When you get right down to it, the three best Disney movies of all time (and this isn’t my opinion, but rather, FACT, and don’t argue with me about it because no one cares what you think) are The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Together, they form a Trinity of sorts, and if Disney were a religion, they would be addressed collectively as the Mermaid, the Monster, and the MC Hammer pants… Amen.
Fundamentally, these movies are animated romantic comedies with a fantastical bent, wrapped in the shining tissue paper of wholesome morality, tied with a musical bow, and then lovingly gifted to the world, complete with a Happy Meal toy. If they teach the world anything, it is: never underestimate the power of a colorful production number, especially when sung by a crab, a candlestick, or Robin Williams.
The Disney Triumvirate, as I like to call these three movies, is often referred to by its other name, the Disney Renaissance. Prior to the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989, Disney released a string of well-received, but largely unsuccessful animated features, starting with The Sword in The Stone in 1963. The period between Sword and Oliver and Company (’88) saw the releases of several great animated movies, but none managed to capture the magic of the early classics like Snow White or Dumbo. And after the less than favorable reception of The Black Cauldron in 1985, the studio decided to re-invent the Disney Animated Feature by delving back into traditional Fairy Tales, first, and by resurrecting the full-scale song-and-dance musical, second. As an aside, almost every Disney movie contains a little bit of singing and/or original music, but the inclusion of show-stopping production numbers hadn’t been explored since Cinderella. So, in 1988, Disney released Oliver and Company, a musical adaptation of Dicken’s Oliver Twist, except Oliver is a cat, the Artful Dodger is a street-wise mutt, and that’s about as far as the similarities go. While Oliver wasn’t a complete disaster, it wasn’t the great comeback Disney had hoped it would be. All agreed, though, that it was a step in the right direction.
All of this to say: there was a definite learning curve in effect by the time The Little Mermaid was conceived, produced, and released. And really, I’m surprised the movie is as good as it is, considering how carefully Disney marketed it. Usually, the audience can smell the manipulation as soon as the opening credits roll, but not with The Little Mermaid. No, the magic was effortless and I, like every little
Of course, I remember seeing the Little Mermaid in the theatres, along with every single living child under the age of 15 at the time. I also remember being able to sing Part of Your World in its entirety within 24 hours of owning my very own copy on VHS. Today, that tape is well-worn and probably warped, but I can still sing Part of Your World in its entirety, especially if I’m in a place conducive to concentration, like say, the shower. Or waiting in line at the grocery store. Or in the middle of a staff meeting.
One doesn’t usually ask a magician how they do their tricks, so attempting to explain the magic of Disney feels wrong and kind of impossible, but I think in the case of the Golden Age of Disney, i.e. The Little Mermaid through Aladdin, a case can be made that the greatest source of fairy dust is a certain composer/lyricist duo who created three soundtracks so amazingly memorable that they were classics as soon as they cleared the speakers. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman seemed to understand that a musical is only as good as its songs, and thankfully, good songs happened to be something they were good at.
A movie such as this, one that shaped and molded my young mind and the minds of countless others, deserves to be examined moment by moment, in that elusive quest to discover what makes it so loveable, so timeless, so utterly awesome that a freak like me would blog about it two decades later.
We open on a brisk, somewhat foggy day at sea. A stately vessel churns its way through the rough waters. Dolphins chitter away as it passes, and over the sounds of wind and surf, we can hear sailors singing a sea shanty as they go about their work.
Also on board: Eric, Prince of Hotness, his sheepdog, Max, and his faithful chaperone, Grimsby. Eric is drawn like any predictable fantasy prince would be… tall, dark, and handsome. Some might say he’s a little cliché as far as fairy tale princes go, but, you know, that has never bothered me… some things are cliché for a reason. On deck, one seasoned veteran sailor with a gnarly face and possibly a peg-leg is expositing on King Triton and the complicated social structures of his Mer-kingdom while Eric listens with great interest. Meanwhile, the fish he’s tangling with makes his move and successfully escapes. Once safely below the surface, our new fish friend breathes a sigh of relief and whisks us away towards the Opening Credits.
So Maestro, if you please… the overture…
Ok, I have a confession. I get a little teary at the big reveal of the Mer-Palace.
Inspirational, spine-tingling, and somehow… erotic
And then I giggle, because if you look closely, some of the spires are clearly massive phalluses. Giant penises aside, it truly is an awe-inspiring moment and I get chills every time I watch it.
Inside the Phallus Palace, a cute little sea-horse appears to announce the arrival of King Triton, who triumphantly steers his dolphin chariot over the heads of the gathering Mer-people to light the chandelier with his trident. The sparkles of magical light float down upon the awe-struck crowd. Following the majestic entrance of the king, the sea-horse bids us welcome Maestro Horatio Thelonius Ignacius Crustaceous Sebastian, the esteemed court composer. Kazoos blare as Sebastian the Conducting Crab flies in behind his team of rambunctious goldfish. As Sebastian rides up to greet the King, we finally find out why we’re all here. Sebastian is conducting a concert, a musical extravaganza, to celebrate the debut of Triton’s youngest daughter, Ariel.
The crowd hushes as Sebastian takes the podium.
Seriously, Triton makes me really nervous when he’s mad, waving that trident around like that. He’s going to take someone’s eye out.
Oh, and take a good look at the sisters. It's the only chance you'll really get.
