SLast week, Sadie made the case for Sleeping Beauty, a classic Disney film that, while having its drawbacks in terms of presenting feminist ideals to little girls, still stands the test of time as a fairly harmless piece of children's entertainment. While I agree with Sadie, especially about the fact that we need to give little girls "credit for intelligence and good sense", there is one Disney film that does not sit right with me, and I think it warrants a proper discussion. While Sleeping Beauty may be off the hook, I'm afraid there's a certain mermaid who isn't.The last time I watched The Little Mermaid was about a year ago, with my then 4-year old niece. She adored it, and why wouldn't she? It's a colorful, sing-songy tale about a mermaid who makes her dreams come true. And though I was a huge fan of the film as a child, I was pretty horrified with the story unfolding on screen. Our heroine, Ariel, all decked out in a shell-bra ensemble that would make Bai Ling blush, rapidly changes as the film progresses: when the story begins, she is a bold adventurer, defying her father's rules to satisfy her own desire to learn and explore. As soon as she meets Prince Eric, however, Ariel becomes another woman entirely, someone who is willing to give up everything she knows, everything she is, and perhaps most strikingly, her own voice and body to be with the man she loves. Voiceless and barely able to stand on her new legs, Ariel pursues her Prince using only her bashful grins and some wacky trickery whipped up by her friends, a crab named Sebastian and a fish named Flounder. She has no voice of her own: that was the trade off, remember, and so she must rely on appearances to get what she wants. Not so good, Disney. Not so good. And who is the villain in this story? Why, it's Ursula, of course, a single, powerful woman who lives in a cave below the sea. Ursula despises love, but recognizes that she can get what she wants from those who are in it. Ursula is overweight, unattractive, and bitter. Because any woman who has power, lives alone, and is a threat to the king of the sea is probably an ugly old sea witch, yeah? In the end, Ariel gets what she wants: Ursula is defeated, Ariel's voice is restored, her father allows her to continue living as a human by giving her the gift of legs, and she lives happily ever after. Of course, she has to leave her identity, her home, her family, and her friends behind in order to do this, but hey, she got the Prince, right? And really, isn't that what matters? Am I over-thinking this film? Most likely. Is The Little Mermaid harmless? Probably. I watched it a million times as a kid, and I certainly don't consider myself to be a brainwashed Disney Princess. But it's hard to deny that there are some messages in these films that don't feel quite right. I highly doubt any 4 year old is going to stand up and yell, "Sexist bullcorn!" at the screen as Ariel sails off into the sunset, but in a culture where 5 year olds, 15 year olds, and yes, even 35 year olds are walking around wearing Princess t-shirts, it might be worth questioning how detrimental princess tales are to little girls. Again, as Sadie noted, we need to give little girls a little credit- they know the difference between fantasy and reality. But it's also important to ensure that they have other heroes in their lives, girls who do not seek a prince or a crown or a spell to save them, but a voice of their own, a voice that, under any circumstance, they will never choose to give up.
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