The Little Mermaid

1989 Disney cartoon

Rating: 14/20 (Jen: 18/20; Abbey: 19/20; Sophie: ?/20)

Plot: Spoiled, whiny, horny teenage mermaid Ariel has an obsession with the human world, especially after saving the life of a hunky but otherwise nondescript prince, a guy who could very well be the same prince who's in all the other Disney prince and princess movies. And frankly, that makes him a womanizer. Boy, don't try to front. I-I know just-just what you are-are-are. Lollipop, must mistake me--you're the sucker to think I would be a victim not another. But I digress. Ariel's mad at her dad, the king of the ocean, and against the wishes of her Jiminy Lobster, she gets some bippity-boppity-boo help from a maleficent but extremely hot sea witch. She's given temporary legs and has three days to get a smooch from the nondescript prince or the sea witch gets to turn her into a withered piece of poop with eyes. The catch? She doesn't get to use her voice! Oh, snap!

I believe this is regarded as a Disney modern classic, but it's really pretty. . .what's the word? Meeee-diiiii-ocre. It's the Disney people going through the motions. The animation is. . .what's the word? Reeeeeeally flaaaaaat. A possible exception might be the "Under the Sea" sequence, but that musical number really should have been a lot better than it was. I'm not sure there's a single lovable character in this. In fact, they're all kind of. . .how do you say it? Annoyyyyying stock cardboard cut-ooooooouuuuuuts. Ariel is just a cute little bundle of irresponsibility and a really dangerous role-model for little girls. Like most folk tales, the ending of this would have been more satisfying if Ariel was punished for her stupidity. A final scene with Ursula pointing and laughing and the lobster saying, "I tried to warn her, King Triton, but she just wouldn't listen to me, probably because I'm a lobster!" with Ariel turned into a really sorrowful piece of poop with eyes would have been perfect. Ariel was irritating, and I definitely liked the character more after they decided to shut her up for about a half hour. Also irritating: all the sex in this one. I believe this is the movie where Disney animators gave one of the human characters an erection. That's disturbing if you notice it, but the thinly-veiled references to sex are especially bothersome. This is really a movie about the sexual awakening of a young girl. Phallic sharks attack her, and it's hard to ignore the subtext there. Then she falls in love with Prince Handsome. Why? Well, she sees him, first from far off and then up close. It's all physical with Ariel. I can't remember if the line "I want to jump his bones, Scuttle" is actually in the movie or not, but it might as well have been. She loses her fins, gets herself a vagina (not sure if mermaids have those), and longs for sexy time with her man. There's some weird sexual tension going on with Ursula and Triton, too, and I'm not sure what that's all about. I'm sure if a Little Mermaid prequel was ever made (No, Disney people, I am not asking for this!), you'd find out that Triton and Ursula used to be an item back in fish college or something. Ursula is one of Disney's lamer baddies, by the way, but she does get the best song in the movie. Ariel's "What's the Word?" song makes me sick to my stomach. I've not thought about this from a feminist perspective, but it seems they'd have a problem with one of the movie's messages--women should just shut up and be there to look pretty. It's really a shame that the great Buddy Hackett ended his movie career voicing Scuttle, actually in the sequel to this, a movie that I can almost guarantee will never be on this blog.



cory said...

Well I don't know what got you all pissy, but you are being WAY too hard on this film (in a fairly funny way, I admit). Yeah, I'm an animation homer, and yeah, I once again find myself defending one to my friends, but this is a very good film that was also the beginning of a film revolution and should get extra credit (call it Snow White bonus points).

Go back to 1988. Besides being more importantly the year I finished school, it also was a time when animated movies were mediocre second-class film citizens. "Mermaid's" combining Broadway style songs with edgier storylines paved the way for "Beauty and the Beast" and the later Pixar revolution (and let's not forget all those Dreamworks films you love). If "Mermaid" bombed, maybe none of the other stuff happens or is as great.

