I have to admit, I have never been exposed to any version of The Little Mermaid, other than Disney’s film version of the fairytale. With that being said, reading Andersen’s version for the first time really opened my eyes to the hidden, covered-up messages that the original fairytale tries to portray. Obviously, the two are completely different in the message they are trying to get across to readers in more ways than one, as well as in the way they portray the little mermaid, or Ariel, per the Disney film. I feel the changes in Ariel’s character and the messages each side wants to convey is problematic in the sense of losing its primary purpose for readers to take away after engaging with the text, and I feel that the Disney-fied version of the fairytale strips away from its originality as in Andersen’s version, as well being seen as a detrimental moral for young girls to feed into as they mature into young adults. I also believe that Disney’s version casts a very important message to viewers/readers of all ages.
First and foremost, a problem that I have always had (well, atleast now that I can make sense of what is really happening in Disney’s Little Mermaid film) is the fact that the Disney version is detrimental to girls. In Disney’s version, Ariel trades her voice for legs so she can explore the land and capture her prince. From my perspective, this is telling girls that their opinions/voices don’t necessarily matter, and that as long as they have a pretty face and/or good looks that they will be successful in life. While I know that this is completely from personal perspective and was most likely not Disney’s ultimate goal when recreating the fairytale, it should be considered, as there are millions of young children (young girls in particular) who watch this movie on Disney channel and read the Disney version in books.
From a different point of view, Disney’s version really hits on the “stepping out of your comfort zone” mantra and puts an emphasis on branching out into the unknown world to experience new things and become a stronger, independent person. It makes it clear however, that to enter that unknown world, we have to pay a hefty price and learn to endure the changes that come with it. For example, Little Mermaid losing her tail signifies the ability to be functional in your surroundings- a new world, a new lifestyle.
As far as the little mermaid/Ariel’s character, there are quite a few notably different characteristics between the little mermaid and Ariel, first being her age. In Disney, viewers are aware that Ariel is sixteen years old, however in Andersen’s story she is introduced as a nine-year-old girl. We learn that mermen can live up to 300 years of age, yet the King’s daughters must wait until they turn fifteen to visit the surface of the sea. It is interesting that in Andersen’s tale, the little mermaid is obedient and waits for her fifteenth birthday before swimming to the surface, despite her eagerness to see the unknown world above the water. However in Disney’s film, Arial seems to be quite a disobedient princess who travels to the surface of the sea even though her father is telling her that she is not allowed to. Another interesting characteristic in the little mermaid is that her sisters were known for collecting strange items they found from wrecked ships, however the little mermaid was only interested in a “beautiful marble statue” of “a handsome boy carved out of clear white stone”. Whereas in Disney’s film, it is clear that Ariel is quite the collector of items!
My understanding of Andersen’s overall theme in his version closely relates to me personally. After reading his version for the first time, I related it to a quote “There is no love greater than this: A man that lay down his life for his friends.” Little Mermaid’s sacrifice is not accidental; she decided to sacrifice her own life to save the life of the prince (her beloved), and the fact that he does not love her back makes her love even greater. Disney’s Little Mermaid doesn’t necessarily “die” perhaps, however she transforms into a human, almost as if she is reborn into a new eternal life as a human, rather than a mermaid. These two versions of this fairytale are endlessly interesting to compare and contrast. It is truly intriguing to see the same story portrayed in such differentiating ways; from the characteristics of the little mermaid/Ariel, to the moral of the story, to the endings. Who knew that a fairytale story could be altered and pertain and portray to many different messages for readers of so many different ages.
- Andersen, H. C. (1837). The Little Mermaid. Retrieved from https://www.andersenstories.com/en/little-mermaid
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