Geek Girl Rant #42

I sometimes rant about pointless things (this is not new). Today’s target? The pointless Disney memes circulating the internet decrying all Disney movies for depicting women who transform themselves for men. I’ll grant that Disney movies are far from perfect, especially the older ones. How many of their movies are guilty of the tired old romance tropes? Many. But I’m tired of people ignoring the truth to fit their hand-picked narrative.

When I was a kid, my favourite move was The Little Mermaid. It has a bad reputation because the plot involves the main character changing her appearance for love. I’ll coincide it’s a glaringly obvious plot point. But I’m sick of Ariel being labelled a bad role model because she pursued her dreams. The people pointing fingers at The Little Mermaid seem to have overlooked another important part of the plot.

Ariel was obsessed with humans.

The movie opens with her plumbing the depths of a sunken ship, looking for any sign of human civilization. And what does she do with these precious treasures? She adds them to her hoard; a giant grotto of shelves lined with everything human that’s ever reached the sea bottom in her vicinity. She has a chest full of screws. Paintings, photographs, silverware. She regularly swims to the surface to speak to a bird in order to identify all these lost treasures (however incorrectly).

Ariel wanted to meet humans long before she saw Prince Eric. She positioned herself on the side of his ship for that specific reason; to get a glimpse of living humans. Here’s a girl that probably wanted to walk on land for as long as she could remember. She obviously constructed fantasies of what the world above would be like. Eric was just an excuse. After meeting a walking, talking human, why wouldn’t she want to go back? She’d been dreaming of the shore forever. Talking to the prince again was just the catalyst.

People assume that Ariel changed herself for Eric, so that he would fall in love with her. I’m not so sure. Given the evidence, I think Ariel wanted to be human for a long time. Maybe she did make a rash decision for the possibility of a meaningful relationship, but only because she’d been wishing and hoping for this chance for such a long time. In fact, if you probe a bit deeper, I’m sure you can see why this movie is still relevant today.

Ariel was unhappy with the body she was born into. It had fins, but she wanted legs. She was a mermaid who so desperately wanted to be human, she was willing to undertake a dangerous procedure to fulfill her dreams. Everyone tried to convince her she was wrong to want anything to do with humans; it’s better, they insisted, down where it’s wetter, but Ariel was having none of that. She wanted to walk on dry land and no one, not even the sea king, was going to stand in her way.

Am I reading too much into this scenario? Well of course I am, it’s a Disney movie, for crying out loud. But a pretty decent one, I think, considering it’s based on a tragic romance in which the protagonist kills herself rather than the prince who failed to fall for her. (I mean, have you read the original?) Let’s not forget that every Disney movie ends with true love, even if it’s totally unrelated to the rest of the plot (I’m looking at you Mulan). That’s pretty much the theme. Isn’t it possible that Ariel’s dream was to be human and romance was just a happy side effect of achieving her goal?

To borrow the popular vernacular, maybe it’s time we stopped shaming Ariel for the choices she made with her body. If she wanted to change, she had every right to do so, and no one had a right to judge her. After all, it was perfectly reasonable when her daughter wanted to return to the ocean and there wasn’t a prince involved.

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