Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Why 'The Little Mermaid' Is The Greatest Movie of Our Time

The latest trend in celebrity hairstyling is mermaid hair. Look at Rihanna: weave long, flowing and tinted deep red. Blake Lively wore a similar style when she appeared at the Time 100 Gala. And the appropriately named Scarlett Johansson was the latest to adopt the look. The inspiration is one mermaid, in particular—golden-voiced, purple-brassiered and, most notably, red-haired Ariel. Some seem surprised by this turn of hair-vents, but I, for one, am not so shocked. You see, ever since The Little Mermaid came out, I’ve been firmly of the opinion that it is not only a masterpiece but, quite possibly, the most satisfying movie I’ve ever seen.

The red-haired mermaid re-surfaced recently with the great hipster Ariel meme of 2011. A veritable school of other Disney princesses soon followed, but Ariel remained the most popular, due mostly to the funny cringe-expression on her face but also because no other Disney character has so fully attracted the unflagging, unanimous gawking of people across the entire sexual spectrum. With her bright eyes, big personality, generous bosom, and, yes, those titian locks, she is Girl Next Door meets Babe The Next Pond Over.

Last year, Second City brilliantly sent up the untoward morals one might draw from The Littler Mermaid in its web series "Advice for Young Girls ," which starred actress Danielle Uhlarik and offered such wisdom as “If you have a father that loves you, run away from him” and “Don’t ever talk to a man unless he kisses you on the lips first. Then, as a woman, you’re allowed.” As recently as last weekend, SNL chose to address something as grave as bin Laden's death by way of an "Under the Sea" parody starring Tina Fey and Keenan Thompson.

But jokes aside, The Little Mermaid succeeds because not only is it over-the-top and often surprisingly adult—there’s that infamous priest scene conspiracy theory, after all—but because it's gorgeous and joyous and very, very funny. With the exception of the older adults (except King Triton, who is buffer than any cartoon dad has a right to be), most everyone in possession of a human torso in this movie is hot. Ariel, Prince Eric, Ursula the Sea Witch’s alter-ego, Vanessa. All six of Ariel’s sisters are bodacious, and by the way, you owe it to yourself to see how Ariel’s sisters appear in the “Characters from Disney’s The Little Mermaid” wiki.

But despite the relative attractiveness of many of the characters, the offbeat ones make a true play for our hearts, as well. Animator Ruben Aquino is said to have modeled Ursula after Divine, John Waters’s muse, and the Disney creation manages to be worthy of her divine inspiration. Ursula is one of the great villains of modern cinema: cunning, hilarious, and, without question, utterly fabulous. An Ursula bon mot, delivered in Pat Carroll’s delicious grumble, is available for almost every social situation. Want Miss Manners-style advice? “Don’t lurk in doorways; it’s ruuuuude!” Are you a copyeditor at Cosmo searching for that next killer headline? “And don’t underestimate the importance of body language—ha!” And, of course, should your pet(s) pass away, comfort yourself with a Phaedra-like tearing of hair and “My poor little poopsies!”

In fact, the single most brilliant YouTube video I've seen is the mesmerizing “Ursula’s Transformation Multilanguage,” a genius montage of Ursula’s heave of a laugh (given as she transforms into the beautiful Vanessa), dubbed in a dozen or so languages in one concatenated string. Once you're accustomed to its insanity, it becomes fascinating and side-splitting. What carries you through it is the fact that Ursula, in all her fleshy, neon-ringed glory, is its star. Would that we all had something similar that drove us to madcap glee and endless cackling.

(Apropos of nothing: when I was a little kid and they made Gushers fruit snacks, I used to bite off one end of a Gusher, squeeze the filling on my lips, and say, “Well, Angelfish,” just like Ursula does with one of those pod-thingies when Ariel first meets her. Please, if only to save my therapist from more discussion of this, tell me at least one of you did the same. Any gender will do.)

And let us not forget that Sebastian, more so than any other plucky sidekick, made being a plucky sidekick so fashionable. Yes, Disney movies have always been full of such figures—key characters like The Jungle Book’s Baloo and Sleeping Beauty’s Flora, Fauna, and Meriweather spring to mind—but Sebastian is the gold (or ruby) standard. The Little Mermaid marked the resurrection of Disney’s animation scene after many tumultuous years, and the crab’s chutzpah may have been the company’s most valuable asset. Voiced to comic perfection by Samuel E. Wright, Sebastian is probably more active than any other sidekick ever. Here is a partial laundry list of things that he does: at the base level, he tries to keep Ariel punctual; he warns her about the impropriety of her collection of human treasures; he tries, in vain, to prevent her from visiting Ursula in the first place; he becomes, surprisingly, the chief architect of Ariel’s plan to undo Ursula’s plotting once Ariel is human; he is violently assaulted by a clearly deranged French chef, during which fracas he has salad and breadcrumbs shoved into his shell; he is then almost eaten; and, most terrifyingly, he has to remember that complicated and extremely prolix bridge of “Under the Sea.” What have you done for me lately?