So, where is Ariel? Why, she’s off being a reckless, irresponsible teenager, of course. You would be too if you had unnaturally red hair and two sea-shells holding in your lady-bits. Accompanying her, as always, is Flounder, her endearingly sheepish playmate. Flounder has self-esteem issues, which is why he isn’t assertive enough to keep Ariel out of trouble, which often lands him in trouble, which makes him an enabler. The two trouble-makers are obviously far away from home, exploring dark waters in search of a ship wreck on the ocean floor. Flounder, who is far more sensitive than anyone gives him credit for, has a bad feeling about this neighborhood, and tries to convince Ariel to head back home. But Ariel is not only a bad role model, but also a bully, and she chastises Flounder by calling him a “guppy.” Oh, if only Flounder had the gumption to slap her in the face with his tailfin and go find new friends, thus avoiding dangerous situations like this one and the even more dangerous situations involving sharks, one of which is slowly closing in on them, even though they don’t know it yet. Alas, no, he follows her into a particularly precarious looking wreck.
As Ariel explores the wreckage, she picks up random artifacts and shoves them into a pouch around her waist. Nearby, Flounder is getting more and more nervous, shaking visibly, and very close to voiding his bowels. And for good reason…
A chase ensues, Ariel and Flounder Vs. Shark. It’s quite scary, but what kind of movie would this be if one of them got chewed up and digested in the first 15 minutes? Indeed, there was never any need to worry, because judging by Ariel’s reaction after successfully trapping the shark in the loop of an anchor, not only is she exceptionally clever and fast in the water, but also completely unimpressed by the shark’s bulk and rows of jagged teeth. In fact, she sort of acts like she beats up sharks everyday. Ah, the invincibility of youth! How about a little respect for the greatest predator in the ocean, missy, or you’ll end up learning it the hard way.
The shark thus defeated, we follow Ariel and Flounder up to the surface.
Scuttle is another one of Ariel’s enablers. She comes to him with all of her recent findings to find out what they are in the human world. Somehow, Scuttle has convinced her that he is an expert on the subject, and since she’s just a stupid Little Mermaid, she doesn’t realize that he’s full of crap.
Excited by her new discoveries, she first brings out a fork for Scuttle’s analysis. According to him, it’s… a Dinglehopper. To this day, I still ask people to pass me a dinglehopper at the dinner table. It says a lot about this movie that pretty much everyone knows what I mean. Anyway, Scuttle lectures that a dinglehopper is used to create an, “aesthetically pleasing configuration of hair that humans go nuts over.” That’s one mystery solved! Next, Ariel pulls out a tobacco pipe, which Scuttle identifies as a Snarfblatt, something humans use to make fine music.
At the mention of music, Ariel immediately recalls where she’s supposed to be at that very moment. She quickly shoves off towards home, knowing full well that when she gets there, she’ll be at the business end of the King’s Trident. Wait, that sounds dirty.
Ariel doesn’t know, but as she and Flounder are racing back to the Palace, she’s being watched. Shady characters are lurking about and, in this case, they happen to be electric eels with magical eyes and very pronounced speech impediments. The subtle changes in music and color are signs that we’re about to meet… a Disney villain. We’re taken to the lair of Ursula, the Sea Witch, a purplish, blackish octopus-woman with very large boobs. Basically, she’s a Drag Queen with tentacles.
Apparently, she’s been tracking Ariel on her adventures, but not in a creepy, women’s-gym-teachery kind of way. No, her interests are purely political. As Ursula explains it, something intense went down between her and Triton a while back, something that resulted in Ursula’s banishment from the Kingdom. As most political exiles tend to be, Ursula is a little bitter, so she spends most of her time scheming and plotting her way back into the Palace. Ariel’s bad behavior and fool-hardy spirit present an opportunity for Ursula and her dastardly plans. Since none of this is really making any sense, Ursula spells it out when she says, “She may be the key to Triton’s undoing.” You should remember that because it’s probably important.
Back at the Palace, Ariel is getting blessed out by a very angry King Triton and a very sycophantic Sebastian. I’m having trouble focusing because I’m just now noticing that Triton is incredibly well-muscled. Seriously toned abs and pecs on that Merman. Is it just me, or is he really sexy when he’s angry? Just me? Anyway… Flounder is taking in the heated exchange from behind a pillar and just as Sebastian finishes a particularly stinging volley of reprimands, he rushes in to Ariel’s aid. Like I said before, Flounder isn’t all that aggressive, and he quickly loses his nerve in front of the King and his massive biceps. In typical lame-duck fashion, he starts to blather incoherently, until he mentions the encounter with Scuttle.
Triton’s eyes flash when he hears mention of a seagull because it can only mean one thing… Ariel has been to the surface. Realizing his mistake, Flounder finally shuts up and hides behind a none-too-pleased Ariel. Seriously, why are they friends? Triton is brandishing that trident of his again, punctuating his decree that she is never to go to the surface again. Clearly, she’s been caught surfacing before, and she has repeatedly refused to heed her father’s warnings about humans and their sushi bars and their eye creams and their seaweed wraps. Towards the end of his tirade, Ariel begins to break; her stubborn façade betrayed by the tell-tale quiver in her bottom lip. She swims off in a huff.
While King Triton waits for his blood pressure to return to normal, Sebastian assures him that he did the right thing. If you will recall, Ariel’s little stunt ruined his concert, so Sebastian was quite happy to see her get reamed. In a very funny exchange entitled, “How do you solve a problem like Ariel?” Sebastian suggests that Ariel may need a chaperone, a mentor, a bodyguard. Triton agrees and commissions Sebastian for the job, much to Sebastian’s dismay.
