A Feminist Review of “The Little Mermaid”

moviesDisney princess films stereotypically represent innocence. Young audiences can easily misunderstand Disney’s interpretation of “strong female characters” as an authentic portrayal of what strong females are and how they should be represented. By examining the film with a feminist lens, which “examines and seeks to address power inequalities whenever they occur with an emphasis on gender”, it is apparent that Ariel, the lead female character in the movie “The Little Mermaid,” falls short of depicting a strong female.

Ariel manipulates her body and chooses to give up her voice (her most “prized possession”) to pursue what she most wants. However, what she wants is a male character (Prince Eric) whom she has never spoken to.

It is difficult to find any sign of a strong female character in Disney movies with actual reason behind her strength. Many Disney princesses cannot stand up for themselves, however “in ‘The Little Mermaid,’ she does defy her father [which means] there is a sense of a more powerful female” (film “Mickey Mouse Monopoly”). Defying her father is a very big step in a patriarchal society, but the reasons behind defying him are not substantial. Ariel “falls in love” with a picture-perfect prince who she literally knows nothing about. Because “romantic comedies concentrate on courtship, the chase, the first moments of intimacy, rather than the daily realities of long-term heterosexual relationships” (article Kirkland, Romantic Comedy), falling in love without knowing someone at all is often overlooked. Young viewers in the audience get the wrong impression a strong female when a woman falls for a man who she has never spoken to and is willing to give up what matters most to her to be with him.

Ariel goes so far as to sacrifice her voice and her family in order to pursue a man she does not know. Her sacrifice may appear strong in a post-feminist manner, but in reality it is far from going beyond feminism. Because she has no way to communicate with Prince Eric, “the only thing she has left to get him [with] is the body” (film Mickey Mouse Monopoly). Ariel uses her body to get a man, and in turn she is another over sexualized lead female character in a movie. The real difference between “The Little Mermaid” and other Hollywood movies that stereotype women is the target audience for the film. Are children supposed to see a woman use her body to get what she wants before they know what an inaccurate portrayal of a strong female is? “Ultimately, she is willing to give up her voice to get the man” (film Mickey Mouse Monopoly), but what is this voicing to the young viewers? Unfortunately, “The Little Mermaid” only shows children that in order to get what you want, you have to sacrifice what you are and be saved in the process. In the end of the movie, Ariel needs to be rescued by the object of her affection in order to live “happily ever after.” How can a strong female be portrayed if she can never save herself?

Young audiences very easily can misunderstand Disney’s interpretation of a strong female character as something that is true, which can be detrimental to a child’s personal growth. “Cinema is taken by feminists to be a cultural practice representing myths about women and femininity, as well as about men and masculinity” (Smelik 491, Feminist Film Theory). When children are only taught myths at a young age, it is very difficult to teach them the truth. It is inappropriate for myths to be taught to young people without contention. Disney’s stereotype of innocence must be contended in order for the truth to be learned by society and its youth.

Fall 2010

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4 thoughts on “A Feminist Review of “The Little Mermaid”

  1. I personally believe Ariel is one of the strongest female characters in Disney’s franchise. Everyone believes that she really changed for a man that she already know, but if you really put attention to the beggining… She’s FASCINATED by the world above the sea, she collects very strange objects and her very own personal song “Part of your world” potrays that very good: “What would I give if I could live out of these waters?, what would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand? Bet’cha on land they understand, bet they don’t reprimand their daughters, bright young women sick of swimmin’…ready to stand!”.

    She really wants to be part of that world! and in that song, she never mentionate a “prince charming”!. I know, “but afterall… she make a deal bla bla bla, true love kiss, bla bla bla… ” i know, but her REAL motivation was that she felt that she belonged there BY ANY PRICE (what would she pay to spend a day warm on the sand: HER VOICE).

    Of course, here’s the part when her father forbid here to go up there.. and, of course, like EVERY TEENAGER.. we won’t do what our parents say and almost every time, we do what they don’t want us to do which is almost what we really want (with our ways wich almost every time is not the best way.. like ariel did ajaja).

    My point is: She got what she ALWAYS wanted… to be part of that world! and at the end her father makes her happy with the legs she wished, and i believe the prince eric is just a (very good) plus.

    “When’s it my turn?
    Wouldn’t I love, love to explore that world up above?
    Out of the sea
    Wish I could be
    Part of that world”

    She got her turn to explore the world she always loved… and earning handsome prince. She’s strong, she defies the “laws of nature” to get what she want… which is not a prince but being part of that world. And i think, she do it in a VERY GOOD WAY (at least for just having 17 years old..)

    Just saying…

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