Joining Sebastian is the adorable, plump Flounder and the squawk-raucous Scuttle, voiced by Buddy Hackett. I'll admit, there is never a situation in which I don’t find the words “dinglehopper” and “snarfblatt” funny. And then there is the aforementioned chef, Louis; the delightful Carlotta (voiced by Edie McClurg, who is either Mrs. Poole from Valerie's Family or the best part of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles depending on your disposition; and the gangly, loveable Sir Grimsby. If this cast were real and not animated, it would win the SAG Award for Best Ensemble.

And then there's the movie’s music, especially its crown jewel, “Part of Your World.” This is the best song that has ever been in a movie, and I will not hear otherwise. Straight men, I guarantee you that in your life, you will date someone who sang this song into her mirror at some point as a child, so pay respect. (Gay men, this actually applies to you, too.) This was the song that taught me the word “reprimand.” Additionally, had I grown up underwater, it also would have taught me how to catch the light convincingly when singing in a grotto. My personal crush on Darren Criss of "Glee" predates his appearance on that show by a wide margin, simply because I was one of the thousands who had fallen in love with his performance of the song back when he was still strumming Disney ballads in his bedroom. Recently, I performed this song while doing a cabaret show in Beijing, and even though I was on the other side of the world, I still had people coming up to me saying that they knew every word. Ariel’s reach extends, indeed, across oceans. Once, when I performed “Part of Your World” at a show in New York, a friend said very wisely afterwards, “You know how there are some songs that are universal and could apply to many occasions? Yeah, not that one.” It’s true. It is very solidly a song about a mermaid who lives at the bottom of the sea and grossly, if adorably, misunderstands human culture. But I’ll take it, because I know I’m not the only one who swam in my neighbor’s pool and wished to Poseidon that I could grow a mer-tail at the age of 8.

The Little Mermaid is a delight—a musical, visual, and, yes, suggestive feast for the senses, so it’s really no great surprise that some of showbiz’s most sensational divas have adopted the Ariel look for themselves. I’d like to imagine an even wider sartorial, um, net cast: perhaps some dowagers might sport Warhol-like Ursula wigs; maybe a well-placed fork could act as Gaga’s next accessory; heck, if William and Kate can look strikingly like Eric and Ariel on their wedding day, there’s likely a place for someone to paint Flounder-like stripes across his or her next red carpet outfit. “Watch and you’ll see”: it’s a Little Mermaid world, and we’re all part of it.

Rakesh Satyal is the author of the Lambda Award-winning novel Blue Boy. The protagonist of his book is also obsessed with The Little Mermaid.

60 Comments / Post A Comment

cherrispryte (#444)

Am I the only one who found "Under the Sea" a far superior song to "Part of Your World"?

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@cherrispryte Yes. You're literally the only person in the universe that thinks this.

Face (#3,654)

@cherrispryte I don't know, I'm torn!

I did a dance (with hula-hoops and home-made, tie-dyed outfits, natch) to "Under the Sea" for the Third Grade Talent Show.

But, I used "Part of Your World" to try out for Varsity Choir.

But! "Kiss the Girl" is still on my iPod…in several different versions.

I know, I know. You're on the edge of your seat waiting for my decision. Why does everything have to revolve around me? Whhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyy?

proseho (#2,358)


No. Contest.

DameDudgeon (#1,766)

@Face Singing frogs! Kiss the girl wins, for the frogs on the oars alone! I mean, you don't even have to bring the frogs in the pelicans mouths into the argument!

dearheart (#4,203)

@DameDudgeon And Scuttle's off-key warbling!

Brunhilde (#1,225)

@cherrispryte Hell yes, "Under the Sea"! I find all of the slow songs in Disney movies pretty insufferable though. "A Whole New World" is like nails on a chalkboard.

C_Webb (#855)

KISS THE GIRL! I'm a sucker for "sha-la-la-las" and "Whoa-oh-whoas!"