Sebastian is just leaving the King’s audience chamber, bemoaning his fate, when he notices Flounder and Ariel sneaking and skulking, obviously up to no good. No time to write symphonies anymore, apparently, so Sebastian turns to follow them. He struggles to keep up, but manages to keep them in sight long enough to see them entering a tall outcrop on the ocean floor through an entrance blocked with a stone, and by sheer luck, he’s able to squeak his way in before the stone closes behind Ariel, but only just barely.
Once inside, Sebastian looks around, and his jaw drops unflatteringly to the ground. This is Ariel’s inner-sanctum… a storage facility for all the bric-a-brac she has plundered, pilfered, and grave-robbed from shipwrecks. Lit by a sky-light at the top, the cave is a museum with alien items covering every inch of wall and floor. Clearly, collecting evidence of human existence isn’t just a hobby for Ariel… it’s an obsession. But she isn’t crazy, or unbalanced, or a whack-a-doo! Won’t you just let her explain?
It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? All of this manic collecting has convinced her that humans must be wonderful, resourceful, beautiful creatures… otherwise how could they come up with such ingenious inventions? Nevermind that everything she knows about humans comes from a seagull who is very stupid, even for a seagull. No, it’s all very touching and understandable and relatable. We all go through those phases when we feel we don’t belong in our own skin; like we were meant for something different. We’ve all felt like the future set before us by our elders isn’t really meant for us. We’ve all felt so isolated and alone that we’re compelled to collect forbidden items from the world in which we would rather live, which we then have to hide away from everyone we know because of the shame and embarrassment of our fixations. We’ve all been sure at one point or another that no one, least of all our parents, understands us. We all have bad relationships with our fathers. Damn, Ariel… I soooo get you now.
Sebastian, however, does not.
Now that he knows Ariel’s sick secret, Sebastian is torn between his responsibility to The Man and his obvious affection for Ariel, but ultimately he decides he won’t go running to Triton about Ariel’s secret stash as long as she shows some initiative towards improving her behavior.
But just then, a shadow passes over the skylight of the cave, and Ariel, reckless and impulsive as usual, quickly swims up to the surface to investigate, Sebastian exasperatedly chasing after her. Way to cultivate Sebastian’s good will, there, kiddo. Skimming along the ocean’s surface is the same ship from the prologue, carrying the Prince of Hotness and his entourage.
Party over here! Party over there!
They’re out on a pleasure cruise to celebrate the Prince’s birthday, and on the decks of the ship, the party is in full swing. Ariel can’t resist the sounds of the music and the fireworks, so she moves closer and closer until she has actually climbed up the hull of the ship. She finds a suitable little nook and settles in to watch the festivities.
Meet-Cute time. Almost immediately, Ariel is noticed by a shaggy white-and-grey sheepdog named Max, and after they have quite a rendezvous, someone calls Max away from Ariel’s hiding place. When Max pads off towards the source of the voice, Ariel lays her eyes on Eric, the Prince of Hotness, for the first time. Bells ring and angels sing and all that other nonsense, and Ariel is officially smitten. You can’t really blame her, though. He isn’t called the Prince of Hotness for nothing.
As the party continues to roll, Scuttle joins Ariel on her perch outside the ship just as Grimsby is about to unveil Eric’s birthday present. After the due pomp and circumstance, Grimsby pulls the sheet off of a bronze statue of Eric in a heroic pose.
Since Eric is that rare kind of Prince that is both humble and gracious, he sincerely thanks Grimsby for the gift even though it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t like it, and Ariel falls in love with him a little bit more. As do we all.
Grimsby makes some snide remark about how he’d hoped this gift would be a wedding present, and Eric gets agitated. Finally… some backstory. Apparently, the pressure is on for Eric to pick a wife and get married already, but so far, none of the princesses he has met have been up to snuff. The Princess of Galowerhaven is mentioned, and we can only assume, based on Eric’s flippant dismissal of her, that she’s some hideous product of royal inbreeding whose overall appearance is strangely reminiscent of a She-Kraken and whose I.Q. is rivaled only by the barnacles slowly eating their way through the wood of the Prince’s ship. And since we know Eric to be an extraordinarily wonderful person… a benevolent Prince of the People… a bastion of Hope and Glory for all who know him… a Hero and a Supermodel… this Galowerhaven girl must have been a real dog for him to treat her so. Eric insists that he just hasn’t found the right girl, which… is sweet, but a guy saying stuff like that usually just means he’s gay, which… fine with me. Of course, just as he says “right girl”, there’s Ariel in full frame looking innocent, yet sensual, completely unaware of how predictable all of this turned out to be.
Now, hurricanes aren’t known to be the wiliest of weather patterns, nor do they often behave like stalking tigers, but somehow a frikkin’ hurricane has managed to fall upon the ship without a moment’s notice. Scuttle is blown feather-first into the darkening night sky, and Ariel is forced to abandon her post. The men on board are frantically trying to prepare the ship to weather the storm, but they aren’t used to hurricanes sneaking up on them like this, so everything is chaos. As if things couldn’t get any worse, a bolt of lightening strikes the mast of the ship and a fire erupts amidst the sails. As if things couldn’t get any worse-er, the ship collides with some giant rocks that just ever-so-conveniently happened to be right in their path. Time to abandon ship, ya’ll. Grimsby and Eric are being lowered down to the ocean’s surface when Eric notices that Max is trapped on the deck, fire and falling debris slowly closing in around him. Since this is a kids’ movie, nothing bad is allowed to happen to the dog, so Eric rushes back into the fray to rescue him. He picks up his beloved pooch in his strong, muscular arms and heads back towards the life boat, but just before reaching the gangway, his boot crashes through the wooden deck. Luckily, the inertia of his fall is enough to launch Max over the side of the boat and into the ocean below, where he is promptly rescued by Grimsby. Eric is desperately trying to wrestle his foot out of the hole when the camera throws us to a scene below decks, in which a very fast-moving fire is making its way towards a very large stockpile of gunpowder. Things do not look good for our intrepid Prince. Will? He? Escape?!
