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