Brian (#115)

This is basically a transcript of two gay nerds' first date. Related: Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead is so much more than a Christina Applegate vehicle.

jro (#12,246)

@Brian based on this comment alone would you like to get married?

"Right on top of that Rose" – sums up my entire work ethic. (in a good way.)

Brian (#115)

@jro It'll work if I get to be Rose.

bellryana (#12,245)

I didn't use Gushers, I used the just-barely-blooming flowers I plucked off of my neighbors crepe myrtle bush. They did that delightful popping thing like Ursula's pod thingie.

Also, at 27 years old, I still lay in the bed (usually with a hangover) and sing Part of Your World, as loudly as possible. I find it very healing.

Come to think of it, I've never had great relationships with neighbors.

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

I once performed in a drunken 4 am tag-team recital of "Part of Your World" with someone, whose face I never saw, who started singing it on the other end of the subway platform.

dearheart (#4,203)

@MollyculeTheory That is honestly magical.

Jeff Carpenter (#3,752)

Ariel singlehandadly awakened my prepubescent interest in the opposite gender. Was it because she was the first Disney princess to appear wearing only a bra? Or was the timing just right? (I was 8.) We'll never know for sure, but I like to think there was more to it than that; that Ariel was special. I sure hate to think of all the poor kids who were sexually awakened by something like, say, the Shrek films. We had things so much better in the 80's.

HiredGoons (#603)

@Jeff Carpenter: I remember seeing Prince Eric's high cheekbones when I was 5 and realizing I was different from the other boys.

Smitros (#5,315)

A postcolonialist analysis would suggest that in the Disney view the objectified and Othered Jasmine and Pocahontas are not considered suitable mates.

cherrispryte (#444)

@Smitros Okay. Listen. I was going to go into how The Little Mermaid is sizeist and has misogynistic undertones, and how the "some day my prince will come" mentality has had a debilitating effect on generations of women, but I decided against it and talked about the songs. If you're going to bring in objectification and othering and we're really going to hold these movies up to the light for analysis, well, somebody get the popcorn cause we're going to be here for awhile.

melis (#1,854)

@cherrispryte More sizeist than every other Disney film ever?

melis (#1,854)

@melis I mean, I guess the Fox and the Hound is pretty neutral, but, yeah. How is it worse? I love movie theories!

oxla (#12,069)

@melis Let us not forget the secret penis in the background image on the cover, people.

Brunhilde (#1,225)

@melis Well, off the top of my head, it's the only disney movie with a plus-sized woman villian.

melis (#1,854)

Ah, so it's purpleist as well!

Brunhilde (#1,225)

Also, a little French-chefist.

C_Webb (#855)

@cherrispryte And yet another of Disney's Magically Missing Mothers.

Smitros (#5,315)

@cherrispryte You might be taking the comment more seriously than I meant. Lit theory stuff almost inevitably spills over into self-parody.

cherrispryte (#444)

@Smitros and here I was thinking I was walking the fine line of self-parody myself ….

David (#192)

Somewhere in the West Texas desert is the unrecognizable sun-bleached remains of a copy of "The Little Mermaid" long since made part of the ground. I borrowed the book from the public library's book-mobile and then promptly lost while distracted in pursuit of a lizard while on my way home. I searched for the book in vain until dark, walking around in circles with a captured creature in one hand. That night it rained. The book was ruined. I had to use my allowance and some more money earned from mowing lawns to replace it. In 1989, when the Disney movie first showed, I couldn't bring myself to watch it. Later, when in NYC, some guy told me a ridiculous story about how Disney had stolen the idea of the move from him! Maybe it's time to go see that movie.

DMcK (#5,027)

@David The Disney movie fist hit HARD back in the day

Bittersweet (#765)

Team Belle.

@Bittersweet I completely am with you on this one.

roboloki (#1,724)

just fuck ariel and get it over with already.

Liquid (#546)

@roboloki May I quote Fry from Futurama here:
"Why couldn't she be the other kind of mermaid, the one with the fish part on top and the lady part on the bottom?"

rhoswhen (#12,247)

Let us not forget how we used to (still do) try to replicate the perfect Little Mermaid hair flip in the pool/beach/bathtub.

bellryana (#12,245)

@rhoswhen YESSSSSS! I even convinced my dad to practice with me a few times. He didn't let his lack of hair slow him down.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@bellryana You have a good dad.

christoball (#4,670)

Singing 'part of that world' is what got me my first girlfriend in college. I'm not ashamed to say it still works like a charm.

Having a little sister who watched it after school every day helped with the memorizing process.