Enough film-history schooling. "Mermaid" succeeds because it has great characters...lovable, evil, and flawed daddy-types. Sure, Eric is kind of cookie-cutter until his heroism at the end, but this Disney is typically all about the Princess and her cohorts. Do you punish "Cinderella" for its white-bread Prince? Ursula was a great villian. She looks evil, has a smoker's raspy voice (how does that happen underwater?), and gets to sing a bad-ass song...and she steals freakin' souls for yucks! And she also plays with eels!

The songs are also great beyond Ursula's. They are funny, drive the story lines, and are well voiced. The animation isn't "Nemo" but it's better than any previous animated film set almost entirely underwater because there were no previous animated films set almost entirely underwater.

As far as sexual subtext, I have never really noticed it because I never really looked for it. Hormone-driven teenage girls (and mermaids) looking to satiate their confusing newfound lust is a fine bit of realism to include, as long as it remains subtextual (is that a word?). It's nice that Disney adds something for the perv demographic as well. If you want PC you should stick to Veggie Tales.

Now let's get to what got me fired up in the first place: a 13. You just gave "Despicable Me" a 14. That piece of unfunny, uncreative, pandering, cutesy, unimportant, manipulative piece of animated blandness can't hold Triton's ...well, uh, triton. This might be a mood thing. You might just be pushing buttons, or you might unfathomably think "Despicable Me" is a better film. If it is the latter, I just don't know what else to say. "The Little Mermaid" gets a 16 from me.

cory said...

Sorry, meant trident.

Shane said...

Yeah, maybe I do like Ursula...the other characters? No, there's not a single lovable one in the bunch.

And don't get me wrong--I am part of the perv demographic. It's a lot for a kiddie flick though. More disturbing than the sex is the bad role model that Ariel is...

I just don't like the look of this movie at all. 'Fantasia' looks better and it was made almost 50 years earlier.

And re: the historical importance--I don't really care for many of the Disney 2D animated features that came after this. Tarzan, Mulan, and (maybe) The Lion King are ok. Beauty and the Beast is a solid 14/20. Pocahontas, Hunchback, and Hercules I've only seen enough of to know I'm not really interested in seeing the rest of. And no, I'm not giving 'The Little Mermaid' credit for the success of Dreamworks and Pixar.

The only thing I might regret writing is that Disney was "going through the motions" with this. For better or worse, this was the first of those more theatrical musical animated features. I guess I can give it a 14, but I still think 'Beauty and the Beast' is a slightly better movie.

'Despicable Me' has a respectable 72 at metacritic, a solid 81% at rottentomatoes, and a very high 7.5 at imdb. See? If anything, my rating is too low. 'Despicable Me' is anything but bland...

And for the record, I read "Triton's triton" without giving it a thought.

Barry said...

I am no fan of when animated films are over praised, but even I think you are way too low on your judgement of this flick. As Cory points out, its many times better than Despicable Me, and you gave that one a 14.

Its a 15 to 16 movie, depending on how much you can stomach singing crabs and mermaid pedophilia.

Shane said...

Oh, and if you want to address the unfathomable...let me make sure I have these right:

Your ratings:

Beauty and the Beast: 20/20
Kung-Fu Panda: 18/20
Shrek: 17/20
The Little Mermaid: 16/20
Spirited Away: 16/20 (I put it below 'Mermaid' for you because I'm guessing you like it a little less?)
Ponyo: 15/20
My Neighbor Totoro: 14/20

That you think 'Beauty and the Beast' is 6 points higher than 'Totoro' is bad enough, but putting 'Shrek' and 'Panda' 3 and 4 points ahead of it is ludicrous. Inexcusable even!

Shane said...

I bumped it to a 14, Barry...and if Cory's nice, I might even bump 'Beauty and the Beast' to a 15. Anyway, that can't be considered "way too low" since you guys are only at a 16.

Speaking of singing crabs (wait, he's not a lobster?), my favorite parts of this are probably the ones with the chef and Sebastian. It's a nice distraction from the really dull main plot.

Barry said...

I personally am at a 15 for this movie. I just gave it that 15-16 wiggle room for people, like Cory, that enjoy the shenanigans of underage Mermaids doing the nasty with other species. Hey thats right, we not only have pedophilia but bestiality in this. Woo hoo a cauldron of deviance.