Grimsby and Max look on in horror as the ship is engulfed in flames and begins to sink, and there is no sign of the Prince of Hotness. Little do they know, Ariel is already on the move, searching the sinking wreck even as it plummets to the ocean floor. It isn’t long before she spots the Prince, barely conscious, hanging on to a piece of debris floating in the water. Right before he blacks out and slides beneath the surface, Ariel grabs his large, muscled frame and slowly paddles her way towards shore.
Sunrise, on the beach. Ariel has somehow managed to lug Eric’s thick, well-proportioned body safely onto the sand, but he has yet to revive. She gazes into his chiseled face, scared to think that he might be dead. Scuttle arrives on the scene just in time to be completely unhelpful by putting his ear to the arch of Eric’s foot and pronouncing that he can’t hear a heartbeat. It doesn’t matter, though, because Eric has clearly been breathing the whole time, much to Ariel’s relief. In fact, she’s so happy, she launches straight into a Part of Your World reprise, and Eric slowly opens his salt-crusted, yet still sultry, eyes to the glorious sound of her voice.
Before Eric and Ariel can get properly acquainted, however, Max comes bounding onto the scene from around a bend on the beach, accompanied by a damp and broke-down Grimsby. Ariel is able to slide, or crawl, or slither… whatever mermaids do… back into the water before Grimsby sees her, but Max doesn’t miss anything. Unfortunately, Eric is still too groggy and out of it to remember what exactly happened, but Grimsby dismisses Eric’s tales of rescue and pretty girls in seashell bikinis as the rantings of a recently traumatized sailor, and helps him to his feet to go home.
Only a short distance away, though, Ariel is watching from her perch on a rock just off the beach. And as Eric starts walking back to his Palace, supported by his manservant, she vows then and there, with the help of another Part of Your World reprise, that not only will she be a part of his world one day, she will also totally marry him. Frankly, it sounds like a threat.
But Ariel isn’t the only one stalking someone of a different species. This whole time, Ursula’s pet eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, have been closely monitoring all of her activities. This is sort of hard to explain, but each eel has a yellow eye that, when side by side, projects whatever they are seeing straight to Ursula’s lair, where the image shows up in her magic bubble, which can best be described as a sea witch’s version of a crystal ball. It looks a lot cooler than it sounds. Anyway, Ursula, back in her cave, is watching Ariel sing the same song for the third time, and she is just overjoyed at all of it. She sees the perfect opportunity to drive a wedge between Ariel and her father. Even more delightful, it should be really easy, since Ariel is clearly a big moron, as people in love tend to be.
The next morning, Ariel is flitting about the castle like a horny school-girl, and her good attitude must be rare indeed, because everyone, including her judgmental father, notices her bright and shiny mood. He’s so taken aback, in fact, that he actually addresses Ariel’s sisters, whom up to this point haven’t even had any lines other than to sing their names. When he asks what might be up with her, one of them chimes in with, “Isn’t it obvious, Daddy? Ariel’s in love.” Triton, who is strangely unreceptive considering he has, like, fifty daughters, is surprised… and then intrigued.
Meanwhile, Sebastian is having fits about what went down the other day. Not only did his charge make an appearance at the surface, but she also rescued a human. And then she had the audacity to fall in love with him and his olive skin and well-defined jaw. While he paces back and forth trying to decide what to do, Ariel is still musing and daydreaming about her illicit meeting with the Prince. Irritated by her miscalculation of the situation, Sebastian decides that it’s time to set her straight. Cue the big production number!
Under the Sea, one of the greatest songs from a Disney movie ever, is a love letter to underwater living. In less than three minutes, Sebastian counts down everything that is awesome about living in the ocean, and throws a couple of jabs at the human world, just for balance. You know, though, even as a kid, I often wondered about something. Part of Sebastian’s argument in this song is the idea that humans eat fish, and therefore can’t be trusted. But, does that mean mermaids are vegetarians? I mean, I like greens as much as the next person, but one can’t live on seaweed alone. And, seriously, King Triton is way too ripped to subsist solely on algae. All I’m saying is, these mermaids have to be eating fish, too, so there’s no point in demonizing humans just because they enjoy the occasional she-crab soup. Sebastian shouldn’t knock it ‘til he’s tried it.
You might have been too busy getting your groove on during the video to notice, but just as Sebastian is revving the song up for the big finale, Flounder appears, whispers something in Ariel’s ear, and the two of the casually leave the scene. Sebastian doesn’t notice she’s gone until the fantastic final zinger, but her conspicuous absence does provide him the opportunity to deliver probably the best line in the movie: “Somebody’s got to nail that girl’s fins to the floor.” Oh, I laughed and laughed. Sebastian is such a card.
The light-heartedness is short lived, however, because just then, a page appears, beckoning Sebastian back to court. The Sea-King needs to see him… about Ariel. And since he’s a paranoid crab, Sebastian immediately assumes that the King has found out everything. We’re taken back to the Palace, where Triton is grilling Sebastian about Ariel’s odd behavior as of late. The King has taken that whole ‘Ariel’s in love’ thing and run away with it in a big way, and he is convinced Sebastian knows who the lucky Merman might be. Sebastian is doing pretty well keeping his mouth shut, but then Triton starts poking him with that Trident of his and it’s all over.
