There are plenty of things to dislike about The Little Mermaid that don’t get nearly enough attention. Obviously it’s weird that Ariel never writes anything down even though she can clearly write in english. It’s super problematic that she chooses to give up her voice just so she can meet some boy she’s never spoken to. It’s going to be a real issue when it comes time to have sex, because anyone that’s thought about it can guess that the mermaid sex talk is pretty different from the human one (thanks to http://www.cracked.com for pointing that one out). But there are still plenty of issues that aren’t brought up.
First, how abusive is Ariel’s father? I get that he’s worried about her infatuation with the surface world, but is destroying all of her things really the right answer? I made some questionable decisions in my childhood, but my single father never once used his lightning powered trident to blast those decisions into oblivion. For the record, he didn’t have a lightning powered trident, but based on the fact that he didn’t use any of the tools at his disposal, I feel it’s reasonable to draw the conclusion that he wouldn’t have used it. But King Triton swims into Ariel’s hidden treasure grotto . . . you know what? There has to be a better way to say that. The king swims into his daughter’s secret cave. I don’t think there’s a not horrible sounding way to explain what happens, especially considering the next thing he does is yell and start blasting. I’m sorry. It’s not nearly this uncomfortable or inappropriate, but on paper it sounds really wrong.
So the King sneaks in and catches Ariel unawares. Ugh, it’s still bad. I assume he sees her song about all her hopes and dreams and curiosities regarding the surface world, and instead of explaining why he hates and fears the humans so much, he uses incredibly destructive magic to obliterate all her possessions. At this point in the movie, I really have no idea why he’s so afraid. The man has the power of lightning at his disposal, and the humans seem to be at a point where they clearly have sea travel, but no mechanics. So I’m pretty sure a guy with mystic lightning doesn’t need to be afraid. But whatever, he’s afraid and wants his daughter to stay away. So he yells at her, blows up her stuff, then leaves her by herself to cry in the wreckage. Is it any wonder that she swims off with the first people to be nice to her?
Next we have the fact that Prince Eric lets Ariel stay with him under extremely shady circumstances. Early on in the movie he falls in love with this apparition of a woman who saved him from a certain doom. All he remembers clearly is her voice, but he has a hazy recollection of her face. When Ariel shows up on his beach, at first he thinks it’s the woman who saved him because she looks a little like his hazy memory. But she’s mute and clearly addlebrained. She thinks a fork is a hairbrush for crying out loud! So she’s obviously not the woman he’s in love with, but he takes her in to his home and dresses her up like a princess. She’s wearing dresses that come out of nowhere, but perfectly fit. He never calls a doctor to look into why she’s mute and having problems with her memory. For three days we never see him send messengers to neighboring kingdoms to find out if a mute girl is missing. Instead he starts romancing this girl with a mental retardation. You had to teach her how to walk, Eric. Maybe don’t try kissing her on a boat just because a crab called you a pussy.
These are two pretty serious issues, but the biggest one for me is Ursula. And no, it’s not that of the two people of color in the entire movie, one is a servant and the other is a villain, although that is a problem. But the biggest problem is just how demonized Ursula is throughout the entire movie. Sure, she’s a shady businesswoman who illegally gets a child to enter into a binding contract by literally offering her life’s dream. Then she uses magic to tip the odds in her favor by bewitching Eric into marrying her. But those are the only two truly “evil” things she does in the entire movie, and even the second one wasn’t truly evil.
First, she lays out all of the details of the deal with Ariel right there in her song. She warns Ariel of the consequences, even admits she has a pretty dark past. She acknowledges that in the past she’s been a nasty, and that they weren’t kidding when they called her a witch. But then she lays out very clear terms of a deal. Ariel gives up her voice, Ursula gives her legs, and if she can get Eric to kiss her in three days the deal is complete. It’s more a wager than a business arrangement, so if you think of Ursula as a bookie rather than a businesswoman it all kind of fits. Yes, Ariel was too young to sign a contract of that sort, but a bookie doesn’t care so much about that. Shady, yes. Evil? No.
Next, she takes human form and gives herself Ariel’s voice. So even without bewitching Eric, she probably could have stolen him away. Bewitching him was just speeding up the timeline on what was probably already going to happen. Ursula doesn’t strike me as someone who leaves a lot to chance, she prefers a sure thing. Think of it as the house making sure the odds are stacked in her favor. Again, shady. But not evil.
But the most egregious part about Ursula in this movie is that they kill her. After engaging in a little side bet with King Triton, Ursula becomes Queen of the Seven Seas. This is both legally binding and completely legitimate. King Triton gives up his power to save his daughter who both cheated (she got her voice back before the suns set on the third day because her friends attacked Ursula), she also still failed to live up to her end of the bargain by still not kissing Eric even after she got her voice back. So King Triton gives up his throne and his power to save his daughter, and Ursula becomes Queen.
What happens next? Prince Eric commits regicide, assassinating the rightful Queen by stabbing her in the chest with a ship. That is straight up murder. We don’t know what kind of ruler Ursula would have been, we never got to see it. Sure, it’s very possible that she would have maintained her corrupt business practices and shady dealings as Queen, but we simply don’t know. She was brutally murdered less than fifteen minutes after assuming the throne.
I submit to you that the true villain of Little Mermaid is Prince Eric. He attempted to take advantage of a mentally handicapped girl, then killed a queen. All Ursula did was trick someone into a deal they couldn’t fully understand the implications of, then stack the deck a little bit. Sure, Ursula wasn’t nice. But it’s not like she brutally murdered a member of royalty. Nope, that was all Eric.
That’s it for now, love and kisses!