overthinking “The Little Mermaid”

On Saturday, Kiddo#2 asked if we could have a “movie night,” which is one of our family traditions: I make pizzas and we eat in front of the TV on a picnic blanket and watch a movie. We chose “The Little Mermaid,” something I’d seen but the kids and my Patient Husband had never watched.

Thanks to an MA in English and 120 episodes of MST3K, I can’t view a movie without overthinking it. This would be the third time I’d viewed it, so I was able to get the nuances without having to watch for plot. And my first thought was–when the sisters sing at the beginning, and Ariel simply isn’t there for her grand entrance… They knew it.

They set her up for that. If you have ever been involved in any kind of musical production, there’s always some kind of staging area beforehand, and you’re there to warm up, get in costume, run through last-minute instructions, and so on. Sebastian would have been triple-checking everything (given how important he says this was to him) and the sisters would have noticed Ariel was not there.

My opinion: they were tired of her flaking off rehearsals, and when she failed to show up, they decided to make Ariel’s absences into Ariel’s problem and really show her up. Once she failed to appear for a performance, her father would get involved, and they figured he’d rake her over the coals. It’s a little exercise in allowing someone to experience the consequences of her own actions.

My second observation is a little less “overthinking” and more from the gut. When I first saw the film, I was 18, and I related to Ariel’s dilemma. Watching it now, I’m a parent, and I see her more as a bratty, headstrong kid who rushes into something her parents realize isn’t in her best interests. This is the same film–but I’m different.

What parent wouldn’t have reacted badly to the idea that after looking at a guy for about five minutes, her daughter had “fallen in love” with someone potentially dangerous? “Mom, I know he’s a drug dealer, but you have to see him! He’s so good-looking and I love him!” Said after the daughter has been confronted in a secret room full of drug paraphernalia she’s collected whenever she found it on the streets because she finds it fascinating. Yeah, I’d flip out too.

Her father’s over-reaction in destroying everything, plus the fact that Ariel has no self-discipline, tells me that he never consistently disciplined his daughter. His reaction when Sebastian says she needs guidance is to say Sebastian should guide her, not to take her under his wing himself. She looks much younger than her sisters, so we assume she’s spoiled a bit and not groomed for life in the public eye. She wants what she wants. Forbidden fruit is all the sweeter to her. There is no indication in the film that this changes, even after she sees her father pay the price for her impulsivity.

Her father trades his life for hers at the end. I’m deliberately reading too much into it when I say that’s exactly what Jesus did for us, but maybe it’s not too far a stretch. Ariel deserved the consequences of her actions, and so do we. But her father couldn’t stand to lose her forever, so he offered to die for her. The parallels end there, though. It just shows that all of us long for someone to come in and save us when we don’t deserve it. We hunger for mercy.

Of course, now I have the big show-numbers running through my head again (as I did all day yesterday). So pardon me if I walk off humming instead of continuing to overanalyze.


  1. Jason Block

    OK, Phil…try this…
    When I watch Grease, I overanalyze that one too…it’s not all the catchy music and great 50’s music it’s…

    …dont be a good girl to catch the guy you want. If you want the guy you want, you have to be easy and willing to change for him and be a garden tool(you know which one I mean). And not have him change for you. Or accept each other for who you are. Sad, but thats the way I think. 🙂

  2. Ivy

    It almost stands as a traditional changing of the guard story. Ariel comes in with her new ways and new ideas. Her father, representing the old path, has to die so that Ariel, representing the future, can rise.

    Only it falters. Ariel doesn’t direct her kingdom to a better future. She doesn’t stand as the Aristotelian hero who goes out into the strange world, then returns with insight. She doesn’t ascend to the throne, nor would she, nor should she. The archetype is built, and then it collapses.

    I’ll admit I felt bad for the poor guy if only a male heir could succeed him. He tried.

    That story pattern happens a lot in modern fiction, particularly modern fiction aimed at kids. King Vegeta dies, but Prince Vegeta has no throne to inherit. King Vegeta’s biggest fault is siding with Freeza. Vegeta fights Freeza, and would have made the cycle clean if he had laid the death blow. Instead we cycle one generation further and it’s his son, Trunks, who puts that family legacy in its grave.

    We see as a growing theme in Yu-Gi-Oh. Atemu’s father is drenched in sin and the blood of innocents. He asks Ma’at to visit that iniquity on himself alone (a hollow gesture–the Egyptians never understood Ma’at to punish a five year old boy for the acts of his adult father). It is after the old pharaoh dies that Atemu ascends to the throne and sacrifices his life and his afterlife to undo as well as he can the damage of his father’s sins.

    Marik carries his father’s errors and sins, and continues them until Yu-Gi redeems him. He lives, and as his father’s sins are against him, he has no cause to atone for them, only forgive them. It’s a stepping stone to show the path is cycling. Marik’s father is clearly a reincarnation of the man who dragged Atemu’s father to evil. Yugi can only break the cycle before it gets any worse. He can’t reverse it.

    In the final arc of it’s type, Seto Kaiba succeeds where Yugi fails. Gozabura Kaiba is a war monger. He build weapons, supplies both sides, and pushes countries into ever-escalating conflicts to line his pockets. Seto Kaiba, though not his son by birth, overthrows him and in so doing, transforms the company. Gozabura suicides in response. His death was needed, but it wasn’t redemptive; it was defeat. Seto then literally turns weapons into toys. He disassembles weapons development centers and builds amusement parks in their place–parks open for free to orphans. He puts out his extremely popular dual disk system at an affordable price so that everyone can have them. He doesn’t want to line his pockets as much as he wants to change the world, and that’s his greatest power. When called on to pay the ultimate price for Gozabura’s sins, he does not die. He instills life, and the will to live and live well, in whomever comes after him. It happens twice in the series, once in the Noah arc and once in the Raphael arc. We see him in the aftermath (Yu-Gi-Oh GX) as having built universities and we see him working on charitable projects. He transformed the world from the sins of Gozabura’s era to the grace of his own, and he did it through his wit, his strength, his commitment, and his indomitable soul, not through a cold and silent grave.

  3. CareBear

    Hey. I found you from the link you sent out on ehell.

    MST3K is amazing. Much <3 from me there.

    Have you read the original little mermaid? There’s an anime version of the movie that’s a lot more depressing than the disney version. Just curious..