Sebastian sings like a bird, and Triton’s face gets all dark and menacing… and kind of sexy… again.
Elsewhere, Ariel is trailing an excited Flounder to her Secret Stash where, apparently, a surprise is waiting. As they enter, Ariel’s eyes alight on the bronze statue of Eric which we previously thought had sank to the bottom of the sea where it belonged. Somehow, not only has Flounder found it, but he’s also managed to get it to and into Ariel’s Cave of Illegal Human Paraphernalia. I guess it doesn’t matter how he accomplished all of this without being spotted, or how he accomplished it all by himself for that matter, but we’ll just assume he rented a U-Haul and let it go. Ariel is thrilled by her little present, and immediately begins to talk to it and flirt with it and I bet if we stayed around much longer she would start to make out with it. I probably would, too.
Get a Room!
Ariel is wildly celebrating the newest piece of her collection when, in mid-yeehaw, she turns around and sees… her father. One can only imagine what he must be feeling at a time like this, catching his youngest daughter feeling up on a statue of a human, surrounded by all the trappings of a violent, heathen race he doesn’t trust, the evidence of her secret life staring at him from every corner. Like a lot of dads I know, Triton begins to do that whole overreaction thing, and Ariel can’t get a word in edge wise. She’s so beside herself, in fact, that she blurts out, “Daddy, I love him.” I speak from experience; nothing good can come of that. It’s the oldest story in the world… mermaid meets human, father doesn’t approve of humans in general, mermaid falls in love with human despite all cultural mores, father gets belligerent and throws out all of mermaid’s stuff.
After she outs herself, everyone in the room ducks and covers as Triton whips out his trident, cocks it like a shotgun, and blows up everything in the Cavern of Teenage Nonconformity, including the bronze likeness of the Prince of Hotness. All that’s left is a small chunk of his face. Ariel cries and cries. Triton, not wholly without feeling, takes one look back as he exits the cave, his inner struggle playing out in his eyes. He’s not a monster, really; he just doesn’t understand the whole mermaid/human thing… it’s unnatural and against the law, and the Church of Mermanism takes a very strong stance against it. Even though he knows he just destroyed everything his daughter loves, he’s still convinced it’s for her own good.
Back inside, Ariel is inconsolable, and Flounder and Sebastian leave so she can have her space. Moments later, two voices float in between Ariel’s sobs. It’s Flotsam and Jetsam, here to comfort her. They soothe her with words of understanding and empathy and explain that they’ve come with a message of hope. They represent Ursula the sea-witch, who promises a solution to her little problems. At first, Ariel is apprehensive - Ursula has a bad reputation after all – so she declines. But when the eels turn to leave, it’s clear her anger towards her father and her situation are clouding her already cloudy mind. She cradles the leftover chunk of The Prince’s face to her bosom, and agrees to go with the eels.
Outside, Sebastian and Flounder are dejectedly making their way back to the Palace when they spot Ariel swimming away above them, escorted by Ursula’s hench-eels. Sebastian attempts to intercede, but quickly gets shut down by Ariel, who is clearly in an irrational, self-destructive, stubborn kind of headspace, and therefore completely uninterested in his assessment of her current situation. Since they can’t stop her, Flounder and Sebastian decide to follow her to see Ursula.
Ursula’s lair is deep inside the skeleton of a huge prehistoric beast, which is obviously situated in a less than wholesome part of town. As Ariel swims through the entryway, creepy looking brown things with tortured eyes stretch and grab at her from all sides. It looks like Ariel is finally coming to her senses, but just as it seems she might turn and leave, Ursula’s voice wafts up from the depths, beckoning her further. What follows is my favorite Disney song EVER… do enjoy.
Ok, let’s review. Girlfriend has three days as a human. Before the sun sets on the third day, the Prince has to kiss her. Not some drunken, frat-party kiss… but the kiss of true love. If he does kiss her, she will remain a human forever. If he doesn’t, she’ll turn back into a mermaid and become one of Ursula’s stuffed trophies. Oh, and Ariel must trade her voice in exchange for human legs, rendering her a mute. I know that Ursula is supposed to be this huge, nasty villain, but can anyone spite her for all of this when Ariel is such a sucker? And how lucky is Ariel that Sebastian and Flounder followed her to Ursula’s lair, especially after she was such a smart ass?
Meanwhile, on dry land, Eric is wandering around the beach near his Palace, mindlessly playing the Part of Your World reprise on his flute while Max plays in the sand. He hasn’t forgotten that strange girl with the unnaturally red hair and purple she-shell bikini top that woke him up on the beach, but he’s been searching for her everywhere… with no luck. But he doesn’t plan on giving up. In fact, he seems sort of obsessed, or fixated on her. Well, at least we know they have something in common. I wonder if he has a Room of Irrational Fixations in his Palace?
Just a few curves of the beach over, we wash up on the shore with Sebastian, Flounder, Ariel, and Ariel’s new legs. While Ariel tests her new appendages, rather unsuccessfully, Sebastian contemplates his next move. Of course, going straight to Triton would be the best thing to do, if he’s taking this whole chaperone thing seriously, but he is powerless against Ariel’s sad eyes and pouty lips, so he decides to gamble with everyone’s lives by helping her find the Prince. And then Scuttle shows up again. While Scuttle has been 100% worthless up to this point, he knows enough about humanity to know that Ariel can’t just walk into town wearing only a sea-shell bikini top, although… that would get the Prince’s attention, I’m sure. Luckily, there’s a piece of sail and some rope available from a recent ship wreck, so the gang gets to work designing a refugee evening gown so Ariel can meet the Prince, you know… not nude.