BCMuetzel (#12,249)

I totally did the thing with the gushers. Part of your world was always superior. And I used to practice breaking the wave like she does when she's singing to Eric. AND I used to ONLY swim with my legs together without using my hands. I told my parents I was the opposite of the Little Mermaid and that someday I'd trade my legs for a tail.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

As "I Want" songs go, I'm still a sucker for the South Park movie's "Up There", and I am not even kidding.

melis (#1,854)

@Kevin Knox YES. Can we have a column about any and all musicals connected to Trey and Matt?

Craig Brownson (#4,257)

Triton: WOOF

C_Webb (#855)

The guy had nipples the size of dinner plates.

JessieH (#12,252)

Uh, yeah, dudes? This is me:
I'm in my mid twenties and I'm still routinely making references to that movie. It's appeal is never ending. Even my baby sister, a blonde haired three year old, has shown a very strong Ariel preference since the very beginnings of her DIsney Princess phase.

The Little Mermaid was definitely THE iconic movie of my childhood. My neighborhood staged a performance in our neighbor's pool. To audition for the role of Ariel, you had to do the hair flip she does perfectly. I had short hair, so I got to be the chef instead. (and I totally did that thing with gushers too!)

Abe Sauer (#148)

Enjoy it while you can. When this comment section has daughters it's going to fucking despise this film.

Carina (#4,319)

@Abe Sauer Word. WORD.

Carina (#4,319)

I've hated The Little Mermaid since I saw it in the theater. If Ariel doesn't get turned into seafoam, SCREW THAT MOVIE.

mouth almighty (#8,116)

See, here's the thing: I have this very, very vivid memory of watching "The Little Mermaid" for the first time as a child – but it was not the Disney version and instead of getting married, Ariel killed herself to save the prince. I was fucking traumatized and cried a lot.

When the Disney version came out, I didn't want to relive the trauma, but all my friends were so into it, so I watched it and then because I'm a contrary little bitch, got super angry when Ariel didn't die at the end. Ursula, because she did die, became my FAVORITE.

@mouth almighty Are you thinking of this one:

Cause I was definitely all about this one as a kid.

mouth almighty (#8,116)

@Annie Malamet@facebook: YES. Holy shit, I've not seen this version since that one viewing as a kid and was maybe a little convinced I'd made it up, but that's it! The little dive, in the last part, proved it. Thanks!

One morning when I was young I woke up early before anyone else in the house and amused myself by recording my own version of "Part of Your World" into my Fisher Price kid's tape recorder with mic attached. When everyone else woke up I played my tape for them and I think my mom still has it somewhere because she thought it was adorable.

My younger sister always identified with Ariel because her hair is redder than mine and sort of claimed the character as hers for this reason. One year she and I had a joint birthday party. She got an Ariel cake made by a friend of the family. I was left with Ursula. I was six or something and I had a bloody Ursula cake with a figurine on top. Needless to say I didn't really appreciate it at the time but now that I know about the Divine connection I feel much better about that cake.

brdecker (#12,295)

In almost every musical ever written, there's a place–it's usually about the third song of the evening, sometimes it's the second, sometimes it's the fourth, but it's quite early–and the leading lady usually sits down on something–sometimes it's a tree stump in Brigadoon, sometimes it's under the pillars of Covent Garden in My Fair Lady, sometimes it's a trashcan in Little Shop of Horrors–but the leading lady sits down on something and sings about what she wants in life. And the audience falls in love with her and then roots for her to get it for the rest of the night.
–Howard Ashman

JoshUng (#11,371)

This is the best part of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The rest are valid points.

Helen Li@twitter (#12,311)

Yes, I did the gushers thing too. Don't worry. In the words of Michael Jackson, "You are not alone."

bjackson (#12,319)

Hmmm….pretty interesting. LoL. Not my favorite though…

Naomi (#12,355)

it was the iconic of my childhood. i remember the first time i watched this movie was when i was in second grade of elementary school. at first i just thought that this was the same as the other imaginary movies as The Snow White and Cinderella story. but then i found it different. for me this is the first children movie set under the sea. it is kind of impossible thing as half-princess getting through her life under the sea. but as children, who care? all i saw is that it is different with other imaginary movies. and i love it. i would love to watch it again today, the old-version lol.

I was 14 when this movie was released in my country. I loved "Part of Your World" (in English and Spanish) and in fact this song made me realize I had kind of a good voice (because I started singing it and I could do it!) It was amazing :D Great article, made me remember so nice things.

Post a Comment