different generations. I think about how it has brought me closer to my kids as we happily sing along with the soundtrack in the car. My hope now is that I’m there to see DJ and Dor watch it with their children for the first time.