Don't Bore Nina!! Make it work!!
Serendipity-do-dah-day, just as Ariel is decent in her couture canvas sack, who should show up but Max, followed closely by the Prince of Hotness. Max recognizes Ariel immediately, and gives her a juicy wet one – mmm… salty – and Eric seems to recognize her, too. He doesn’t remember everything about waking up on the beach after the storm, but he does remember a mysterious red-haired chick singing in his face (wouldn’t you?), and this girl in front of him does look awfully familiar. Suddenly, everything clicks and he realizes this must the same girl that woke him up with a Part of Your World reprise, and she wasn’t imaginary, and he isn’t crazy, and he’s finally found the person he’s destined to be with, and he’s really happy and excited about everything, and then… Ariel opens her mouth to speak. Nevermind. The girl Eric loves is an amazing singer… this one is just a pretty girl wrapped in a sail washed up on a beach accompanied by a crab, a seagull, and a nervous looking fish. Eric assumes she must have survived some sort of ocean crisis, and since he’s just as nice as he is studly, he decides to take her with him back to the castle. Sebastian stows away in the folds of her evening gown.
At the Palace of Hotness, Ariel, who has apparently mastered walking, gets a crash course in human existence, namely soap, clothes, and awkward dinner parties. She appears for dinner with the Prince in a voluminous, pink frock which, combined with her unnaturally red hair, totally washes her out and makes her look like a fruity dessert. The Prince, however, seems to like it. I’m at a loss to explain why the Prince and his staff would be so eager to entertain some random girl who washed up on the beach… I mean, hospitality is a wonderful thing, but they don’t even KNOW her. They aren’t even put off when she picks up the salad fork and starts brushing her hair with it. Somehow, her odd behavior is shrugged off as cute and endearing, but I would be backing away slowly.
Meanwhile, the Palace Help are busy laundering Ariel’s “clothes” with Sebastian still hidden in the creases. He spends a funny little montage trying to avoid detection, which is a very good thing, because if the palace domestics were observant at all, they would have noticed that the Prince’s new love interest clearly has a nasty case of crabs, which would not make Sebastian’s job of getting the Prince to kiss her any easier. Eventually, he’s flung claw over claw into an open window of the castle, right into the kitchens, where a delightfully accented French chef is hard at work fixing dinner for the Prince and his guest. Commence with the comic relief!
I particularly love how the chef is subtly sadistic towards the food, which fits in so well with the “humans are barbaric” theory so prevalent among the ocean-dwellers. I suppose we probably are.
Aaaaaaand now I’m hungry.
Back in the dining room, Ariel is still humiliating herself, which is enough to convince her hosts that she has character. Grimsby suggests that the Prince take this stranger out for a day in the city to show her the sights. Even though I find it hard to believe Eric has nothing in his day-planner, being the Prince of Hotness and all, he concedes and seems genuinely excited to spend the day with what’s-her-face. And we can breathe a sigh of relief… Sebastian has managed to escape the psychotic chef by hiding out on one of the dinner plates. He scoots off of Grimsby’s plate and onto Ariel’s and is thus reunited with his ward.
Later that evening, Ariel and Sebastian strategize for the next day. She and the Prince had quite an interlude over dinner, it would seem. And thanks to Grimsby’s gentle, yet firm, pushing, Eric seems to be open to the idea of courting her, even though he’s still very much intent on finding and marryinghis red-headed sea savior. So at this point, Ariel is nothing more than a distraction, and how could she not be? Her hair is SO unnaturally red! She could do air traffic control with that coif.
Meanwhile, Triton has declared a state of emergency throughout the entire Mer-Kingdom, and all the little seahorses are out searching for Ariel and Sebastian. It seems he’s starting to regret his little display of intolerance and narrow-mindedness.
The next day, Eric and Ariel go on their little date. They take in a puppet show, some dancing, some shopping, all the usual stuff, and Ariel is having the time of her life. I get the feeling that Eric is just being polite, though. He’s a gentleman, I’ll give him that. When I was a kid, I thought this whole sequence was just magical and heartwarming, but now that I’m a little more worldly… I have questions. It has been implied that Eric is under some pressure to pick a bride, and up to this point he’s been waffling. Based on his almost immediate emotional investment in Ariel, I have to assume that he’s at least interested in her, but… are there no other girls in this kingdom? Has he really exhausted all of his options? I mean, is Ariel that pretty? I suppose he’s still holding on to his vague recollection of her from his rescue, but I still have issues with how quickly this courtship is moving. And if there’s so much pressure, why would Grimsby be so pushy about hooking Eric up with Ariel - some random, ship-wreck victim who appeared out of nowhere? My theory is: Grimsby is secretly in love with Eric and has been sabotaging every other girl in the kingdom, and the only reason he’s cool with this new girl is because he knows she can’t scream when he locks her up in the basement later.
Sunset is approaching, and the date is still going well, but there has been no kissing. Since the end of day two is approaching, Sebastian is getting restless. As Eric and Ariel began a boat-ride through the marshes, he decides it’s time to pull out all the stops. With the help of all sorts of vocally proficient wild-life, Sebastian croons a serenade to get these two kids on their way to first base. But no further. This is Disney.