Of course I disliked Spirited Away I loathed Ponyo and have thankfully never seen My Neighbor Tortoro. So I cant be accused of being Cory.

Thats right...I am picking on Cory. Why? Because I always feel like picking on Cory when an animated film is reviewed on here. I blame him for all the animated movies the last 25 years. Its may not be right, or fair, but thats gonna have to be the way it is.

Shane said...

I have a "bestiality" tag actually. I didn't think about using it for this one.

And re: picking on Cory...seems fair enough to me. I won't discourage it.

cory said...

No problem. It's like brushing away irritating gnats.

Oh, and I stand by all of those grades, especially "Totoro".

cory said...

Note: "Field of Dreams" got a 7.6 on IMDB and 88% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. I assume that means you will be revising its 11, then?

As far as "Totoro" goes, I was going to suggest it be your next movie of the month selection, but that would mean I have to watch it again. I guess you are just more comfortable with extreme parental neglect than teenage romance.

Shane said...

Oh, now you're beyond ludicrous...

Extreme parental neglect? The "neglect" in 'Totoro' isn't any grosser than the "neglect" in 'Mermaid'...neither the kids in the great movie or the mermaid in the average one have a mother around, and their fathers just let them run all over the place. The 'Totoro' children are in a much safer environment than Ariel. It's not like they're in downtown Detroit or, even worse, somewhere in the Midwest. Ariel runs off to a place where there are lost souls and seahags. Shouldn't the King of the Ocean know the dangers that are around his family? And yeah, he sent a surrogate to look after her, but what's the crab/lobster supposed to do to control her? Threaten her in an Italian accent?

It's not necessarily the depiction of teenage romance vs. child neglect for adult viewers that I'm worried's the influence on younger viewers. These are family movies, and Ariel is a heroine who runs away from home, ignores her father's explicit instructions, tries to have premarital sex, and repeatedly puts herself in dangerous situations. The kids in 'Totoro'? They explore, use their imagination, care for and try to help others...

Honestly, would you rather your daughters act like Ariel or Satsuke and Mei?

Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, and Imdb can only be used for animated's a rule! People are suckers for non-animated treacle, so of course 'Field of Dreams' is going to be way too high.

I couldn't pick 'Totoro' even if I wanted to because it's on the blog. Oprah Movie Club picks have to be movies that aren't on the blog. It's a rule!

I might look over the Disney animated canon a bit later to see how many of them have parents who could be considered neglectful...I can think of a few right away.

cory said...

I just don't remember an Ariel sex scene. Was it in the director's cut? Ariel's dad is an undersea king and has about 400 daughters... and he did send a babysitter. At least that dad sort of has an excuse. What excuse does the "Totoro" dad have?

I think I'm going to need a complete blog rules list.

Shane said...

Those are the only two blog rules. Until I need more.

'Totoro' dad's wife is ill and they just moved into a new house. And they are in a completely safe area with no sea witches, scary eels, or lost souls.

And you didn't answer my question: 'Totoro' kids or Ariel...who do you think is a better role model for young girls?

cory said...

I refuse to answer on the grounds that I don't care. I watch films to enjoy the troubles others have, not to integrate them somehow into my life. "Totoro" was a good movie that lost steam. "Mermaid" is solid populist entertainment. They are yet another interesting case of the different way in which you and I view movies, though.

Shane said...

You don't have to answer the question. Your reason for not answering it doesn't make any sense though. You don't care? I'm not talking about the influence the movies have on you as an's the influence of young impressionable girls. Of course you care about that!

Check out that list! I have not seen all of these "50 Greatest Animated Films" though, and there are a heaping handful that are making me say, "Huh?" It's an older list, and 'Despicable Me' wasn't around yet. Anyway, I think this is a list about which we can both agree...

cory said...

Well, I certainly don't want my girls contaminated, but I don't see "Mermaid" as a culprit. They see a lot worse on your typical episode of ICarly. I will keep a close eye on them, though.

And I will check out that list. I can't imagine us disagreeing about anything.