Not only is this a great introduction to basic songwriting (percussion, strings, winds… words), but some headway is made on the budding relationship. Thanks to some subliminal action from Sebastian, Eric now knows Ariel’s name, which is a blessing because the whole thing was starting to get a little creepy. Too bad those eels had to ruin it, but score one for Ursula, I guess. If I’m being honest, I thought it was totally fair. I mean, Ariel had an entire nature preserve working for her there for a second; you can’t blame Ursula for evening things out. But Ursula does realize that she underestimated Ariel and her posse, so she decides she needs to play her hand. We watch as she turns herself into a buxom brunette armed with Ariel’s enchanting voice.
Later that night back at Hotness Palace, Eric is outside brooding and playing Part of Your World on his flute to remind us again that he does indeed remember that moment on the beach and is still fixated on the mysterious girl who saved him. Grimsby comes out and says something along the lines of, “Quit fantasizing and go propose to that girl up there. Sure, she’s combing her hair with cutlery, but eccentricity is a great quality in a girl.” And Eric is totally about to do it, but then he hears something. It’s that voice… that beautiful voice that has haunted his dreams. He runs over to the parapet to look down towards the beach. A woman appears out of the fog, in slow motion, the wind pulling elegantly at her gown. As she sings, the shell amulet around her neck begins to glow, and a golden mist begins to unwind from it and move towards him. The mist, which I’m assuming is the visual manifestation of Ursula’s (Ariel’s) voice, surrounds him and penetrates his eyes, turning him into a zombie, hypnotized by vocal exercises.
The next morning, Scuttle comes barreling into Ariel’s window with big news. Word on the street is the Prince has found a bride and is marrying her today. Ariel, who must not understand how these things work, thinks it must be her so she grins and preens and runs out of the room to meet her public. She’s stopped cold, though, when she sees Eric and another woman talking to Grimsby in the foyer. Eric, like a robot, tells Grimsby that he wants to be married this very day… before sunset. The Lady Ursula spots Ariel and gives her a sneer, which clearly says, “Checkmate.” Ariel is beside herself and flees the scene.
Grimsby: “No, seriously, dude… what’s with you and chicks that wash up on the beach?”
Later that night, the Royal Wedding Barge is taxiing out of the harbor, leaving Ariel all sad and forlorn on the docks. While Sebastian dreads the idea of telling all of this to Triton, Ariel is clearly contemplating her broken heart. She should be contemplating her impending doom at the hands of a giant, talking octopus, but hey… love has a way of overwhelming good sense. Scuttle, meanwhile, is obliviously following the Royal Barge out to sea when he hears a familiar voice echoing from one of the cabins of the ship. When he swoops down to investigate, he spots the Prince’s bride-to-be in a frenzy of villainy, singing a Poor Unfortunate Souls reprise. She adjusts her dressing mirror to stare at herself, and the reflection is that of Ursula, so Scuttle flies like the wind back to the docks to tell Ariel. Thus begins Scuttle’s errand of redemption to make up for how unbelievably unhelpful he’s been this entire movie.
At the docks, Scuttle breaks the news that, “The Prince… is marrying… the Sea-Witch…in disquise!” and the group makes a plan. Sebastian is going to get King Triton, Scuttle will round up the gang from the Wildlife Nature Preserve so they can attack the boat and stall the wedding, and Flounder will pull Ariel to the ship. Ok, seriously! Ariel is an expert on walking only five minutes after having legs, but she can’t remember how to swim? Oh well, I suppose if Flounder can heave a bronze statue of Prince Eric God-knows-how-far to the Cave of Adolescent Confusion, this should be cake.
Thanks to a very slow-reading, strangely aroused minister, the ceremony is only just starting when Scuttle arrives with his muster of marsh-dwellers. All manner of creatures descend on the boat, breaking up the wedding party and causing all sorts of mayhem.
I hate it when that happens
The Lady Ursula takes quite a beating, giving Ariel enough time to climb aboard the ship. Damn… Flounder is fast! In the background, the sun is getting dangerously low as Ariel’s deadline approaches, and Scuttle is doing everything he can to distract Ursula from it. He dives at her face, trying to disengage the shell containing Ariel’s voice from around her neck. Despite having Lady Ursula’s mannish hands clasped firmly around his neck, he manages to slip a foot into the chain holding the shell, and with the help of a well-timed bite on Ursula’s ass from Max, Scuttle snaps the chain. The shell flies across the boat and crashes at Ariel’s feet. Her voice, again in the form of a golden mist, starts doing some more vocal exercises, but quickly reconnects with Ariel’s throat, breaking the spell on Eric.
Eric: “Wait… what… what’s going on? I don’t even like calamari!”
He clears his head and looks around dumbly, but then he sees Ariel and… she’s talking. They embrace as he realizes that Ariel was the same girl that rescued him all along, and just as they are about to kiss, the sun sinks gently into the western waters.
Having come juuuust short, Ariel slinks down to the decks, her tail unfolding from her skirts just as Ursula’s human form tears apart to reveal her tentacles and shock of white hair. Ursula crawls on her hands towards Ariel, grabs her violently, and dives overboard, leaving Eric not a little bit bewildered.
As Ariel struggles, Ursula drags her down into the depths. Ursula is in the middle of reminding Ariel of the terms of their agreement when she walks right into the path of a very large, very in charge King Triton, with Sebastian nestled on his shoulder. King Triton demands Ariel’s release with much authority and much sexy, but Ursula has the contract, and even the King doesn’t have the power to break it --- not even with that trident of his. With Ariel screaming apologies in the background, Triton does the only thing he can, which is sacrifice himself, which is exactly what Ursula had in mind. In a flash, Ursula presents a new contract stipulating an exchange…Triton’s life in exchange for Ariel’s freedom. Sebastian and Ariel look on helplessly as Triton signs. Ursula wastes no time before turning him into one of her pathetic, brown, sad-eyed drones. Then, she picks up his crown and trident and proclaims herself the new Queen of the Ocean.
In a red-haired rage, Ariel leaps at Ursula, only to be thrown easily to the ocean floor. Ursula threatens Ariel dramatically with the trident, but then a spear flies out of nowhere and nicks her in the arm. Looking around, she sees the Prince of Hotness making his way back up to the surface. She sics her eels upon him, and they quickly grab him and drag him deeper into the water. Ursula is taking aim with the trident to dispatch our dear Prince, but before she can get a good shot, Ariel grabs her from behind causing Ursula to misfire. The blast of light catches the tails of Flotsam and Jetsam, who explode in a shower of particles. While Ursula mourns the loss of her precious poopsies, Ariel swims up to assist Eric back to his rowboat on the surface. But Ursula, it would seem, has had about enough. She begins to expel massive clouds of ink from her rear and with every angry grunt, she grows in size.
Whatever you do, don’t call her fat.
Up on the surface, the two lovebirds are in a tight embrace. Ariel pleads for Eric to flee, but just as he refuses, they are separated by a spire of gold rising from below. By the time her crown clears the water, Ursula is the size of a mountain, and Ariel and Eric leap from the top of her head and into the rolling ocean. Ursula calls upon her news powers to conjure up a great storm on the ocean, and as the clouds roll in and the waves begin to churn, Eric and Ariel are separated. Ursula traps Ariel in a massive cyclone that extends all the way to the ocean floor, and proceeds to fire murderous balls of light down upon her. But the whirlpool is also disturbing the ancient shipwrecks resting at the bottoms, and slowly, they begin to swirl with the waters’ currents. Soon, the wrecked ships are surfacing and orbiting Ursula’s body, and Eric has managed to wrestle his way on board one of them. The ship he has commandeered happens to have an intact bowsprit, a sharp spear at the front of the bow. He expertly takes the wheel and maneuvers the boat towards Ursula. The Sea Witch is so fixated on killing Ariel that she doesn’t notice Eric wheeling towards her until it’s too late. The bowsprit penetrates her gut with a sickening finality, and she begins her death throes. Eric dives overboard just before Ursula begins to sink into the boiling waters, wrapping her tentacles around the tool of her destruction as she dies.
Her magic extinguished, King Triton re-materializes, as do all of Ursula’s other prisoners. His trident floats delicately down from above and he catches it, his powers restored. Up on the beach, Eric climbs out of the surf, exhausted. Speaking of exhausted… ME TOO!
The next scene opens on King Triton observing his daughter on her perch near the beach, watching Eric sleep off last night’s adventure. After all that has happened, he finally realizes that Ariel’s feelings for this human are out of his control, and if he prevents her from being with him, she will be unhappy forever. After a little bit of encouragement from Sebastian, he points his trident in Ariel’s direction. The water gets all sparkly and glowing and when it reaches Ariel, she looks down and sees her body being transformed.
Eric is slowly reviving on the beach, and when he opens his eyes, he sees Ariel walking out of the water in the only flattering outfit she’s been in for the entire movie. They run to each other, look into each other’s eyes, and finally… they kiss.
Flash forward to wedding bells. Ariel is wearing a massive marshmallow of a wedding gown, which is just heinous, even if it is just a drawing. Meanwhile, Eric looks positively scrumptious in his uniform. After the ceremony, Ariel shares a moment with her father as the rest of her people look on from the water. It appears Triton has finally accepted this whole human/mermaid pairing, and he even seems happy about it… but probably only because Ariel seems so happy. As a sign of his blessing, he reaches up and paints a rainbow across the sky, and everyone cries and laughs and cries some more.
A rainbow? Really? I rest my case!
It’s a happy ending, ya’ll. You know how I know? I can hear Part of Your World… again, for the fourth time, except this time, there are screeching sopranos. Nothing says ‘Happily Ever After’ like screeching sopranos.
Questions for Discussion
1. I think I’ve made a thinly-veiled, yet quite convincing, argument that The Little Mermaid is actually an extended metaphor for coming out of the closet. My question is: did this movie make me gay?
2. More importantly, did this movie make you gay? If so, WELCOME! And please accept this heartfelt “I told you so” from the Southern Baptist Convention. If not, how, praytell, did your hetero-ness remain intact? Explain your answer.
3. Who is your favorite character? And don’t say Scuttle.
4. What’s your theory as to why Eric has been unsuccessful in his attempts to pick a bride before meeting Ariel? Is it something as simple and goofy as destiny? Do you believe in that crap?
5. Is Ursula really evil, or just misunderstood? What went down in the Mer-Kingdom that resulted in her expulsion? Personally, I think she got embroiled in a nasty sex scandal involving a cop, a bathroom stall, and very vague Entrapment Laws. Now you…
6. Do you think Ariel would have been more well-adjusted and content, and thus less likely to spit in the face of her people’s laws and customs, if she had formed better relationships with the other mermaids in pre-school? You know, as opposed to hanging out with juvenile yellow fish, up-and-coming court composers, and mentally deficient sea-fowl?
7. Do you think Eric’s subjects are freaked out by the fact that their beloved Prince almost married a giant octopus-woman, only to end up married to a former fish-girl?
8. Did reading this post make you want to run and watch this movie immediately, or did I just ruin it for you forever?